Ganesha is the elephant-headed God that is beloved by nearly all Hindus. Regardless of sect, branch, region, or family, it would be rare to find a Hindu who didn’t have a Ganesh murti or some type of Ganesh symbol.
Ganesha is known as the remover of obstacles (Vighneshwara). He is the one to pray to before starting any new endeavor. Often he is also honored first before starting any other form of worship. He also protects homes and cars. It’s not unusual for people to place a Ganesh statue or medallion on the front dash of their cars. Ganesha is also associated with learning and study. It is he who transcribes the Mahabharata while the poet Vyasa recites it.
There are a few different stories of Ganesha’s birth, but the most well known one is that Shiva’s wife Parvati wanted to take a bath while Shiva was away but there was no one to guard the door. So she formed a little boy from clay and breathed life into him. She instructed him not to let anyone in while she bathed.
A little while later Shiva returned and was furious that the boy at the door would not let him in to see his wife. In his rage, he cut off the boy’s head. Parvati came rushing out and was horrified by what Shiva had done. She told him that this was their son.
Full of remorse, Shiva hurried to find a replacement head and a young elephant was the first creature he came across. So he took the elephant’s head to restore Ganesha and brought him back to life.
Circling the World
Some people say that this is the reason that Ganesha is worshiped first in any undertaking. Some were curious to know which of Shiva and Parvati’s two sons was the wiser and so a contest was set up. (Other possible reasons: to get a fruit, to establish who was elder). The two boys were asked to circle the world as quickly as possible and the fastest would be the winner.
Kartikeya was much more athletic than Ganesha, with the large belly and elephant head. Kartikeya (also called Murugan) took off swiftly, but Ganesha did not follow. Instead, he circled his two parents. Asked why, he said that his parents were the world to him and for such a clever answer, he won the contest.
Ganesha and the Moon
“Ganesha, was once on his way back from a feast, after having had His fill of sweets and delicacies. He was riding His pet mouse, when a snake crosses His path. The mouse is scared of the snake and starts trembling all over throwing Ganesha off balance, and to the ground. Ganesha gets up and surveys the scene. The moon in the sky looks at this funny scene and starts laughing out aloud and makes fun of the spectacle. After a bit, when the moon wouldn’t stop his jeering, Ganesha gets irritated. He breaks off one of His tusks, and throws it at the moon, leaving a dent on the moon’s surface. He also curses the moon, that he would slowly wane and disappear, and not be visible to anybody. Ganesha also finds and ties the snake that crossed His path on His tummy like a belt. The scared moon now feels ashamed of his behaviour and begs the Lord’s forgiveness, after which the benevolent Lord Ganesha modifies his curse, and says that even though the moon would wane and disappear from sight (as originally cursed), he would also slowly grow back and be visible in his full glory and splendor in the night sky. However, in memory of this incident, the devotees of Ganesha are forbidden from viewing the moon on Shukla Paksha Ganesha Chaturthi day (or rather, night). There is also a story which says that a horrible misunderstanding or some kind of trouble would befall them if they do so on purpose and do not atone/ask forgiveness for it.”
–http://srinivasiyer.blogspot.com/2011/08/ganesha-and-moon.html It is sometimes said that the moon in this story represents someone who laughs at the honest attempts of others to gain mastery over the mind and senses.
In some versions of this story, Ganesha trips and falls, breaking his tusk and the moon laughs. This is the reason given why he is drawn with one tusk broken off. Other stories say that he broke off his own tusk in order to write down the Mahabharata. Another story of the tusk is:
“When Parashurama one of Shiva’s favorite disciples, came to visit him, he found Ganesha guarding Shiva’s inner apartments. His father being asleep, Ganesha opposed Parshurama’s entry. Parashurama nevertheless tried to urge his way, and the parties came to blows. Ganesha had at first the advantage, seizing Parashurama in his trunk, and giving him a twirl that left him sick and senseless; on recovering, Rama threw his axe at Ganesha, who recognizing it as his father’s weapon (Shiva having given it to Parashurama) received it with all humility upon one of his tusks, which it immediately severed, and hence Ganesha has but one tusk.”
“One anecdote, taken from the Purana, narrates that the treasurer of Svarga (paradise) and god of wealth, Kubera, went one day to Mount Kailash in order to receive the darshan (vision) of Shiva. Since he was extremely vain, he invited Shiva to a feast in his fabulous city, Alakapuri, so that he could show off to him all of his wealth. Shiva smiled and said to him: ‘I cannot come, but you can invite my son Ganesha. But I warn you that he is a voracious eater.’ Unperturbed, Kubera felt confident that he could satisfy even the most insatiable appetite, like that of Ganesha, with his opulence. He took the little son of Shiva with him into his great city. There, he offered him a ceremonial bath and dressed him in sumptuous clothing. After these initial rites, the great banquet began. While the servants of Kubera were working themselves to the bone in order to bring the portions, the little Ganesha just continued to eat and eat and eat. His appetite did not decrease even after he had devoured the servings which were destined for the other guests. There was not even time to substitute one plate with another because Ganesha had already devoured everything, and with gestures of impatience, continued waiting for more food. Having devoured everything which had been prepared, Ganesha began eating the decorations, the tableware, the furniture, the chandelier. Terrified, Kubera prostrated himself in front of the little omnivorous one and supplicated him to spare him, at least, the rest of the palace.
