Ganesha – The Elephant-headed Hindu God
Referred to by different names such as Ganapati, Vinayaka, Lambodara, Gajanana, Ekadanta, etc., Ganesha is one of the most-visited deities in Hinduism. Apart from India, people also worship in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bali, Mauritius, Bangladesh, etc. Lord Ganesha is worshipped as the remover of obstacles, the deva of intellect and wisdom, the patron of arts and sciences, the God of beginnings, and the patron of letters and learning. Though Ganesha is a Hindu God, he is also worshipped in Jainism and Buddhism.
How Ganesha got the head of an elephant?
Ganesha has been represented as an elephant-headed male with a potbelly for centuries. The ancient texts provide different explanations for him being the elephant-headed one. However, the most popular one starts with the goddess Parvati taking bath, who didn’t want anyone to disturb her. As Nandi was not present at Kailash, Parvati formed a shape of a boy from the turmeric paste rubbed off from her body and breathed life into him. She instructed the boy not to let anyone enter.
As soon as Shiva came out of meditation, he wanted to see her. But he was not allowed to enter by the strange boy despite saying that he is the husband of Parvati. This irritated Lord Shiva and he beheaded the boy’s head with Trishul and the boy died on the spot.
When Parvati got to learn about it, she became enraged and threatened to destroy everything. Lord Brahma convinced her to reconsider her plan, which she agreed on two conditions – the boy is brought back to life and he is worshipped before all other deities.
Lord Shiva agreed to her conditions and ordered his servants to bring the head of the first dead creature, facing north. The servants returned with an elephant head. Then, Lord Brahma replaces the boy’s head with the elephant’s head and breathed life into him. Since then, Ganesha is identified as Gajanana (elephant-headed), Ekadanta (the one having only one tusk), and Ganapati (leader of all ganas and the foremost of all gods).
Which is the vahana of Ganesha?
During the childhood of the god Ganesha, a giant mouse (Mushika) used to trouble his friends. One day, he trapped him using pasha (noose) and made him his mount. Originally, the Mushika was a celestial musician. Once by mistake, he walked over the feet of a sage Vamadeva, who cursed him and transformed him into a mouse. After recovering from his anger, he promised Mushika that one day, the gods themselves would bow down before him. The same turned into reality when Ganesha made the mouse his vahana Dinka.
What does the vahana of Ganesha symbolize?
In Hinduism, it is said that the characteristics of the vahana represent the deity that it carries. Dinka the mouse, vahana of Ganesha represents sharpness and speed. The vehicle also depicts the evil forces over which the deity has control. Settled on Dinka the rat (Mushika), Lord Ganesha overpowers useless thoughts, which seem to be multiplying in the dark just like rats.
How is the portrait of Ganesha like?
Over time, the representations of Ganesha have shown several variations and different patterns. He has been depicted standing, dancing, sitting, fighting against demons, playing, etc. Mostly, a statue of Ganesha having an elephant head and a potbelly is found in India. Featuring four arms, the statue shows the lower-right hand (holding broken tusk) and the lower-left hand (holding a sweet delicacy). The details of the other hands are often difficult to understand. Typically, Ganesha holds an ax in an upper arm and a noose in another. It is also possible to spot the statue of Ganesha, having a human head in rare cases.
Which festival is dedicated to Ganesha?
People in India worship Ganesha on several occasions. To be precise, he is especially worshipped at the beginning of every new venture. Being the most popular God in the country, Ganesha grants success, protection, and prosperity. That is why people worship him to propitiate him. Devotees offer him sweets like modak and ladoo as he is believed to be very fond of them. Irrespective of the religion and occasion, people worship Lord Ganesha with great pomp and show.
An annual festival, Ganesh Chaturthi is observed for ten days in honor of Ganesha. Also referred to as Vinayaka Chaturthi, it is a Hindu festival falling at the end of August or the beginning of September. The celebrations of the festival start with an installation of clay idol of Lord Ganesha in homes (privately) or pandals (publically). The celebrations continue for ten consecutive days. People sing devotional songs, offer prayers, and prepare prasadam (modak). On the 10th day (Ananta Chaturdashi), the idols are carried away in a public procession, involving a lot of music and dance. Then, they are immersed in a water body. With the immersion of the idols, it is believed that Lord Ganesha has returned to Mount Kailash. Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the Lord Ganesha as the God of wisdom and intelligence. He is also revered as the God of new beginnings and remover of obstacles. In addition to several Indian states (Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal, etc.), the festival is also celebrated in Nepal by Hindu Diaspora in countries such as Australia, Canada, Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, and many others.
What are the major temples dedicated to Lord Ganesha in India?
One can spot the idols of Lord Ganesha in most of the Hindu temples, in different ways. Besides, there are various temples dedicated to Ganesha only. The temples dedicated to Lord Ganesha are known as Pillaiyar temples or Vinayak temples in South India. The Ashtavinayaka is the most well-known group of temples in Maharashtra. The eight shrines dedicated to him are located within a 100 m radius of Pune in Maharashtra. Every temple honors the deity in a particular form. The eight shrines are Morgaon, Siddhitek, Pali, Mahad, Theur, Lenyadri, Ozar, and Ranjangaon. Besides these, there are several temples situated in different parts of the country. Some of the popular ones are listed below:
- Trinetra Ganesha Temple, Ranthambore Fort, Rajasthan
- Chintaman Ganesh Temple, Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh
- Shri Vinayaka Temple, Anegudde, Karnataka
- Kalamassery Mahaganapathy Temple, Kalamassery, Kerala
- Mahavinayak Temple, Jajpur district, Odisha