Ganesha, also spelled Ganesa, also known as Vinayaka, is one of the deities best-known and most widely worshipped in India. His image is found throughout India and Nepal. Hindu sects worship him regardless of affiliations. Devotion to Ganesha is widely diffused and extends to Jains, Buddhists and beyond India.
Although he is known by many other attributes, Ganesha’s elephant head makes him particularly easy to identify. Ganesha is widely revered as the Remover of Obstacles and more generally as Lord of Beginnings and Lord of Obstacles,Vighneshvara, patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom. He is honoured at the beginning of rituals and ceremonies and invoked as Patron of Letters during writing sessions. Several texts relate mythological anecdotes associated with his birth and exploits and explain his distinct iconography.
Ganesha emerged as a distinct deity in clearly recognizable form in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, during the Gupta Period, although he inherited traits from Vedic and pre-Vedic precursors. His popularity rose quickly, and he was formally included among the five primary deities of Smartism (a Hindu denomination) in the 9th century. A sect of devotees called the Ganapatya, who identified Ganesha as the supreme deity, arose during this period. The principal scriptures dedicated to Ganesha are the Ganesha Purana, the Mudgala Purana, and the Ganapati Atharvashirsa.
The birth of Ganesha
One day Goddess Parvati was at home on Mount 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.
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.
Ganesh is born of divine parents and is himself a divine being. According to the Hindu mythology, in the snow-capped mountains of Kailash, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi, the divine couple, live with their two divine children, Ganesh and his brother Karthik, also known as Karthik.
This is the tale of those days when both Ganesh and Karthik were very young. Ganesh being the elder son, was full of patience and wisdom. Karthik, on the other hand, was impish and playful. But both of them were intelligent and powerful. The two brothers had much difference in their physique. While Ganesh had a massive body with a big belly and an elephant’s head, young Karthik was a beautiful boy with strong limbs. They were kind to everybody and were loved by all.
Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi loved their two children and they in turn were devoted to their parents. The Devas (deities) were pleased with the lovely divine children and they worshipped them.
But one day, as the Devas talked about the qualities of the brothers, a doubt arose in the mind of one of them. “Who is the wiser of the two brothers?” he asked the others “Ganesh or Karthik?”
Soon this doubt spread to all the Devas. All of them were talking and expressing their opinion about the matter. But no one could surely decide upon the matter. As they racked their brains to solve the issue, suddenly, a Deva got an idea.
“I know whom to ask!”, said he. As others looked at him curiously, he continued, “Lord Brahma. He is the Creator of the world. He should know the answer, so let’s ask him! He can surely solve this doubt.”
Without any more delay, the Devas rushed to Brahma and asked their Creator about their doubt. Brahma was surprised to see all the deities, together.
“Such a pleasant surprise! What brings you here?”
The Devas told Brahma about their doubt. “O lord Brahma, who is the wiser brother?”, asked they, “Ganesh or Karthik?”
“Alas, I do not know!” replied Brahma. “I am the creator of mankind, not divine beings. Ganesh and Karthik were born to the celestial gods Shiva and Parvathi.”
The Devas were disappointed. Even the Brahma did not know! Then they would not be able to have an answer, after all.
Looking at their glum faces, Lord Brahma decided to help them. “It is true that I do not know who is the wiser of the two young Gods”, he thought. “But I can probably find it out with the help of my son Narada”.
Narada, the son of Lord Brahma, was a mischievous sage who was famous for creating disputes. Wherever he went, he created trouble.
But if he got away with all his pranks and without getting cursed it was only because the trouble he caused usually ended on a happy note.
“Narada, help the Devas. Find the answer to their question,” said Brahma after explaining the problem.
“Certainly, Father,” replied Narada, and his eyes twinkled naughtily, smelling an opportunity to play a prank.
Using his magical powers Narada swiftly flew over the white mountains of Kailash and, in no time, arrived at the divine abode of Shiva and Parvathi. He was warmly welcomed by the heavenly couple.
