वक्रतुण्ड महाकाय कोटि सूर्य समप्रभ |
निर्विघ्नं कुरु म देव शुभ कार्येषु सर्वदा ||
Bakratunda Mahakaya Suryakoti Samaprbha|
Nirbighnam Kurume Deva Sarwakaryeshu Sarwada ||
“You of the twisted trunk and massive body with the dazzle of millions of suns, Lead me, Lord, on a path that has no obstacles or hindrances in all my good endeavors.”
Ganesh is easily the international star of Hinduism. Who hasn’t seen his iconic adorable elephant face? The popularity of Ganesh is universal. He is known by various names, Ganapati, Vinayak, Ekadanta, Gajaanan, Lambodara, Heramba, Vighneswar, Mangalmurti, and the list goes on.
Ganesh has traveled far and wide. One can find Ganesh appearing in cultures all over Asia; as Kangiten in Japan, as Phra Phikanet in Thailand, as Ganapati in Cambodia, as Shoten in China, and so on. Ganesh is so popular in Nepal, we even have a mountain dedicated to Ganesh, named Ganesh Himal (7422 m).
Festival of Ganesh
Hindus in Nepal celebrate two main festivals to worship Ganesh. First one being, Ganesh Chaturthi/ Vinayaka Chaturthi, and the second is Ganesh Jayanti. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated in the Sukla paksha (the fourth day of the waxing moon) in the month of Bhadra of the Nepalese calendar (August/ September).
Ganesh Jayanti is celebrated on the Chaturthi of the Sukla paksha (fourth day of the waxing moon) in the month of Magh (January/ February). Hindu devotees in Nepal pay homage to Lord Ganesh on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi and Ganesh Jayanti.
All the famous and local temples of Ganesh receive devotees in huge numbers during both festivals. Devotees fast and sing praises of the lord.
There is a popular belief that one should refrain from looking at the moon during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi. Looking at the moon is believed to bring you Mithya Dosh (false accusation) of stealing. Hence people avoid looking at the moon this evening. However, the indigenous people of the Kathmandu valley have an interesting tradition of making an offering to the moon at night during this festival, without looking at the moon itself.
Legend has it, once Ganesh was returning home on his vahana mouse; Chandra, the Moon-god poked fun at Ganesh commenting on his belly and the tiny mouse. Miffed by the moon, Ganesh cursed him that no light would ever fall on him. Thus, the moon disappeared in the skies.
The moon sought pardon and Ganesh acceded. However, once a curse is pronounced it cannot be repealed entirely. Hence, he said that sighting the moon on Chaturthi would be as good as a curse.
According to another Puranic legend, Lord Krishna was once accused of stealing a precious gem ‘Syamantaka’. After seeing the plight of Lord Krishna, Sage Narada informed him that he had sighted the moon of Ganesh Chaturthi and hence he has been accused of stealing the gem. On Narada’s advice, Lord Krishna observed a fast on Ganesh Chaturthi to get rid of the Mithya Dosh.
Ganesh appears in different forms and manifestations across different regions. The generic form of Ganesh is often depicted with four arms holding Sweet (laddu or modak), a lasso (Pasha), an axe or a goad, and Abhaya Mudra, the hand gesture of fearlessness. His attributes vary enormously according to his forms & manifestations. He sometimes holds a lotus flower, sometimes his own broken tusk, sugarcane, a pomegranate, or a radish depending on his forms & where the image originates. Ganesh holding a radish has been considered to be a special feature of Nepalese Ganesh seen nowhere else.
A Mouse, Ganesh’s Vahana (mount)
His vahana (mount) is a rat or a mouse. It is very interesting to see a generous-sized Ganesh riding on top of a little mouse. The first mention of a mouse as Ganesh’s vahana appears in a Hindu Scripture called “Matysa Purana” and later in Mudgala & Ganesh Puranas as well. Although a mouse is his principal vahana, we occasionally see him on other Vahanas in other manifestations such as Heramba Ganapati rides a lion, Vikata Ganesh rides a peacock, and Vighnaraja is manifested on top of a Shesha Naag ( the divine king of the nagas/serpents).
According to Mudgala Purana, a celestial musician named Krauncha in Indra’s (King of Gods) court accidentally stepped on the foot of Muni Vamadeva, who in anger cursed the ill-fated musician to become a big mouse. Poor Krauncha who was now a mouse was so huge, he would knock down the ground he stepped on. Once when Lord Ganesh was invited at Maharshi Parasar’s ashram, the big rat ended up toppling down rishi’s little cottage. Ganesh determined to teach the mouse a lesson, unleashed his Pasha and subdued the mouse under his feet. Krauncha asked Ganesh to forgive him and to accept him as Ganesh’s vahana. However, there is another fascinating interpretation of the mouse as Ganesh’s Vahana. The mouse symbolizes the fickle human mind, always reckless and restless. The elephant symbolizes the intellect which controls and focuses the mind to overcome obstacles.
Ganesh in Hinduism
The word Ganesh (Gana+Isha) is a Sanskrit word where “Gana” means a group, multitude, or categorical system and the word “Isha” means lord or master. Therefore Ganesh means the Lord of the Gaṇas.
