Ganesha Revealed

There are 330 million deities in the Hindu religion. Though there might be some controversy related to this claim, it will not be an over statement to say that Hinduism has more gods and goddesses than any other religion. India is a very diverse land as well. The culture, society, food, dress and language of different states of India vary widely. But as we all know that India is the epitome for unity in diversity, there are a few elements that bind us together. One of such elements is Lord Ganesha.

ganeshaIn the Hindu religion it is considered auspicious to begin any action with the adoration of Ganesha. Ganesha is therefore one of the most widely worshipped gods in India. Though the appearance of Hindu gods is usually not questioned, one may often wonder why Lord Ganesha has the head of an elephant, why one of his tusks is missing and why such a large god has a rat as his vahana or vehicle. The questions are common and the Hindu mythological anecdotes or the Puranas tell us many interesting tales to quench the thirst of an inquisitive mind.

The Elephant Head: The most well known version of how Ganesha came to have the head of an elephant is pretty simple. It has been mentioned in the Shiva Purana. It goes something like this:

Once Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva, wanted to take a bath but there was no one around who could have stopped anyone accidentally stepping into the bathing area. Hence Parvati created a small boy out of turmeric paste, infused life into the turmeric image and created a living boy. This boy was Ganesha. She told Ganesha to guard the door while she took a bath. After a while Shiva returned home and as he tried to enter the house he was stopped by Ganesha who had taken his mother’s word to the heart. As Ganesha was created in Shiva’s absence he had no idea who this boy is and was infuriated by not being allowed to enter his own house. He threatened the boy but for Ganesha his mother wish was his command and under no amount of intimidation did he give up his post of the guard. A fierce battle was waged between the husband and the son, which ended in Shiva decapitating Ganesha with his trishula.
It is only after this mishap that Parvati came out to find that her dear son has been killed. She was so infuriated that she decided to destroy the entire creation if Ganesha is not brought back to life. This not only alarmed Shiva but Lord Brahma as well as he is the lord of all Creation. Thus a flurry of search began for Ganesha’s head that has been flung quite far by Shiva’s trishula. In the meantime other means of bringing Ganesha back to life were tested but all failed. At this Parvati’s temper verged on being blown to pieces. Not wanting to risk the destruction of all Creation Shiva sent out his celestial army (Gana) to bring back the head of any creature that is facing north. The Ganas found an elephant that lay dying with its head pointing north. So they brought the elephant’s head which was placed on Ganesha’s body and life was infused back into the boy. Thus Ganesha came to have the head of an elephant and he was made the chief of the Ganas which made him Ganapathi or the head of the celestial armies.

The elephant’s head made Ganesha all the more respectable. An elephant is attributed with many good qualities such as power, memory, fidelity, intelligence etc. Devotees believe that Lord Ganesha too has the same powers. With his big elephant ears he listens patiently to everyone’s problems and imparts wisdom to the ones in need.

The Broken Tusk: The Puranas tell us that Ganesha was the Scribe of the epic poem Mahabharata. The poem was dictated by the sage Vyasa and Ganesha wrote it down. But Ganesha’s condition for being the scribe was that Vyasa must dictate the poem without interruptions. Vyasa agreed to this but to buy some breathing space for himself, Vyasa also put forward the condition that Ganesha will only write a verse down when he has fully understands everything that has been recited. Ganesha started to write but in his flurry of writing, broke his feather pen. He realized that writing with an ordinary pen will not be suitable for such a profound task. He broke off one of his tusks and began writing with it so that the transcription would never be interrupted on the account of a broken pen.

The Vehicle: Ganesha has a rat as his vehicle or Vahana. It might seem like an ill judgment for a lord like Ganesha who is depicted almost everywhere to have an enormous body t o ride on a mouse. But the choice of a vehicle for Ganesha has more significance that what it first appears. A rat is generally a destructive animal and can destroy whole fields of crops. As such it is a symbol of obstacle to prosperity. As Ganesha is the Vigneshvara (Lord of Obstacles) he is shown to be subduing the rat and thus subduing obstacles.

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