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The image of Ganesha and its meaning

Friday, September 10, 2010

The image of Ganesha and its meaningAn elephant's trunk has the strength to uproot a tree as well as the finesse to pick  up a needle.

Ganesha's trunk symbolises the fact that the wise person has both immense strength and fine discrimination. Ganesha has large ears. The wise person hears all. He has four hands. In one hand he holds a lotus, the symbol of enlightenment. In the other hand he holds a hatchet. That is, the old karma, all your sanskars, the accumulated good and bad of past deeds get cut when enlightenment comes.

The third hand holds laddus, the round sweet-meats. They are the rewards of a wise life. Ganesha is never shown eating the laddus. The wise man never partakes of the rewards of his deeds. He is not attached to them. The fourth hand is shown blessing the people. The wise man wishes the best for everyone.

Ganesha has only one tusk; the other is shown broken. There is an interesting story as to how Ganesh happened to get an elephant's head and how one tusk got broken. The symbolism of the broken tusk is that the wise person is beyond duality.

We tend to think that we end when our bodies end in the material world. We are the first person. All else is different. This duality is created by the mind which creates the ego to help us survive in this world. This 'me-other' duality is the screen keeping us from realising our real Self, which is beyond body and mind. Once we transcend this duality, we see the entire Universe as a single whole and we become aware of our true Selves. The single tusk of Ganesha symbolises this non-duality. Wisdom allows us to see all as one and ourselves an integral part of the whole.

Ganesha is shown sitting with one foot on the ground and the other resting on his knee, above the ground. The wise person is of this earth, yet not entirely of this earth.

Ganesha is shown seated on a rat. The reason for saying that Ganesha 'rides' on the rat is that the rat is among the greediest of all animals. It will keep nibbling at whatever is available, eating everything it can. Scientifically, too, the rat's teeth keep growing and it has to keep chewing on something to keep these within limits. The rat is a symbol of our senses, which are never satisfied. They crave new experiences, new tastes. Left uncontrolled, they keep growing forever. The wise person rides on his senses. He keeps them under control.

Ganesha is often shown seated in front of a tray of sweets. In these images the rat is shown sitting in front of Ganesha, perhaps a bit to one side, looking up at him. The senses of the wise person are under his control and the rat dare not eat the sweets without the permission of Ganesha.

Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati, the God governing the life-force and the earth-mother. This symbolises the spirit and body of the wise person. Finally, the wise person has the dignity of an elephant.

When we say "Aum Ganeshaya Namah" before starting anything what we are saying is that "In what we are about to do, let wisdom be our guide". In a sense, Ganesha is our most powerful god, and he is usually remembered before starting any rituals for other deities.

The birth of Ganesha

One day Goddess Parvati was at home on Mt.Kailash preparing for a bath. As she didn’t want to be disturbed, she told Nandi, her husband Shiva’s Bull, to guard the door and let no one pass. Nandi faithfully took his post, intending to carry out Parvati’s wishes. But, when Shiva came home and naturally wanted to come inside, Nandi had to let him pass, being loyal first to Shiva. Parvati was angry at this slight, but even more than this, at the fact that she had no one as loyal to Herself as Nandi was to Shiva. So, taking the turmeric paste (for bathing) from her body and breathing life into it, she created Ganesha, declaring him to be her own loyal son.

The next time Parvati wished to bathe, she posted Ganesha on guard duty at the door. In due course, Shiva came home, only to find this strange boy telling him he couldn’t enter his own house! Furious, Shiva ordered his army to destroy the boy, but they all failed! Such power did Ganesha possess, being the son of Devi Herself!

This surprised Shiva. Seeing that this was no ordinary boy, the usually peaceful Shiva decided he would have to fight him, and in his divine fury severed Ganesha’s head, killing him instantly. When Parvati learned of this, she was so enraged and insulted that she decided to destroy the entire Creation! Lord Brahma, being the Creator, naturally had his issues with this, and pleaded that she reconsider her drastic plan. She said she would, but only if two conditions were met: one, that Ganesha be brought back to life, and two, that he be forever worshipped before all the other gods.

Shiva, having cooled down by this time, and realizing his mistake, agreed to Parvati’s conditions. He sent Brahma out with orders to bring back the head of the first creature he crosses that is laying with its head facing North. Brahma soon returned with the head of a strong and powerful elephant, which Shiva placed onto Ganesha’s body. Breathing new life into him, he declared Ganesha to be his own son as well, and gave him the status of being foremost among the gods, and leader of all the ganas (classes of beings), Ganapati.

