Lord Ganesha: Birth, Family, and Names

Elephant-headed Ganesha is known as a remover of obstacles. Also known as Ganapati, Ganesh is the son of Lord Shiva* and Goddess Parvati. Ganapati means lord of the Ganas, who are the lesser demigods or attendants who control the function of the sense organs.

A unique depiction of divinity is found in the half-human, half-animal forms such as Hayagriva, Matsya, Kurma, Nrisimha, Varaha, and other avatars. Among these, Ganesha stands out with a human body and an elephant’s head.

The unconventional nature of these forms illustrates that God transcends human understanding and ordinary perception. These depictions are intended to capture our attention and guide our thoughts towards the formless essence of God they represent. It is essential to grasp the symbolic significance behind these images.

Meaning of the Word “Ganesha”

The word ‘Ganesha’ is explained as

  • गणानां देवसंघातां ईश: Lord of all divine beings
  • गणानां जीवजातानामीशः the Lord of all living beings
  • गणानां भूतसंघानामीशः the Lord of all beings
  • गणानां मन्त्रसंघानामीशः the Lord of all mantras

All these make it clear that Ganesha stands for or is only another name for God in his various aspects.

In the Brahmavaivarta Purana, the word ‘Ganesha’ is translated as ‘I bow down to the Lord of Jnana or Wisdom and mukti or salvation’ (ज्ञानार्थवाचको योगश्च नश्च निर्वाणवाचकः तयोरीशं परं ब्रह्म गणेशं प्रणमाम्यहम् ॥). Thus, Ganesha represents God in his aspect of Jnana, whose realization gives freedom from all worldly bondages.

Birth of Lord Ganesh and Getting Head of an Elephant

Once upon a time, the Goddess Gauri, while bathing, created Ganesha as a pure white being out of the mud of her body and placed him at the entrance of the house. She told him not to allow anyone to enter while she went inside for a bath.

When Shiva arrived with his ganas, Ganesha refused them entry as to him, who they were was inconsequential. This obstinate stance angered Shiva, leading to a confrontation. Despite Shiva’s power, Ganesha bravely defended the lake and defeated Shiva’s forces. In a fit of rage, Shiva severed Ganesha’s head.

Parvati, devastated by her son’s death, threatened to destroy everything in her path. To calm her, Shiva sent emissaries to find the head of any recently deceased being. An elephant’s head was found and brought to Shiva, who resurrected Ganesha.

Thus, Ganesha, with his elephant head, went on to lead a life filled with glorious exploits. He is revered by various names, such as Vigna Vinayaka, Gajanana, and Ekadanta, symbolizing his role as the remover of obstacles and the embodiment of wisdom.

Severing Ganesha’s head can be interpreted as symbolically removing his ego. Despite his confidence, the boy displayed a certain level of egoism in his abilities. By removing Ganesha’s head, Shiva eliminated this ego and replaced it with the remarkable qualities represented by the elephant.

The transformation of Ganesha from a radiant divine boy to a deity with an elephant’s head serves as a metaphor for the diverse faculties he embodies. These include courage to confront and overcome formidable challenges, sharp wit, intelligence, skill, and profound wisdom.

With its multifaceted nature, an elephant encapsulates a range of contrasting traits. It possesses immense strength and can uproot trees, yet it can also exhibit gentleness and protectiveness despite its formidable size. This duality mirrors the complexity of Ganesha’s character and the vast array of qualities he embodies, from strength and resilience to compassion and wisdom.

First Veneration to Ganesha

After Ganesha’s resurrection, it was unanimously agreed that he would receive the first veneration in any worship. In previous Kalpas (the current Kalpa of 4.3 million years was the Shweta Varaha Kalpa, and the previous one was the Padma Kalpa), Brahma had been revered first, but now, Brahma willingly relinquished his position to Ganesha. This act symbolized a tribute to the qualities demonstrated by Ganesha, which are considered essential virtues for navigating through Kali Yuga, the current era characterized by obstacles, deceit, and doubt.

These qualities, exemplified by Ganesha, include persistence, perseverance, devotion, dedication, love for one’s mother, integrity, honesty, confidence, intelligence, valor, and a willingness to fight for one’s beliefs. In the face of the challenges Kali Yuga presents, these virtues serve as guiding principles, enabling individuals to overcome hurdles and uphold truth and righteousness.

In a world fraught with obstacles and moral ambiguities, we are urged to emulate Ganesha’s example, maintaining hope, persisting through adversity, and triumphing over life’s challenges with courage and determination. By embodying these virtues, we not only navigate through the trials of Kali Yuga but also uphold the better qualities inherent in our nature, ensuring the preservation of truth, integrity, and goodness in our lives and society.