“0 Shive, Saviour of the Universe!, O Devi Parvathi !” Narada praised the lord. “I thank you for your warm welcome. It is indeed a pleasant joy and an honour to see you both together as the Divine couple”.
Everyone knew about Narada’s mischievous nature. Shiva understood that Narada was up to some mischief. “Now tell us the truth. I can sense some mischief brewing in your mind. What is the prank you are planning to play on us?” he said jokingly.
Narada pretended to be hurt. “You greatly insult me, Lord Shiva! I have just come here to give you a gift,” he said in a sorrowful voice.
“A gift for me? What is it Narada?”, asked Lord Shiva. Narada, hearing the eagerness in Shiva’s voice smiled to himself in amusement. He produced a golden mango and gave it to the Lord.
“A mango!” exclaimed Shiva. “Now don’t say you travelled all the way here to give me this fruit.”
“It is no ordinary fruit, my Lord,” Narada replied. “The taste of this fruit is said to be sweeter than nectar. This is the divine fruit of knowledge that bestows eternal wisdom to those who eat it.
“Is it so?” asked Shiva, looking at the mango. He then asked his wife Parvathi to have a bite.
“No, stop!” cried Narada. “What are you doing?”
Lord Shiva looked at Narada curiously. “Why? Do you want me to eat it without letting Parvathi taste it? I am going to share it with her”. Saying so, he turned to share the fruit with his wife, Goddess Parvathi.
Narada shook his head in disagreement. “That cannot be done, Lord Shiva. It is a magical fruit, blessed by the sages and Devas. It is not possible to cut the mango into pieces. It should be eaten by a single person as a whole fruit”.
The divine couple looked at each other. They were confused. Then Lord Shiva shrugged. “If that is the case, let my better half have this fruit. Here Parvathi, you can have this whole mango,” he said, offering the mango to his wife.
Parvathi was surprised. “Oh no, I don’t want it! You are my husband. How can I eat it without you having a taste of it?” she refused.
Both Lord Shiva and Narada requested her to eat the fruit but Parvathi steadily declined. “Instead, let one of our children have the fruit,” she suggested.
“But, how is that possible?” asked Narada slyly. “There is one fruit and two children. Who should be given the fruit – Ganesh or Karthik?”
While the elders were talking, Ganesh and Karthik appeared in Kailash. They saw that their parents and Sage Narada were having some serious talk on something. Then Karthik noticed something yellow and round in Narada’s hand.
“What is Uncle Narada having in his hand ?” Karthik asked to Ganesh. Ganesh was equally curious.
“ This is a magical mango, Karthik, “Narada replied, as he heard Karthik’s question. “I gave it to your Father but he wanted your Mother to eat it. But she won’t have it. She wants to give it to one of you”.
“A magical mango? I love mangoes!”, shouted Karthik, “I want it! I want it!”.
“No, no, it should come to me. I love mangoes too! I’m the eldest son and the right one to eat the fruit of knowledge,” argued Ganesh. Soon the brothers started fighting.
The divine parents were perplexed. This is nothing but a mountain out of a molehill. Lord Shiva looked at Narada. “So this is why you came to Kailash! I knew it! I knew there was something in your mind. Well done Narada, you have finally played the trick. This is why you came here. But now that you have created trouble, please solve it. You decide to whom the mango should go to,” he said firmly.
Narada was delighted that his plan was working so well. “Why don’t we could have a competition to settle the matter?” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
“The children agreed to Narada’s suggestion. Lord Shiva thought over the matter.
“All right, then.” said he, “We’ll have a contest. Whoever of you goes around the world three times and returns first will get the fruit ,” he said to his children.
Hearing this, Karthik immediately mounted his vehicle, the peacock. His brother Ganesh was slow and fat. Karthik laughed to himself in glee. He was very certain that he would win.