Ganapati is worshipped on many religious and secular occasions especially any the beginning of starting a business or building a house, starting a project and so on. Ganesh holds an important position in the Hindu Pantheon. Ganesh is the remover of obstacles, the god of luck & fortune.
Every Hindu prayers & ceremony begin with an invocation to Ganesh. Every tole (settlement) in Kathmandu must have a local Ganesh shrine, usually on the roadside, protecting the locals. Numerous temples & shrines, big and small; are scattered all over Nepal. Kathmandu valley has four ancient shrines of Ganesh in the form of Vinayak: Surya Vinayak in Bhaktapur (seen on featured photo), Chandra Vinayak and Jal Vinayak in Kathmandu, and Karya Vinayak in Lalitpur. Many of these temples feature Ganesh together with his two consorts: Riddhi and Siddhi, whereas some traditions consider him to be a Bal-Bramhachari, a celibate ascetic.
Origin of the Elephant Headed Lord
Ganesh is the son of the celestial couple Shiva & Parvati. Legend has it, Lord Ganesh’s mother, Goddess Parvati, carved an idol of a boy out of turmeric powder which she used as a body scrub and breathed life into it, Lord Shiva, her husband, was unknown of this creation. And it was on this day, Ganesh Chaturthi day, Ganesh was brought into life.
So, when Ganesh denied Lord Shiva entry into his own abode because Goddess Parvati was bathing inside, Shiva decapitated Ganesh’s head in anger. Parvati was furious to learn about his death and threatened to destroy the universe if Ganesh is not resurrected into life. According to the legend, Shiva set out in a search assuring Parvati that the first animal he would find would become the head for Ganesh. Incidentally, an elephant was the first animal that was found when he went out to look for one (to replace Ganesh’s head).
Sibling rivalry with his brother Kumar Karitikeya
Once the divine parents (Shiva & Parvati) of Ganesh & Kumar decided to hold a competition between the two boys. Both boys were eager to win; the term being whoever circled the world thrice would win. Kumar hopped onto his vahana peacock and zoomed off in a jiffy while this left Ganesh in a predicament, for he has a plumpy body and a tiny mouse for the mount.
Ganesh, the embodiment of wisdom and wit, went back to his parents. He asked them to sit together, folded his hands, and circumambulated them thrice. To his confused parents, he said, “You are my parents, you are the world to me. So when I went around you thrice, it’s equal to going around the world.” The parents nodded and smiled while Ganesh claimed victory.
Shiva declared Ganesh to be the “Pratham Poojya”, (the first God to be worshipped before any gods) henceforth. This is why every Hindu ritual & ceremony beings with an invocation to Ganesh.
Ganesh in Buddhism
In Nepal, within Mahayana Buddhism Ganesh appears in the form of the Buddhist god Vinayaka. His image often appears in Buddhist scriptures shown dancing whereas, in Vajrayana Buddhism, he appears in the form of the Buddhist god Vināyaka or Ganapati.
The primary function of Ganapati is that of a wealth deity – medications & rituals are done for the purpose of obtaining wealth. He can also be a Yidam (meditational deity) or a Dharma protector deity. Sometimes Ganesh is seen as a worldly deity dedicated to protecting Buddhism, but in some Mahayana stories, he is a Bodhisattva placed in the Chakrasamvara Mandala Cycle of Tantra. Another popular form of Ganesh in Buddhism is Rakta Ganapati who is considered to be a manifestation of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva.
The symbolism of his manifestation
Ganapati is worshipped in different forms such as Baal Ganesh (child God), Siddhi Ganesh (God of Achievement) Karya Vinayak (Lord of rightful deeds) etc. Much as the round form of Ganesh is beloved to us, we should look beyond the obvious into the symbolism of this form.
- His large and rounded body denotes the entire universe. He is the embodiment of all.
- The Elephant, which is a vegetarian and doesn’t kill to eat, signifies gentle strength. An elephant also responds to love and affection as God will respond to our love.
- The large head symbolizes wisdom. The large ears sift truths from untruths.
- The curved trunk denotes the primal sound, the mystic OM. This symbol in Sanskrit ॐ resembles an elephant and his trunk.
- The trunk also is a symbol of discrimination – the same trunk has the strength to pull up a tree or pick delicately at the smallest of things.
- The great stomach symbolizes that Ganesh swallows the sorrows of the universe and protects the world.
- The mouse which is underfoot symbolizes the petty desires and ego of man which needs to be vanquished.
- Ganesh is shown to hold different items in his hands, about 40 different ones being common. Each represents an attribute. In the picture above, one hand in the Abhaya pose says ‘Don’t fear, I am here.
- A hand holds the double-headed axe to symbolize his destruction of impediments and evil.
- A hand holds the lotus flower, which indicates purity as the flower grows unsullied even in the dirtiest of ponds.
- The fourth hand holds Modaks, the sweet dear to Him. Today thousands of worshippers will offer these sweets to their dear deity. Modakam in Sanskrit means that which gives joy and pleasure (Moda); just as this sweet gives us joy, Ganesh too, blesses us with joy.