Worship of Ganesha

Ganesha, perennially depicted with a joyful demeanor, embodies happiness, playfulness, wisdom, and serenity. As a rotund deity, he holds a revered status as the remover of obstacles in virtuous undertakings and as a guardian against negative pursuits. He embodies righteousness, is the patron of art and science, and is the presiding deity over all thresholds and beginnings.

Known as the lord of Dharma, Ganesha is revered as the gatekeeper who blesses all new ventures and endeavors. His presence is invoked at the initiation of any significant undertaking, be it learning, business ventures, health pursuits, weddings, travel, or construction projects. Every Hindu seeks divine grace and protection to ensure success and prevent obstacles.

Ganesha’s omnipresence and benevolence make him an integral part of Hindu worship and daily life. He symbolizes the belief in overcoming challenges and ushering in auspicious beginnings under his divine guidance and protection.

Vinayaka Chaturthi commemorates Lord Ganesha’s rebirth or transformation and holds special significance in Hindu tradition.

Family Life

Lord Ganesha is the eldest son of Lord Shiva and the elder brother of Skanda or Kartikeya.

Ganesh is said to have three wives, Siddhi (success), Buddhi (intellect), and Riddhi (prosperity). Thus, if any one pleases Lord Ganesh with nice prayers or worship, the person also attains the company or blessings of the wives of Lord Ganesh.

Ganesh is also considered the Lord of astrology. He is said to know the stars’ language and every living being’s destinies. Thus, astrologers also petition Ganesh to pen such knowledge to them. Ganesh is also said to be the writer of the scriptures. He accepted the position of Vyasadeva’s scribe and wrote the Mahabharata and Srimad-Bhagavata as dictated by Sri Vyasadeva, the compiler of the major portions of the Vedic texts.

Lord Ganesha is known by different names such as: Vinayaka, Dhoomraketu, Lambodara, Sumukha, Ekadantha, Gajakainaka, Vignaraja, Ganadhyaksha, Phalachandra, Vakratunda, Siddhivinayaka, Sulpakarna, Heramba, Gajanana, Skandapuivaja, Kapila and Vigneshwara. He is also known by many as Maha-Ganapathi.

Common names of Lord Ganesh and their meaning is tabulated here:

VinayakaGreat leader
Vigna VinayakaWho removes all obstacles on the path of the spiritual aspirant and bestows him worldly and spiritual success.
Vighneshvarathe remover of obstacles
GajadhipaLord of elephants
Jyeshtha-rajaKing of leaders

*one theory is that Parvati shaped him from the scurf of her own body without paternal involvement.

Ganesha Mantra

Om Gan Ganpataye Namo Namah

The devotees of Ganesha also do Japa of the Ganesha Gayatri Mantra. This is as follows.

Tat purushaaya vidmahe 
Vakratundaaya dheemahi 
Tanno dhanti prachodayaat.

Hindus do not embark on any auspicious without first seeking blessings from Lord Ganesha. Lord Ganesha is also taken as guardian of the doorways, so when Hindu people enter a new house, they keep the image of Ganesh above the door or nearby to get blessings. In many Vedic temples, the deity Ganesh is seen at the entrances.

The most prominent characteristic of Lord Ganesh is that he has the head of an elephant. This symbolism of the man with an elephant’s head represents the unity between the small entity, or man, and the large universe, the elephant. In the word “gaja”, which means elephant, “ga” means the goal, and “ja” means the origin. In the form of Ganesh, the elephant-headed man represents the culmination of the man, the origin, on the path toward universal consciousness, the goal. Ganesh, therefore, is the representation of a man who understands the foundation of the reality upon which the universe rests.

Ganesh has been depicted with only one full tusk, the other half-amputated by the axe of Parasurama. Some vedic literatures say that Ganesh wore down one tusk to a stub by using it to write down the epic verse of the Mahabharata.

A small mouse is the vehicle (vahana) of Lord Ganesha. Ganesh is the presiding deity of the Muladhara Chakra, the psychic center in the body in which the Kundalini Shakti resides.

Do you know, Why Ganesh rides a rat? Share your answer in the comments below.

Why Hindu

We, a group of youths born into Hindu families, were raised in the rich culture of Vedic Sanatan Dharma, embracing its cultures and traditions. Post-graduation, recognizing the immense value of our Sanatan Dharma for humanity, we initiated the "Why Hindu" project. With guidance from our elders, we aim to create awareness about Hindu Dharma, delve into Vedic scripture, explore Vedic mantras, and elucidate the significance of festivals. Through this endeavor, we strive to share the profound teachings of our heritage, fostering understanding and appreciation for the timeless principles of Sanatan Dharma.

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