The whole universe is nothing but groups of atoms, groups of qualities, of different energies. Gana means group and a group cannot exist without a lord, a supreme energy which holds it together. The Lord of all these groups of atoms and energies is Ganesha.

Like the queen bee whose mere existence brings forth the honeycomb, this diverse universe in itself is enough evidence for Ganesha's presence. This universe would be in chaos if there was no supreme law governing these diverse groups of entities.

Now the question arises that why this supreme power is depicted in the form of an elephant?

Ganesha is the formless Divinity - encapsulated in a magnificent form, for the benefit of the devotee. He is the supreme consciousness that pervades all and brings order in this universe.

Birth of Ganesha

We are all familiar with the story of how Ganesha became the elephant-headed God.

Parvati became dirty when she was celebrating with Shiva. When she realized this, she removed the dirt from her body and created a boy out of it. She then asked him to keep guard while she bathed. When Shiva returned, the boy did not recognize him and obstructed his passage. So Shiva chopped off the boy's head and entered.

Parvati was shocked when she saw this. She explained to Shiva that the boy was their son and pleaded with Shiva to save him at all costs.

Shiva then instructed his helpers to go and get the head of someone who was sleeping with their head pointing to the north. The helpers then got the head of an elephant, which Shiva affixed to the boy's torso and Ganesha was born!

Got these questions?

  1. Doesn't this story sound strange?
  2. Why should Parvati have dirt on her body and so much dirt that she could make a statue out of it?
  3. Didn't the all-knowing Lord Shiva recognize his own son?
  4. Was Shiva, the epitome of peace, so short-tempered, egoistic and cruel that he cut off the head of his own son?
  5. Couldn't Lord Shiva have a little patience and wait outside for some time?
  6. An elephant's head, which itself is very big, on a small boy's body?
  7. Also, Ganesha's vehicle is a mouse. So what we have is a human body on a tiny mouse, and a big elephant's head on top of it! Isn't it very strange?
This is not Ganesha's real story. There is a deeper meaning to all this.

Ganesha - The real story

Parvati is symbolic of festive energy. Parv + Shakti = Parvati. Parv means festival or celebration in Sanskrit.

While celebrating one's mind can easily turn outward making the celebration tainted with feverishness and stress.

Parvati, the festive energy, had been separated from Shiva - peaceful, centered consciousness. Her becoming dirty signifies that celebration, without knowledge and peace, becomes Rajasik, or feverish and can takes you away from your center.

Dirt is symbolic of ignorance, and Shiva is symbolic of supreme innocence, peace and knowledge.

The boy obstructs the path of Shiva means that ignorance, which is an attribute of the head, does not recognize knowledge. However, knowledge cannot stand ignorance. This is the symbolism behind Shiva chopping off the boy's head. It is then replaced with elephant head.

Why the elephant head?

Elephant head represents both gyan shakti(power of knowledge) and karma shakti(power of actions) together.

The principle qualities of the elephant are wisdom and effortlessness. The enormous head of the elephant signifies wisdom and knowledge. Elephants don't walk around obstacles, neither are they stopped by them. They just remove them and walk ahead – signifying effortlessness. So, the small head symbolizing ignorance and ego was replaced with elephant head symbolizing knowledge, wisdom, strength, effortlessness.

It is said, when we worship Lord Ganesha these elephant qualities within us are kindled and we take on these qualities.

Other symbolisms

Ganesha's big belly represents generosity and total acceptance. He is the Lord of all kinds of groups, so He accepts everyone. He also wears a snake as a belt around the stomach, which means that He accepts you, but with the full awareness of a snake! It is an active, participative acceptance.

Ganesha's upraised hand, depicting protection, means, 'Fear not, I am with you', and his lowered hand, palm facing outwards means endless giving as well as an invitation to bow down, this is symbolic of the fact that we will all dissolve into earth one day.

Ganesha also has a single tusk which signifies one-pointedness.

Ganesha carries in His hands ‘the Ankusha’ (the goad/stick that is used to prod an elephant awake; this signifies ‘awakening’) and the ‘Paasa’ (the noose which signifies control) now with awakening a lot of energy is released which without proper guidance can go haywire.

And why does Ganesha, the elephant-headed God travel on something as small as a mouse? Isn't that so incongruous? Again there is symbolism that runs deep. The mouse snips and nibbles away at ropes that bind. The mouse is like the mantra which can cut through sheaths and sheaths of ignorance, leading to the ultimate knowledge represented by Ganesha.

Our ancient Rishis were very wise that they chose to express Divinity in terms of symbols rather than words, since words change over time, but symbols remain unchanged.

Let us keep the deep symbolism in mind as we experience the omnipresent in the form of the elephant God, yet be fully aware that Ganesha is very much within us.

Ajam Nirvikalpam Niraakaaramekam

The essence of Ganesha is brought out beautifully by Adi Shankara. Though Ganesha is worshiped as the elephant-headed God, the form (swaroop) is just to bring out the formless(parabrahma roopa) .
Ajam Nirvikalpam Niraakaaramekam
Neraanandhamanandham Adhvaitha Poornam
Param Nirgunam Nirvisesham Nireeham
ParaBrahma roopam Ganesham Bhajema.
This means that Ganesha(the Lord of all groups) is unborn, unchanging, formless, the one,
beyond bliss and full of bliss, who is the fullness of non-duality,
the supreme, devoid of qualities, without differences, and beyond desire,
I worship Shri Ganesha, the Supreme Brahman personified.
Gunaatheethamanam Chidhananda roopam
chidha bhasakamsarvagam gnana gamyam
munidhyeyam aakasa roopam paresham
paraBrahma roopam Ganesham bhajema.
He is the one beyond the Gunas, the embodiment of bliss consciousness,
the light of consciousness, the all-pervading, who is the source, course, and goal of knowledge,
whom the sages meditate upon, who is formless as Ākāsha(space), the highest Lord,
I worship Shri Ganesha, the Supreme Brahman personified.
Jagath kaaranam kaaran gnana roopam
suraadhim sukhadhim gunesam ganesam
jagathwaapinam viswa vandhyam suresham
para Brahma roopam Ganesham bhaje ma.
We worship Him who is the cause of the universe, the source of knowledge,
the origin of the Devas, the source of happiness, the Lord of the Gunas, Shri Ganesha,
who pervades the universe and is worshipped by all, the Lord of the gods,
I worship Shri Ganesha, the Supreme Brahman personified

Ganesha is the same energy which is the reason for this universe. It is the energy from which everything manifests and into which everything will dissolve.


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