The Elephant-headed Lord, Ganesa, also known as Ganapati, Vighneshwara, Vinayaka and Pillaiyar, is one of the most popular deities in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India and Nepal and extends to Jains and Buddhists, even to other regions beyond India. Ganesa is generally regarded as the Remover of Obstacles and the Lord of Beginnings and Lord of Obstacles, also the Patron of arts and sciences and the Lord of Buddhi and Siddhi (intellect and wisdom). As Vighneshwara, He is offered obeisance at the beginning of rituals and ceremonies and invoked as Patron of Letters. Ganesa emerged a distinct deity during the 4th and 5th centuries CE, during the Gupta Period. Today, Ganesa is one of the primary Gods in Hinduism.
The name, Ganesa or Ganapati, is a combination of the Sanskrit words, Gana (group of Ganas or Shiva's attendants) and Isha or Pati (Lord/Master). The Amarakosha, an early Sanskrit glossary, lists eight synonyms of Ganesa : Vinayaka, Vighnarāja, Dvaimātura (one who has two mothers), Gaṇādhipa (same as Ganapati), Ekadanta (one who has one tusk), Heramba, Lambodara (one who has a pot belly), and Gajanana (having the face of an elephant).
Ganesa is a very versatile deity, who is portrayed in many ways. He may be depicted sitting, reclining, standing, dancing, playing with his family, or engaging in a range of contemporary situations. Some recent fancy Ganesa idols available in the market today, even show him in coat and suit, with a mobile phone in hand!
Ganesa has the head of an elephant and a big belly. He has four arms and a broken tusk. His trunk turns to his left or right, depending on the region where the idol was made. Generally, Ganesa typically holds an axe or a goad in one upper arm and a noose in the other upper arm. The lower right hand shows the viewer a gesture of protection or fearlessness (abhaya mudra), while the lower left hand holds a sweet modak. Ganesa's vahana (vehicle) is the Mushika (rat) and is often shown as being seated at His feet.
The Ganesa Purana shows the Lord wrapping the serpent King, Vasuki, around his neck or even stomach. Other depictions include him with a yagnopavita (sacred thread), holding the Trisula (Trident) in one hand and seated on a throne. Upon Ganesa's forehead is sometimes shown a third eye or the traditional Shaivite Tilak, which consists of three horizontal lines of Vibhuti. The Ganesa Purana also talks about Ganesa with a crescent moon on the forehead – this form is called the Balachandra.
Significance of Lord Ganesa's Vahana- Mushika
The Mushika or the rat is a stealthy animal, which is forever running around, causing a general nuisance to one and all around. The mushika signifies our stealthy mind, which is always looking for a crooked way out of any situation. The vahana, resting at Ganesa's feet, signifies that the Lord takes control of a devotee who surrenders to His will. He keeps the devotee's mind in his control, preventing it from playing havoc with the seeker, calming and soothing him down, allowing him to focus his full attention on the Lord.
Interestingly, Ganesa had also been portrayed with the lion in his incarnation as Vakratunda, with a peacock as Vikata and Shesha and with a divine serpent in his avatar as Vighnaraja. According to the Ganesa Purana, Mohotkata has a lion, Mayūreśvara has a peacock, Dhumraketu has a horse, and Gajanana has a rat. Even Jain images of Ganesa show his vahana variously as a mouse, elephant, tortoise, ram and peacock.
Reason For Ganesa being Elephant-headed
There are many stories as to how Ganesa became the elephant-headed Lord. Some texts claim that Ganesa was born with it, but most others relate that he acquires this head later.
The most popular story narrates how Ganesa was born with a human head and body and that Shiva beheaded him when Ganesa came between Shiva and Parvati. Shiva then replaced Ganesa's original head with that of an elephant. Parvati once collected all the sandalwood paste on her body and made a figure of a little boy out of it. She then gave it life and asked this son of hers to guard the gate when she went to bathe. When Shiva tried to enter the premises, the boy denied him entry, which made the former furious enough to behead him. When Parvati came out and saw what happened, she was absolutely devastated and asked Shiva to replace his head immediately. Shiva, not finding another human head at the time, fixed an elephant's head on the boy's shoulders.
