What ? An elephant-headed god ? This is the typical reaction of those unfamiliar with India's favorite deity, but anyone from the sub continent, regardless of age, class, creed, religion, or gender, will immediately recognize Ganesha with his prominent pot belly, large ears, and trunk for sampling delicacies.Welcome to the galaxy of Hindu gods where, in addition to the elephant faced Ganesha, you will occasionally come across boar-faced, bear-faced, horse-faced, lion-faced, or even monkey-faced gods.With an elephant's head and the body of a man, Ganesha always fails the personality test, yet he is one of the most beloved deities of the pantheon. In fact a great Indian tradition is to start every venture with the blessings of Ganesha, the ultimate obstacle remover.That
is why Ganesha is first on our journey to meet the Hindu gods even though, strictly speaking, he has no place in a book about Vedic gods.
Despite his strange looks, Ganesha comes from an illustrious family.Those who are familiar with India know the country is famous for its dynasties. The Kapoor family dominates Bollywood, the Tatas reign in business, and the Gandhi clan is preeminent in politics.A long-standing member of the Shaiva dynasty, Ganesha is the son of Shiva, the fearless leader of the Shaivites,which have a following of more than 300 million devotees. Ganesha's mother is Parvati, who is regarded as supreme by the equally strong Shakta sect. And he has a sibling named Kartikeya, who, as Muruga, is well known among the Tamil community, not only in India but also in Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries.
Why Ganesha is the most famous God
Although Ganesha is generally considered the older brother of Kartikeya, there are lingering doubts about who is older.l When it comes to popularity, however, there's no doubt. Born to a family of spiritual heavyweights, Ganesha beats them all in popularity, for his fame has spread to religions like Buddhism and Jainism. With a worldwide following rivaling that of Santa Claus, Ganesha has become a deity attached to no specific religion, although his origins are undoubtedly rooted in Hinduism.
What explains his popularity ? It comes from Ganesha's benevolence as the remover of obstacles, for Hindus believe every major undertaking in life is fraught with unknowns.Donald Rumsfeld, then George W. Bush's widely unpopular secretary of defense, famously declared, "There are known knowns ; there are known unknowns; and there are unknown unknowns." But even thousands of years before Rumsfeld uttered those words, Hindus were calling upon Ganesha to deal with the unwanted unknowns that manifested as obstacles in their journey. Buying a home, starting a company, writing a book, and purchasing a car-all key moments in life are embarked upon with Ganesha's blessing. Because of his significance in everyday life, he holds a special place among his devotees and is worshiped frequently. Images of Ganesha appear not only in temples and home shrines but at office desks and in bedrooms. He can even be seen hiding in cupboards or the glove compartment of automobiles.
Story of Lord Ganesha
Many stories abound about the origin of Ganesha. In one popular tale, Ganesha is said to have been created because of Parvati's frustration with her husband Shiva. After Shiva repeatedly intrudes in her bath, Parvati decides it's no longer safe to have a bath when he's around. This goes on for days until she has an idea. With the scurf collected from her body, she creates a son and makes him her gatekeeper. When Shiva attempts to burst into her bath again, the newly appointed gatekeeper stops Shiva and drives him away with a cane that leaves a few cuts on Shiva's body. A furious Shiva retaliates by chopping off the head of the stubborn guard, not realizing the gatekeeper was his own son. Parvati is filled with sorrow,but Shiva consoles her by re placing the head of the gatekeeper with that of an elephant. Thus Ganesha got stuck with an elephant head early in his life.
Condemnation was universal for Shiva at his clumsy job of reviving Ganesha with an elephant head. This was not the first time Shiva suffered disapprobation. On another occasion Shiva had revived his father-in-law with a goat's head after decapitating him in a fit of anger.As the deity of destruction, Shiva never really understood the intricacies of creation. Even India's conservative prime minister Narendra Modi weighed in on the issue when he remarked that "an ancient plastic surgeon must have attached the head of an elephant on the body of Ganesha."At the next global meeting of gods, a disconsolate Parvati presented her restored son to the assembled dignitaries. When they looked at Ganesha in disbelief, Shiva felt humiliated and apologized to them.
