In Hinduism, Ganesha (Sanskrit: गणेश or श्रीगणेश (when used to distinguish lordly status) (or “lord of the hosts,” also spelled as Ganesa and Ganesh, sometimes also referred to as Ganapati) is one of the most well-known and venerated representations of god. He is the first born son of Shiva and Parvati, and the husband of Bharati, Riddhi and Siddhi. He is also called Vinayaka in Marathi, Malayalam and Kannada. Vinayagar (in Tamil) and Vinayakudu in Telugu. ‘Ga’ symbolizes Buddhi (intellect) and ‘Na’ symbolizes Vijnana (wisdom). Ganesha is thus considered the master of intellect and wisdom. He is depicted as a big-bellied, yellow or red god with four arms and the head of a one-tusked elephant, riding on, or attended to by, a mouse. He is frequently represented sitting down, with one leg raised in the air and bent over the other. Typically, his name is prefixed with the Hindu title of respect, ‘Shree’.
In general terms, Ganesha is a much beloved and frequently invoked divinity, since he is the Lord of Good Fortune who provides prosperity and fortune and also the Destroyer of Obstacles of a material or spiritual order. It is for this reason that his grace is invoked before the undertaking of any task (e.g. traveling, taking an examination, conducting a business affair, a job interview, performing a ceremony,) with such incantations as Aum Shri Ganeshaya Namah (hail the name of Ganesha), or similar. It is also for this reason that, traditionally, all sessions of bhajan (devotional chanting) begin with an invocation of Ganesha, Lord of the “good beginnings” of chants. Throughout India and the Hindu culture, Lord Ganesha is the first idol placed into any new home or abode.
Every element of the body of Ganesha has its own value and its own significance:
The elephant head indicates fidelity, intelligence and discriminative power;
The fact that he has a single tusk (the other being broken off) indicates Ganesha’s ability to overcome all forms of dualism;
The wide ears denote wisdom, ability to listen to people who seek help and to reflect on spiritual truths. They signify the importance of listening in order to assimilate ideas. Ears are used to gain knowledge. The large ears indicate that when God is known, all knowledge is known;
the curved trunk indicates the intellectual potentialities which manifest themselves in the faculty of discrimination between real and unreal;
on the forehead, the Trishul (weapon of Shiva, similar to Trident) is depicted, symbolising time (past, present and future) and Ganesha’s mastery over it;
Ganesha’s pot belly contains infinite universes. It signifies the bounty of nature and equanimity, the ability of Ganesha to swallow the sorrows of the Universe and protect the world;
the position of his legs (one resting on the ground and one raised) indicate the importance of living and participating in the material world as well as in the spiritual world, the ability to live in the world without being of the world.
The four arms of Ganesha represent the four inner attributes of the subtle body, that is: mind (Manas), intellect (Buddhi), ego (Ahamkara), and conditioned conscience (Chitta). Lord Ganesha represents the pure consciousness – the Atman – which enables these four attributes to function in us;
The hand waving an axe, is a symbol of the retrenchment of all desires, bearers of pain and suffering. With this axe Ganesha can both strike and repel obstacles. The axe is also to prod man to the path of righteousness and truth;
The second hand holds a whip, symbol of the force that ties the devout person to the eternal beatitude of God. The whip conveys that worldly attachments and desires should be rid of;
The third hand, turned towards the devotee, is in a pose of blessing, refuge and protection (abhaya);
the fourth hand holds a lotus flower (padma), and it symbolizes the highest goal of human evolution, the sweetness of the realised inner self.
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