In another story, the Shani Devata (Saturn), who is known to have an evil eye, looked at Ganesa, turning the baby's head to ashes. Vishnu then jumped to the rescue and replaced the infant's head with that of an elephant
(O Lord Ganapati!) You are the Divine Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesha. You are Indra. You are Agni (Fire) and Vayu (Air). You are the Surya (Sun) and the Chandrama (Moon). You are the Brahman (the Supreme One). You are the three worlds, Bhuloka (earth), Antariksha-loka (space), and Swargaloka (heaven). You are all this – you are the Om.
In fact, many depictions of Ganesa's body actually resemble the shape of the Aum as written in the Devanagari and Tamil scripts.
Ganesa has a brother named Kartikeya or Skanda. He is also hailed as Murugan and by other names as well. In North India, Skanda is said to be the older sibling, while in the South, Ganesa is considered to be the elder brother. There are many stories which talk of sibling rivalry between the brothers. One of the most common is the Jnana Pazham (Fruit of Wisdom) incident.
One day, the Rishi, Narada, presents a Jnana Pazham to Shiva and Parvati. The couple is in a fix, as they do not know which of their sons to give it to. Then Shiva announces a contest, saying that the first child who goes round the whole world and comes back first would be the one to get the fruit. Murugan feels thrilled at this prospect. He climbs onto his vahana, the peacock, and immediately leaves Kailas in order to go around the world. Ganesa realizes that it would be impossible for him to fulfil the task, seated on his own vahana, the mouse. He thinks for a while and then comes up with a brilliant idea.
Ganesa humbly bows before his parents and after getting their blessings, circles them three times and then asks them for the fruit. Shiva and Parvati are surprised and enquire as to how this could happen. To this, he replies, "You are my world, so by circling you, I've circled the whole world". Shiva and Parvati are pleased with his wisdom and humility and at once hand over the fruit to Ganesa.
When Murugan gets back and sees what has happened, he is furious at being tricked and proceeds to Palani.
Ganesa Worship- Ganesa Chaturthi
Ganesa, who is largely a universally loved God, is generally worshipped before the start of any occasion, function or even business venture. His most popular prayers are "Om Sri Ganesaya Namah and Om Gam Ganapataye Namah. Devotees also offer Ganesa sweets like modaks and laddus. He is often shown carrying a bowl of sweets, called a modakapātra. He is also sometimes worshipped with red sandalwood paste (raktacandana) or red hibiscus flowers. Durva grass or Cynodon dactylon and other materials are also used in his worship.
Ganesa Chaturthi, which falls in the shuklapaksha (the fourth day of the waxing moon) in the month of Bhaadrapada (August/September) is the major festival associated with the Elephant-headed Lord. This festival ends on Ananta Chaturdashi day, when Ganesa murtis or idols are immersed in a body of water. Lokmanya Tilak transformed this annual Ganesa festival from private family celebrations into a grand public event in the year 1893. This was done mainly to bridge the gap between the various Hindu sects in existence at the time. Today, this has become a global event, with people from all religions and communities coming together to pray to their favourite God.
Main Temples of Ganesa
Being the God of Transitions, Ganesa is placed at the doorway of most Hindu temples. But in addition to all these, he also has several temples dedicated just to his worship. The Ashtavinayak temples in Maharashtra are among the most famous. Each of these eight shrines is located within about a 100 kilometer distance from Pune and is dedicated to each of the eight forms of Ganpati. Each of these temples has a legend of its own. Together, they form the "mandala", forming the sacred cosmos of Ganesa.
The Siddhi Vinayak temple in Mumbai, India, is also one of the most famous Ganesa temple in the city, and is said to be extremely powerful as well. There are also other temples in Wai, Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi, Gujarat, Tiruchirapalli, Rameshwaram, Suchindram, Chennai, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
There are many Ganesa temples in many foreign countries too, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Europe and America