- Pronunciation: gah-NEE-shah
- Origin: Hindu
- Role: Lord of Success
- Symbols: Mouse, Prasad, Axe
- Parents: Shiva, Parvati
- Sibling: Kartikeya
- Other Names: Ganesa, Ganesh, Ganapati
Who Is Ganesha?
Ganesha is one of the most recognizable and well-known Hindu gods. He is considered to be the “First God” in Hindu mythology. He has the head of an elephant, a large pot belly and four arms. He travels on a mouse and is a fascinating god who symbolizes several important elements to his followers.
Ganesha is the first-born son of Parvati and Shiva. However, he was not conceived by both his mother and father. His mother, Parvati, wanted children but her husband did not. According to tradition, Ganesha was born solely out of Parvati’s desire to become a mother.
His name can be broken down as follows. “Ga” symbolizes intellect, or Buddhi, while “Na” symbolizes wisdom. This is why he is considered the god of intellect and wisdom by his followers. His full name is derived from two Sanskrit words. “Isha” means Lord and “Gana” translates to group, making him God of the masses.
Legends and Stories
There are many legends about Ganesha that show how powerful and important of a god he is. Here are a couple that are still shared today.
How Ganesha Got His Head
Ganesha’s mother, Parvati, wanted a child but her husband did not. She decided to form a boy out of dirt and put him in charge of guarding her home. When Shiva, her husband, returned to their home he was surprised to find that he was denied access to the home. He was angered and in a fit of rage severed the boy’s head from his body. Parvati was devastated and Shiva quickly realized his mistake. He sent a group to find the head of the first living creature they came across that was sleeping. It just so happened that they came across a sleeping elephant. They removed the animal’s head and brought it back to Shiva. He attached it to the young boy’s body and revived him. He then made him the leader of the group and declared that the boy would be worshipped by everyone.
There is a second version of this tale that goes as follows. Parvati gave birth to a son who was welcomed by all the gods and goddesses. The Sun-God, Lord Shani, was at the celebration but refused to look at the child. Parvati asked him why he kept looking away and Lord Shani told her that his gaze was so powerful it would harm the baby. Parvati didn’t believe him and insisted that he look at her child. Lord Shani did as he was told and the child’s head was instantly severed from his body. The gods were determined to remedy the problem and found the head of a young elephant to attach to the newborn who was then revived.
Ganesha and the Moon
One of the more playful stories of Ganesha tells the tale of how the moon took on the appearance we know so well. Ganesha enjoyed eating, especially sweet treats. He never refused anything delicious and it often got him into trouble. Ganesha’s devotee once offered him a feast and the god stayed for the entire day, eating more than his share. He was about to head home during the evening but not before taking everything that was left on the table with him. He was slowly walking home, doing his best to balance the treats he took with him, when he stumbled and fell to the ground. Everything he was carrying scattered and he tore his clothing.
He was embarrassed but quickly began to gather the food back in his arms. He looked around to see if anyone noticed his fall and saw that the moon was high in the sky and looking down on him. Chandra Deva, the moon, had seen the entire event. The moon always appeared full at this time and Chandra Deva thought of himself to be very attractive. He began to laugh at Ganesha and wiped tears away from his eyes instead of helping the god and making sure that he was okay.
Ganesha was now annoyed and embarrassed and cursed the moon, telling him that he would disappear from the sky and never show his face again. Chandra Deva immediately stopped laughing and panicked. He thought the punishment was too harsh and begged Ganesha to change his mind.
Ganesha couldn’t take back the curse but he could lessen its severity. Instead, he told the moon that instead of remaining full all month, he would start full and then slowly disappear as the nights came and went. Chandra Deva was thankful for the smaller punishment and apologized to Ganesha.
Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati. He has one sibling named Kartikeya. Some stories say that he was celibate as a tribute to his mother while other tales say that he was married to Buddhi and Siddhi, the daughters of Brahma.
Each part of Ganesha’s body has its own significance and value.
His elephant head is said to represent intelligence, discriminative power and fidelity. His broken tusk shows his ability to overcome dualism. His oversized ears signify wisdom and his ability to listen to those who ask for help. They also serve as a reminder of how important listening is when it comes to discussing ideas and thoughts.
Ganesha’s curved trunk represents intellectual potential while the Trishula depicted on his forehead symbolizes all aspects of time (past, present and future). His pot belly holds infinite universes while signifying nature and equanimity. He is able to consume the sorrows of the world and protect it from harm.
Ganesha has four arms (sometimes more, depending on the artistic representation) which are said to represent the inner attributes of the body. One symbolizes the mind, one symbolizes intellect and the third symbolizes ego. The fourth arm symbolizes conscience.
Because Ganesha’s body is a copy of the outline found in the Devanagari letter indicated in the Bija Mantra, he is considered to be the incarnation of all the Cosmos. This is why he is so important to the Hindu religion, as he symbolizes nearly everything important to humans.
Ganesha is mostly tied to the symbology of his body but there are some other symbols associated with the deity. The mouse that he rides on represents his humbleness and his ability to make use of every area of the mind. The Prasad near his feat symbolizes both sharing and giving. He also holds an axe to remind those who follow him to cut ties with materialistic attachments.