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Ganesha

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In Hinduism, Ganesha (Gaṇeśa, "lord of the hosts," also spelled Ganesa and sometimes referred to as Ganesh in Hindi, Bengali and other Indian languages) is a son of Shiva and Parvati, and the husband of Bharati, Riddhi and Siddhi. In art, he is depicted as a pot bellied yellow or red god with four arms and the head of a one-tusked elephant, riding or attended to by a mouse. Typically, his name is prefixed with the Hindu title of respect, 'Shri.'

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Overview

Ganesha acquired his head through varying methods in different stories. In one, Shiva decapitated him because Ganesha refused to allow him to enter the bath while Parvati was bathing. Shiva had to give him the new head to placate his wife. In another version, Parvati showed the child off to Shiva, whose face burned his head to ashes, which Brahma told Shiva to replace with the first head he could find—in this case, that of an elephant. The lack of a second tusk is explained by different stories. An avatar of Vishnu, Parashurama, once went to visit Shiva but the way was blocked by Ganesha. Parasurama threw his axe at him and Ganesha, knowing the axe had been given to him by Shiva, allowed it to cut off one of his tusks. Yet another myth is that, in the process of writing the Mahabharata (at the dictation of Vyasa), Ganesh found that his pen had broken, and in the urgency of taking down the great words, snapped off his left tusk as a replacement quill.

Ganesha is known as Aumkara, because his body mirrors the shape of the Aum, the elephant god is thus seen as the embodiment of the cosmos. His elephantine head symbolizes the intelligence and beatitude of the elephant, powerful, yet gentle. His vehicle is a mouse, (mooshikam)and this symbolizes the intellect, small enough to find out any secret in the most remote of places. It also signifies his humility, that he espouses the company of one of the smaller creatures.

He is the lord of wisdom, intelligence, education, prudence, luck and fortune, gates, doors, doorways, household and writing. He is the remover of obstacles, and as such it is normal to invoke him before the undertaking of any task with such incantations as "Aum Shri Ganeshaya Namah," (hail the name of Ganesha) or similar.

Some incidents related to Ganesha

Birth of Ganesha - The first incident is the birth of Ganesha and how he got his elephant head. Once, while Parvati wanted to bathe, there were no attendants around to guard her and stop anyone from accidentally entering the house. Hence she created a boy's idol out of her skin's dirt and infused life into it, and thus Ganesha was born. Parvati ordered Ganesha not to allow anyone to enter the house and Ganesha obediently followed his mother's orders. After a while Shiva returned from outside and as he tried to enter the house, Ganesha stopped him. Shiva was infuriated at this strange boy who dared to challenge him. After repeated attempts to enter the house, Shiva lost his patience and severed Ganesha's head with his Trishul (trident). When Parvati came out and saw her son's lifeless body she was very angry and sad. She demanded that Shiva restore Ganesha's life at once. But unfortunately, Shiva's Trishul was so powerful that it had hurled Ganesha's head very far off. All attempts to find the head were in vain. As a last resort, Shiva approached Brahma who suggested that he replace Ganesha's head with the first animal that comes his way. And it was an elephant. Shiva decapitated the elephant and attached the elephant's head to Ganesha's body and brought him back to life. Thus, Ganesha got an elephant's head.

Ganesha's reverence for his parents - Once there was a competition between Ganesha and his brother Karttikeya as to who could circumambulate the three worlds faster. Karttikeya went off on a journey to cover the three worlds while Ganesha simply circumambulated his parents. When asked why he did so, he answered that, to him his parents meant the three worlds.

Ganesha and Vyasa - When Veda Vyasa was beginning to write the epic Mahabharata, he requested Ganesha to be the scribe. Being playful, Ganesha agreed to be the scribe on one condition - that Vyasa must recite the epic non-stop. Vyasa agreed and thus the great epic of Mahabharata was written by Ganesha.

