Exploring the elephant headed god.
Ganesha is the elephant headed God in Hinduism and one of the most recognizable figures in Indian mythology, with his rather plump human body and his elephant head with a broken tusk. Holding onto a variety of things including sweets, an axe and often a flower he is supported by his faithful rat.
Ganesha is considered to be the patron of new projects as he is believed to be a strong remover of obstacles, he is often found standing guard at the entrances to temples, homes and places of study and is linked to students, writers and travelers.
Ganesha is the son of two major players in Hinduism, his mother Parvati is one of the forms of the universal female Goddess Devi. Parvati’s personality is of a mother, nurturer and provider of love. His father is Lord Shiva one of the most powerful male identities, bringer of war, connected to the perpetual birth, degradation and rebirth of everything in the universe, often depicted as a dancer in a circle of flames to symbolize this.
Ganesha was created by his mother when her father was away, she made him from either dirt or turmeric (with every story in Hinduism there is always a little story tellers license) and breathed life into him. She decided to take a long and relaxing bath and asked Ganesha to remain at the door to prevent people entering the home. Lord Shiva then returned to the family home, not knowing that Ganesha had been created. Ganesha refused to allow his father entry leading to a fight. During this fight Shiva chopped the head off Ganesha, his head flew into the jungle by the house. Alerted to the fracas Parvati left her bath and was distraught to find her son’s headless body, she remonstrated with Shiva and insisted that he go into the forest to find Ganesha’s head so she could revive him.
Shiva was unable to find Ganesha’s head, and he became increasingly frustrated and he took this frustration out on an elephant that was in the forest, he took the head back to Ganesha’s body. Parvati was able to see past the difference and accepted her son.
Ganesha is also linked to another strong story, as his figure suggests he likes to eat nice things, cake and goodies and at one celebration he overdid this, on his ride home (on his rat) he took a tumble when the rat was startled by a huge snake. When Ganesha fell his sides split because he was so full of cake. Ganesha overcome this by grabbing the snake and tied the snake tightly round his belly to hold his sides together before continuing his journey. However as he continued into the night he heard laughing coming from the sky. The moon and the constellations had seen Ganesha’s fall and were mocking him. This angered Ganesha who seems to have thought that no one had noticed his little mishap, he snapped off one of his tusks and threw it at the moon hitting it and causing its light to go out. This had a huge impact on the people in the local villages as everything was difficult in the dark, and the people started to beg the gods to restore the light of the moon. Ganesha agreed but only let the moon shine fully once a month.
There are many, many more stories about Ganesha and he is very fondly thought of by many.
For me Ganesha is a figure that I come back to time and time again. When I came back to yoga I didn’t really have much understanding of the stories behind some of the Gods and Deities but I seemed to be drawn to Ganesha, which now I know more about his story makes a lot of sense. I needed some guidance to work through a lot of obstacles.
Each year (dates dependent on the moon) there is a ten day festival where Ganesha is celebrated by millions of people with people chanting mantras and making offerings to Ganesha.
Om gam ganapataye namaha - is a lovely mantra that celebrates and gives thanks to Ganesha, think about chanting it when you want to connect a little more to the powers of Ganesha.
Remember that we can find many different things that help to guide us, and you don't have to be religious to be connected to something, but remember that we should be respectful of other cultures, beliefs and thoughts.