Meaning of the story of  Ganesh

At first glance, this story just seems like a nice tale that we might tell our children, or a myth without any real substance. But, it’s true mystical meaning is veiled. It is explained thus:

Parvati is a form of Devi, the Parashakti (Supreme Energy). In the human body She resides in the Muladhara chakra as the Kundalini shakti. It is said that when we purify ourselves, ridding ourselves of the impurities that bind us, then the Lord automatically comes. This is why Shiva, the Supreme Lord, came unannounced as Parvati was bathing.

Nandi, Shiva’s bull, who Parvati first sent to guard the door represents the divine temperment. Nandi is so devoted to Shiva that his every thought is directed to Him, and he is able to easily recognize the Lord when He arrives. This shows that the attitude of the spiritual aspirant is what gains access to Devi’s (the kundalini shakti’s) abode. One must first develop this attitude of the devotee before hoping to become qualified for the highest treasure of spiritual attainment, which Devi alone grants.

After Nandi permitted Shiva to enter, Parvati took the turmeric paste from Her own body, and with it created Ganesha.. Yellow is the color associated with the Muladhara chakra, where the kundalini resides, and Ganesha is the deity who guards this chakra. Devi needed to create Ganesha, who represents the earthbound awareness, as a shield to protect the divine secret from unripe minds. It is when this awareness begins to turn away from things of the world, and toward the Divine, as Nandi had, that the great secret is revealed.

Shiva is the Lord and Supreme Teacher. Ganesha here represents the ego-bound Jiva. When the Lord comes, the Jiva, surrounded as it is with the murky cloud of ego, usually doesn’t recognize Him, and maybe even ends up arguing or fighting with Him! Therefore, it is the duty of the Lord, in the form of the Guru, to cut off the head of our ego! So powerful is this ego however, that at first the Guru’s instructions may not work, as Shiva’s armies failed to subdue Ganesha. It often requires a tougher approach, but, eventually the compassionate Guru, in His wisdom finds a way.

Devi threatened to destroy the whole Creation after learning of Ganesha’s demise. This indicates that when the ego thus dies, the liberated Jiva loses interest in its temporary physical vehicle, the body, and begins to merge into the Supreme. The physical world is here represented by Devi. This impermanent and changeable creation is a form of Devi, to which this body belongs; the unchanging Absolute is Shiva, to which belongs the Soul. When the ego dies, the external world, which depends on the ego for its existence, disappears along with it. It is said that if we want to know the secrets of this world, which is a manifestation of Devi, then we must first receive the blessings of Ganesha.

Shiva restoring life to Ganesha, and replacing his head with an elephant’s, means that before we can leave the body, the Lord first replaces our small ego with a “big”, or universal ego. This doesn’t mean that we become more egoistic. On the contrary, we no longer identify with the limited individual self, but rather with the large universal Self. In this way, our life is renewed, becoming one that can truly benefit Creation. It is however only a functional ego, like the one Krishna and Buddha kept. It is like a thin string tying the liberated Consciousness to our world, solely for our benefit.

Ganesha is given dominion over the Ganas, which is a general term denoting all classes of beings, ranging from insects, animals and humans to the subtle and celestial beings. These various beings all contribute to the government of the Creation; everything from natural forces like storms and earthquakes, to the elemental qualities like fire and water, to functioning of the body’s organs and processes. If we don’t honor the Ganas, then our every action is a form of thievery, as it is unsanctioned. Therefore, instead of propitiating each Gana in order to receive their blessings, we bow to their Lord, Sri Ganesha. By receiving His grace, we receive the grace of all. He removes any potential obstacles and enables our endeavors to succeed.

Such is the greatness of Sri Ganesha! Jai Ganesha!

Ganesh Chaturthi

One of the most anticipated and lively festivals in India, Sri Ganesha Chaturthi is dedicated to the beloved elephant-headed god, Ganesha. Worshipped throughout the world wherever large Indian populations are found, the fervent devotion and colorful celebrations which attend this festival reveal just how vital Ganesha is to the spiritual heartbeat of India.

Even though each Hindu deity represents only a few aspects of the one Lord, devotees in India naturally tend to hold dearest one form more than another, for instance maybe Shiva more than Krishna, or Rama more than Kali, etc. However, all easily love and worship Lord Ganesha. He is said to be the remover of obstacles and a bringer of good fortune. Add to this His plump belly and cheerful nature, and it’s no wonder that everyone adores Him! Therefore, before any worship is offered, or beginning any undertaking whatsoever, Ganesha is propitiated. This is why His image is found in all temples and on all altars. His blessings ensure smooth sailing!