‘I am hungry. If you don’t give me something else to eat, I will eat you as well!’, he said to Kubera. Desperate, Kubera rushed to mount Kailasa to ask Shiva to remedy the situation. The Lord then gave him a handful of roasted rice, saying that something as simple as a handful of roasted rice would satiate Ganesha, if it were offered with humility and love. Ganesha had swallowed up almost the entire city when Kubera finally arrived and humbly gave him the rice. With that, Ganesha was finally satisfied and calmed.”
Another name for Ganesha is Ganapati.
Why do I sometimes call him Ganesha and sometimes Ganesh? In Sanskrit, every consonant has an “ah” sound attached to it automatically and that includes at the ends of words (this vowel can be modified and consonant clusters are possible also). In Hindi, the same is true except for the final syllable of a word. There is no final vowel automatically on Hindi words. So, “Ganesha” is Sanskrit and “Ganesh” is Hindi.
In southern India, Ganesha is not married because he has been unable to find a woman as perfect as his mother, Parvati. In northern India ” Ganesha is often shown married to the two daughters of Brahma, namely Buddhi and Siddhi. Metaphorically Buddhi signifies wisdom and Siddhi achievement. In the sense of yoga, Buddhi and Siddhi represent the female and male currents in the human body. In visual arts this aspect of Ganesha is represented with grace and charm.” –http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/deities/ganesha.htm
Information on the direction of Ganesha’s trunk and its significance here: http://www.hindujagruti.org/hinduism/knowledge/article/why-is-ganapati-with-the-right-sided-trunk-not-commonly-worshipped.html
Some more esoteric symbolism here: http://www.artofliving.org/symbolism-ganesha
It is often noted that the symbol for Om looks a lot like the profile of Ganesh.
Ganesha’s birthday, falling sometime around August/September. It is celebrated by creating a Ganash Pandal, which is a temporary shrine with a new Ganesha murti that you can either buy or make yourself. A big part of the festival is immersing the new idol in water, symbolizing Ganesha washing away all your troubles. More information here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whitehindu/2013/09/happy-birthday-ganesha-ganesh-chaturthi/
This festival is in December and is a five day event. It was created in 1985 as a substitute Christmas for Hindus in the west. More info here: http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=5071
This is the puja to be performed on Ganesh Chaturthi, but can also be done at any time.
1) Bathe, clean your home, prepare the clay Ganesha on a platform
2) Chant a Ganesha mantra: vakratunda mahaakaaya soorya koti samaprabha
nirvighnam kuru mein deva sarva kaaryashu sarvadaa
3) Recite a Pran Prathista mantra to bring breath into the idol. This is an invocation found in the Rig Veda:
गणानां तवा गणपतिं हवामहे कविं कवीनामुपमश्रवस्तमम |
जयेष्ठराजं बरह्मणां बरह्मणस पत आ नः षर्ण्वन्नूतिभिः सीद सादनम ||
नि षु सीद गणपते गणेषु तवामाहुर्विप्रतमंकवीनाम |
न रते तवत करियते किं चनारे महामर्कंमघवञ्चित्रमर्च ||
Gaṇānāṁ tavā gaṇapatiṁ havāmahē kaviṁ kavīnāmupamaśravastamama |
jayēṣṭharājaṁ barahmaṇāṁ barahmaṇasa pata ā naḥ ṣarṇvannūtibhiḥ sīda sādanama ||
ni ṣu sīda gaṇapatē gaṇēṣu tavāmāhurvipratamaṅkavīnāma |
na ratē tavata kariyatē kiṁ canārē mahāmarkammaghavañcitramarca ||
(This is a little hard to follow, but here it is being chanted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05esliorpz4)
4) Perform a simple aarti and offern incense and flowers.
5) Offer the blades of druva grass
6) Offer the modakas
7) Offer the red flowers
8) Apply a tilak mark on Lord Ganesha using the red sandalwood paste.
9) Break the coconut (or place it near Ganesha)
10) Recite the 108 names of Lord Ganesha (or simply pray). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbGardTzzA8&
Nice video, though it isn’t always clear what he is picking up for offering.
This one is long and complicated with a lot of mantras.
Here is more information on worshiping Ganesha. This one includes the claim that one can worship Ganeshas made of different materials to gain different boons. “worshipping a silver Ganesha grants us long life. Worshipping a green jade (marakata) Ganesha fulfills our noble wishes and grants us a rich inner life, a divine intellect, wisdom and even moksha. When we worship a jade Ganesha, he takes care of our financial debts. Worshipping a crystal (sphatika) Ganesha is wonderful for enhancing harmony between the wife and husband.”
Om Gan Ganpataye Namo Namah