Ganesha - Strange God
By James Donahue
Of all the peculiar deities of
the world, the myth of the Hindu elephant headed Ganesha is probably the most colorful.
The son of Parvati, the
wife of Shiva the Destroyer, Ganesha was said to have been born magically to Parvati as an ordinary boy while Shiva was away
on a long journey. The boy later was decapitated by Shiva due to a misunderstanding. When he discovers the boy’s true
identity, Shiva brings Ganesha back to life. Special emissaries were sent into the forest to find a head to replace the one
that was lost. Thus Ganesha’s original head was replaced with that of a small elephant.
The Hindu religion is
extremely complex because it involves numerous gods, with five primary gods that all play certain roles in the everyday life
of the people of India. Ganesha, always
depicted as a colorfully dressed and jeweled portly male human with an elephant head, is known as the destroyer of evil and
obstacles. He also is worshipped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth.
The other main Hindu
gods are Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga.
The most beloved and
revered of all the Hindu gods, Ganesha is always the first to be invoked during any festival.
All of the Hindu gods
possess both human and superhuman characteristics. And there are amazing stories told about all of their adventures and exploits.
While he looks somewhat
comical to an outsider, the image of Ganesha, the articles he is wearing and even holding in his hand, are all symbolic of
the spiritual faith of the Hindu people.
For instance, the elephant
head symbolizes the Atman, or the soul, which is the ultimate supreme reality of human existence. The elephant head denotes
wisdom and the trunk represents “Om,” the sound of cosmic reality. The human
body represents our earthly existence.
In his upper right hand
Ganesha holds a goad that helps him propel mankind forward on an eternal path. A noose in the left hand is used to capture
all difficulties. His own broken tusk, held in the lower right hand, is a symbol of sacrifice. And lastly, a rosary in the
fourth hand points to a pursuit of knowledge.
But there is more. In
his trunk, Ganesh holds a sweet laddoo, symbolizing the sweetness of the soul. His giant elephant ears show that this deity
is able to hear all prayers and petitions. A snake tied around his waist represents energy. And Ganesh shows his humility
by riding the lowest of all Earthly creatures, a mouse.
The mythology behind
the Ganesh story includes some interesting legends.
During the recording
of the manuscript to the Mahabharatha, Ganesha wrote the words down while Sage Ved Vyasa spoke them. Ganesha broke off his
tusk and used it as a pen.
The legend states that
Ganesha is fond of sweet pudding, or Ladoos. On one of his birthdays, he accepted offerings of sweet puddings and overindulged.
That night he got on his mouse to move around, but the mouse stumbled and fell. Ganesha fell over, his stomach burst open
and all of the sweet puddings came out. He stuffed them back, caught hold of the snake, and tied it around his belly to hold
As the story is told,
the moon observed this activity, thought it was very funny and had a hearty laugh. Ganesha was so annoyed he pulled out one
of his tusks and hurled it against the moon. He also cursed anyone that looks at the moon on the Ganesh Chaturthi day. Looking
at the moon on that day is said to bring bad luck.
The people of India have a custom of always paying homage to Ganesha before
starting any commerce, beginning any project, or starting any public event. It is a lot like Americans singing the Star Spangled
Banner before starting an athletic event. But this goes even deeper. For example, the housewife might utter the name of Ganesha
before starting a small chore, like preparing a meal.