As with all of the Hindu deities, the symbolism of Ganesha is multi-layered and profound. He represents Pranava, the seed syllable OM. Just as Ganesha comes first before the other gods, OM comes at the beginning of all other mantras. The symbol for OM even resembles an elephant head! OM represents the Nada, the original substratum of Creation, from which all else arises. That substratum is identical to our essential nature, the Self. Usually depicted riding a mouse (the ego), Ganesha represents the Self in its complete conquest over egoism. He is also depicted holding an ankusha (goad), which represents His Lordship over the entire world.

There is a symbolic story  that tells of how Ganesha came by His elephant head, and received the honour of being worshipped before all of the other gods.

Traditionally held to be Ganesha’s birthday, the Chaturthi day itself falls on the 4th day of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada* (August-September). Then it is proceded over a week of pujas, bhajans and cultural programs. A clay idol of Ganesha is made and worshipped on all of the festival days with prayers and devotional songs. The festivities culminate with the Ganesha Visarjan, where the idol is carried in a procession to the sea, river, or other large body of water, to be ceremonially immersed. The symbolism of this immersion ceremony reveals that at the heart of worship of different deities there remains the profound understanding that all forms are temporary, having both their origin and final destination in the formless Absolute.

*Bhadrapada is a Hindu lunar month.

32 Forms of Ganesh in Agamic Scriptures

1: Baala Ganapati - Red colored image of a four armed Ganesha.

2: Dharuna Vinayakar: Red colored image of an eight armed Ganesha.

3: Bhakti Vinayakar: Grey colored image of four armed Ganesha.

4: Veera Vinayakar: Red colored image of 16 armed Ganapati.

5: Shakti Ganapati: Red colored image of 4 armed Ganapati, seated with his consort to his left.

6: Dwija Vinayakar: White colored image of four faced Ganesha with 4 arms.

7: Siddhi Vinayakar: Golden colored image of four armed Ganapati.

8: Ucchishta Ganapati: Blue colored image of six armed Ganapati with his consort.

9: Vigna Vinayakar: Gold colored image of eight armed Ganapati.

10: Kshipra Ganapati: Red colored image of four armed Ganesha bearing a ratna kumbham.

11: Heramba Vinayakar: Black colored image of ten armed Ganesha with five faces, seated on a lion.

12: Lakshmi Vinayakar: White colored image of eight armed Ganesha with two consorts.

13: Makara Vinayakar: Red colored image of Ganesha with a third eye, 10 arms, bearing a ratna kumbham, with his consort.

14: Vijaya Vinayakar: Red colored image of 4 armed Ganesha on the mooshika mount.

15: Nritta Vinayakar: Gold colored image of Ganesha in a dance posture.

16: Urdhva Vinayakar: Gold colored image of six armed Ganesha with his consort.

17: Ekakshara Vinayakar: Red colored image of Ganesha with a third eye, seated on a lotus.

18: Vara Vinayakar: Red colored image of 4 armed Vinayaka with a third eye.

19: Dhryakshara Vinayaka: Gold colored image of four armed Vinayakar, decorated with Chaamara ear rings.

20: Kshipraprasaada Vinayakar: Red colored image of six armed Ganapati.

21: Haridra Vinayakar: Yellow colored image of four armed Ganapati.

22: Ekadhanta Vinayakar: Blue colored image of four armed Ganapati.

23: Srishti Vinayakar: Red colored image of four armed Ganapati seated on his mooshika mount.

24: Utthanda Vinayakar: Red colored image of 10 armed Ganesha with his consort to his left.

25: Ranamochana Vinayaka: Crystal image of four armed Vinayakar.

26: Dundi Vinayakar: Four armed image of Ganesha bearing a tusk, a garland, an axe and a gem studded vessel.

27: Dwimukha Vinayakar: Red colored image of Ganesha with two faces and four arms.

28: Trimukha Vinayakar: Red colored image of Ganesha with three faces and six arms seated on a golden lotus.

29: Simha Vinayakar: White colored image of Ganesha with eight arms (with an arm bearing a lions face).

30: Yoga Vinayakar: Red colored image of Ganesha in the posture of a yogi.

31: Durga Vinayakar: Red colored image of Ganesha with eight arms.

32: Sankatahara Vinayakar: Red colored image of four armed Ganesha clothed in blue, seated on a lotus peetham with his consort to his left.

Happy Vinayaka Chaviti to all !