Ganesh too, understood that his vehicle, the mouse, could not compete with the peacock’s speed. So he thought for a moment. Suddenly, he got an idea. Ganesh smiled to himself.
Karthik flew around the world stopping at all temples and sacred spots on the way and offering his prayers. To his astonishment, he found Ganesh at every major stop. Karthik was puzzled. How did Ganesh manage to be so fast?
The reason was the razor-sharp intelligence and the great wisdom of Ganesh. Back in Kailash, Ganesh remembered that his parents Shiva and Parvathi represented the entire universe. Without delay, the young elephant-headed god walked around his parents with great devotion, folding his hands.
“Why are you circling us Ganesh?” asked Lord Shiva.
“I’m your son and to me, you two make up my whole world. Why should I go further to win the contest?” replied Ganesh.
Shiva was pleased with his elder son’s smart answer and gave the magical fruit to him.
When Karthik returned after his voyage, he understood what had happened and accepted the superiority of his clever brother Ganesh. The Devas found the answer to their doubt. They praised and blessed Ganesh.
Narada chuckled to himself. His father had praised him too. So did the Devas.
Festival of Ganesha – Ganesha Chaturthi
Ganesha Chaturthi, the great Ganesha festival, also known as ‘Vinayak Chaturthi’ or ‘Vinayaka Chavithi’ is celebrated by Hindus around the world as the birthday of Lord Ganesha. It is observed during the Hindu month of Bhadra (mid-August to mid-September) and the grandest and most elaborate of them, especially in the western India state of Maharashtra, lasts for 10 days, ending on the day of ‘Ananta Chaturdashi’.
The Grand Celebration
A life-like clay model of Lord Ganesha is made 2-3 months prior to the day of Ganesh Chaturthi. The size of this idol may vary from 3/4th of an inch to over 25 feet.
On the day of the festival, it is placed on raised platforms in homes or in elaborately decorated outdoor tents for people to view and pay their homage. The priest, usually clad in red silk dhoti and shawl, then invokes life into the idol amidst the chanting of mantras. This ritual is called ‘pranapratishhtha’. After this the ‘shhodashopachara’ (16 ways of paying tribute) follows. Coconut, jaggery, 21 ‘modakas’ (rice flour preparation), 21 ‘durva’ (trefoil) blades and red flowers are offered. The idol is anointed with red unguent or sandal paste (rakta chandan). Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda and Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted.
For 10 days, from Bhadrapad Shudh Chaturthi to the Ananta Chaturdashi, Ganesha is worshipped. On the 11th day, the image is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing, to be immersed in a river or the sea symbolizing a ritual see-off of the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Kailash while taking away with him the misfortunes of all man. All join in this final procession shouting “Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya” (O father Ganesha, come again early next year). After the final offering of coconuts, flowers and camphor is made, people carry the idol to the river to immerse it.
The whole community comes to worship Ganesha in beautifully done tents. These also serve as the venue for free medical checkup, blood donation camps, charity for the poor, dramatic performances, films, devotional songs, etc. during the days of the festival.
Recommendation to worship Ganesha on Ganesha Chaturthi
On the Ganesh Chaturthi day, meditate on the stories connected with Lord Ganesha early in the morning, during the Brahmamuhurta period. Then, after taking a bath, go to the temple and do the prayers of Lord Ganesha. Offer Him some coconut and sweet pudding. Pray with faith and devotion that He may remove all the obstacles that you experience on the spiritual path. Worship Him at home, too. You can get the assistance of a pundit. Have an image of Lord Ganesha in your
house. Feel His Presence in it.
Don’t forget not to look at the moon on that day; remember that it behaved unbecomingly towards the Lord. This really means avoid the company of all those who have no faith in God, and who deride God, your Guru and religion, from this very day.
Take fresh spiritual resolves and pray to Lord Ganesha for inner spiritual strength to attain success in all your undertakings.