He made amends by making Ganesha the leader of ganas, the semi-divine followers of Shiva. As a result Ganesha name commonly used for him in the South, as is became known as Ganapati (leader of ganas), a name commonly used for him in the South.
As a gatekeeper Ganesha is diligent and stead fast, but occasionally he goes too far in the line of duty and inadvertently becomes an obstacle himself. The sage Parashurama, a disciple of Shiva, once paid a visit to Shiva in his abode at Mount Kailash. Ganesha stopped Parashurama at the gate and refused him entry because Shiva was taking his siesta. A fight promptly ensued. Ganesha used his long trunk to pick up Parashurama and gave him a massive twirl until he was dizzy.When Parashu rama came to his senses, he flung his mighty ax at Ganesha, who at once recognized the ax because Shiva had given it to Parashurama. Since Ganesha was an obedient son, he did not insult his father by resisting the weapon. But the ax broke one of his tusks-which is why he's always depicted with a broken tusk.
As is common in Hindu mythology, a different version of the story gives a different reason for Ganesha's broken tusk. It is said that the author sage Vyasa asked Ganesha to write down the epic Mahabharata, while he dictated the story to him. Knowing the magnitude of the task, Ganesha realized that any ordinary writing tool would be inadequate for the task, so he broke one of his own tusks to create a pen. That is why writers invoke Ganesha as a patron of letters. They also often dedicate their work to Ganesha.
Pictures of Ganesha usually show a rat near his foot as if the poor creature had wandered into the scene. It's customary for Hindu gods to have a mount for transportation that does not depend on fossil fuel, and the rat is Ganesha's vehicle. It may seem odd that while Shiva rides a bull, and Parvati a lion, the portly Ganesha travels around on a measly rat. But that does not mean Ganesha is a second-class citizen.
Ganesh is Smart
On the contrary, Ganesha is an intelligent god and smart enough to know his limitations, as the following story attests. Parvati once arranged a race between her two sons, Ganesha and Kartikeya, to determine who was the fastest. Each was asked to go around the world in the shortest time. The strong Kartikeya strutted off in his peacock, confident he would circle the globe faster,but on reaching home he was astounded to learn that his brother had already completed the race. Ganesha won without leaving the room. All he did was to circle around his mother and plead endearingly, "You are my world!"which melted Parvati's heart and clinched the prize for him.
Ganesha's ingenious approach to problem solving has been duplicated on many occasions, including, in recent times, at the 2017 Miss World beauty pageant, held in China. When asked which profession in the world deserved the highest salary and why, a contestant responded, "Mothers sacrifice so much for their children ... and deserve not only the highest salary but the highest respect and love." With that singular answer, twenty year-old Manushi Chhillar of India captured the hearts of not only the audience but the judges and was crowned Miss World from a pool of 118 contestants. Hindus pay respect to their most popular deity by enthusiastically celebrating Ganesha's birthday. Called Ganesha Chaturthi, the festival lasts ten days and is celebrated all over India. It is especially popular in Mumbai,the commercial capital of India.
Temples and homes are decorated with leaves and flowers, and a large clay image of Ganesha is created for the occasion. At the end of the festival, devotees bid Ganesha goodbye by carrying his image in a public procession and immersing it in the Arabian Sea. Before we say farewell to Ganesha and move on to the next deity, one last thing. When you are touring India, the land of Hindu deities, do as the Indians do-that is, get hold of an image of Ganesha so it will ward off obstacles in your path.£ Don't assume that doing so will bring you only good luck.
Trust me, no Hindu god promises this. Rather,they tacitly acknowledge that sometimes the pendulum of life can swing wildly out of control. But keeping the official obstacle remover by your side will give you hope and prepare you mentally in the face of uninvited unknowns.