108 Names of Lord Ganesh

Name Meaning
Akhuratha One who has Mouse as His Charioteer
Alampata Ever Eternal Lord
Amit Incomparable Lord
Anantachidrupamayam Infinite and Consciousness Personified
Avaneesh Lord of the whole World
Avighna Remover of Obstacles
Balaganapati Beloved and Lovable Child
Bhalchandra Moon-Crested Lord
Bheema Huge and Gigantic
Bhupati Lord of the Gods
Bhuvanpati God of the Gods
Buddhinath God of Wisdom
Buddhipriya Knowledge Bestower
Buddhividhata God of Knowledge
Chaturbhuj One who has Four Arms
Devadeva Lord of All Lords
Devantakanashakarin Destroyer of Evils and Asuras
Devavrata One who accepts all Penances
Devendrashika Protector of All Gods
Dharmik One who gives help
Dhoomravarna Smoke-Hued Lord
Durja Invincible Lord
Dvaimatura One who has two Mothers
Ekaakshara He, of the Single Syllable
Ekadanta Single-Tusked Lord
Ekadrishta Single-Tusked Lord
Eshanputra Lord Shiva's Son
Gadadhara One who has The Mace as His Weapon
Gajakarna One who has Eyes like an Elephant
Gajanana Elephant-Faced Lord
Gajananeti Elephant-Faced Lord
Gajavakra Trunk of The Elephant
Gajavaktra One who has Mouth like an Elephant
Ganadhakshya Lord of All Ganas (Gods)
Ganadhyakshina Leader of All The Celestial Bodies
Ganapati Lord of All Ganas (Gods)
Gaurisuta The Son of Gauri (Parvati)
Gunina One who is The Master of All Virtues
Haridra One who is Golden Coloured
Heramba Mother's Beloved Son
Kapila Yellowish-Brown Coloured
Kaveesha Master of Poets
Kirti c Lord of Musi
Kripalu Merciful Lord
Krishapingaksha Yellowish-Brown Eyed
Kshamakaram The Place of Forgiveness
Kshipra One who is easy to Appease
Lambakarna Large-Eared Lord
Mahabala Enormously Strong Lord
Mahaganapati Omnipotent and Supreme Lord
Maheshwaram Lord of The Universe
Mangalamurti All Auspicious Lord
Manomay Winner of Hearts
Mrityuanjaya Conqueror of Death
Mundakarama Abode of Happiness
Muktidaya Bestower of Eternal Bliss
Musikvahana One who has Mouse as His Charioteer
Nadapratithishta One who Appreciates and Loves Music
Namasthetu Vanquisher of All Evils and Vices and Sins
Nandana Lord Shiva's Son
Nideeshwaram Giver of Wealth and Treasures
Omkara One who has the Form of OM
Pitambara One who has Yellow-Coloured Body
Pramoda Lord of All Abodes
Prathameshwara First among All
Purush The Omnipotent Personality
Rakta One who has Red-Coloured Body
Rudrapriya Beloved of Lord Shiva
Sarvadevatman Acceptor of All Celestial Offerings
Sarvasiddhanta Bestower of Skills and Wisdom
Sarvatman Protector of the Universe
Shambhavi The Son of Parvati
Shashivarnam One who has a Moon like Complexion
Shoorpakarna Large-Eared Lord
Shuban All Auspicious Lord
Shubhagunakanan One who is The Master of All Virtues
Shweta One who is as Pure as the White Colour
Siddhidhata Bestower of Success and Accomplishments
Siddhipriya Bestower of Wishes and Boons
Siddhivinayaka Bestower of Success
Skandapurvaja Elder Brother of Skand (Lord Kartik)
Sumukha Auspicious Face
Sureshwaram Lord of All Lords
Swaroop Lover of Beauty
Tarun Ageless
Uddanda Nemesis of Evils and Vices
Umaputra The Son of Goddess Uma (Parvati)
Vakratunda Curved Trunk Lord
Varaganapati Bestower of Boons
Varaprada Granter of Wishes and Boons
Varadavinayaka Bestower of Success
Veeraganapati Heroic Lord
Vidyavaridhi God of Wisdom
Vighnahara Remover of Obstacles
Vignaharta Demolisher of Obstacles
Vighnaraja Lord of All Hindrances
Vighnarajendra Lord of All Obstacles
Vighnavinashanaya Destroyer of All Obstacles and Impediments
Vigneshwara Lord of All Obstacles
Vikat Huge and Gigantic
Vinayaka Lord of All
Vishwamukha Master of The Universe
Vishwaraja King of The World
Yagnakaya Acceptor of All Sacred and Sacrificial Offerings
Yashaskaram Bestower of Fame and Fortune
Yashvasin Beloved and Ever Popular Lord
Yogadhipa The Lord of Meditation

Lord Ganesh remains as lovable and as inspiring as ever.