Ganesha and the moon - Once, Ganesha accidentally tripped and fell, breaking one of his tusks in the process (this is also said to be one of the reasons for Ganesha's half or missing tusk). Chandradev (Moon God) saw this and laughed. Ganesha, being the short-tempered one, cursed Chandradev that anyone who happens to see the moon will incur bad luck. Hearing this, Chandradev realised his folly and asked for forgiveness from Ganesha. Ganesha relented and since a curse cannot be revoked, only softened, Ganesha softened his curse such that anyone who looks at the moon during a Surya-grahan (solar eclipse) would incur bad-luck. Thus was born the notion of not looking at the moon during a solar eclipse in India.

Festivals and Worship of Ganesh

Immersion of Ganesh murti at Chowpatty Beach, Bombay
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Immersion of Ganesh murti at Chowpatty Beach, Bombay

In South India, there is an important festival honoring Ganesha. While it is most popular in the state of Maharashtra, it is performed all over India. It is celebrated for ten days starting from Ganesh Chaturthi. This was introduced by Balgangadhar Tilak as a means of promoting nationalist sentiment when India was ruled by the British. This festival is celebrated and it culminates on the day of Ananta Chaturdashi when the murti of Lord Ganesha is immersed into the most convenient body of water. In Bombay the murti is immersed in the Arabian Sea and in Pune the Mula-Mutha river. In various North and East Indian cities, like Kolkata, they are immersed in the holy Ganga river.

Representations of Shri Ganesh are based on thousands of years of religious symbolism that resulted in the figure of an elephant-head god. In India, the statues are impressions of symbolic significance and thus have never been claimed to be exact replications of a living figure. Ganesh is seen not as a physical entity but a higher spiritual being, and murtis, or statue-representations, act as signifiers of him as an ideal. Thus, to refer to the murtis as idols betrays Western Judeo-Christian understandings of insubstantial object worship whereas in India, Hindu deities are seen to be accessed through points of symbolic focus known as murtis. For this reason, the immersion of the murtis of Ganesh in nearby holy rivers is undertaken since the murtis are acknowledged to be only temporal understandings of a higher being as opposed to being 'idols,' which have traditionally been seen as objects worshipped for their own sake as divine.

The worship of Ganesha in Japan has been traced back to 806.

Recently, there has been a resurgence of Ganesha worship and an increased interest in the "western world" due to a spate of miracles in september 1995. On september 21, 1995, according to Hinduism Today magazine (www.hinduismtoday.com), as well as the book Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles by Manuela Dunn Mascetti, Ganesh statues in India began spontaneously drinking milk when a spoonful was placed near the mouth of statues honoring the elephant god. The phenomena spread from New Delhi to New York, Canada, Mauritius, Kenya, Australia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Hong Kong, Trinidad, Grenada and Italy among other reported places. This was seen as a miracle by Hindu and non-Hindu alike, and a reminder of the God's playfulness and love of pranks and tricks.

Other names for Ganesha

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Various depictions and names of Ganesha

Like other Hindu gods and goddesses, Ganesh has many other titles of respect or symbolic names, and is often worshipped through the chanting of sahasranam (pronounced saa-HUS-ruh-naam), or a thousand names. Each is different and conveys a different meaning, representing a different aspect of the god in question. Needless to say, almost all Hindu gods have one or two accepted versions of their own sahasranaam liturgy.

Ganesha is also known by other names:

  • Aumkara, the Aum-shaped body
  • Ganapati, Lord of the Ganas, a race of dwarf beings in the army of Shiva
  • Vakratunda, Curved Trunk
  • Ekadanta, One-Tusked
  • Shupakarna, Large/Auspicious Ears
  • Gajanana, elephant face
  • Anangapujita, The Formless, or Bodiless
  • Lambodara, big bellied
  • Vinayaka (knowledgeable)
  • Vignesh, Vigneshwara (Vighna = obstacle, eeshwar=lord)
  • Vignaharta, remover of obstacles
  • Pillaiyar ("whose child?", Shiva's question in one story of how Ganesh got his head)

Related: Janus, Door gods.Ganesha (band)

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