Ganesha – the god with the elephant head
A Hindu god with great significance
The popular Hindu god with an elephant’s head can be found everywhere in India. The four-armed god with the head of an elephant adorns not only altars, temple walls and front doors, but also car dashboards, stands in many a room corner or decorates the invitation cards of every wedding. Many Hindus wear an amulet or ornamental jewellery with the image of Ganesha on their body in order to be close to their god at all times.
The god with the elephant head is considered the most popular and important in the Hindu faith. However, it is not only his status in Indian culture that makes him special, but also his versatility and his significant symbolism that is in every detail.
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Ganesha has many names
The most popular god in Hinduism has many names and great significance. Ganesha is made up of two Sanskrit words: “Ganah” means multiplicity or being and “Isha” is the Lord. The translation of the word Ganesha is therefore “Lord of all beings“.
Other names of the god are Vighneswara (Lord and destroyer of obstacles), Sidhhita (giver of success in all work), Ekadanta (the one with a tusk) or Varada (bestower of benefits). Even though he is invoked by many names, it can be summarised that he is the god of luck in Hinduism. Whenever difficult decisions or situations in life arise, prayers are sent to him. This Hindu god is considered the bringer of good fortune as well as wisdom and the destroyer of obstructive traits such as vanity and selfishness.
The story of Ganesha
As so often, the tales about the origin of the god Ganesha vary. The stories agree that the deity with the head of an elephant is the son of Shiva and Parvati. A popular story is the following: Parvati’s desire to have a son was immense and when she finally got one, she named him Ganesha and asked all the gods to look at him. Parvati’s brother, Shani, initially refused the invitation because a curse caused any living thing his eyes met to turn to ash. After much pleading, he nevertheless looked at Ganesha, whereupon the latter’s head immediately fell off. His mother grieved intensely and Brahma promised her that the head of the first living creature she would find would bring Ganesha back to life. Vishnu went in search of it and found an elephant, which he cut off the head and brought to Ganesha’s mother. Ganesha now carried a new head on his shoulders and immediately came back to life.
Another story begins with the loneliness of Parvati. When her husband Shiva was once again meditating for days, she formed a son out of clay, sandalwood, turmeric and flowers and named him Ganesha. She and her son were inseparable. Ganesha always guarded the entrance to his mother’s house, and so it happened that Shiva became angry when Ganesha would not let him see her. He was so furious that Shiva cut off Ganesha’s head without further ado. Parvati went out of her mind with grief and anger, so Shiva promised to bring her son a new head. This new head was that of an elephant, which now belonged to Ganesha. Shiva finally accepted him as a son and ordered that the name of Ganesha should be heard first in every prayer.
The significance of Ganesha’s image
The image of Ganesha is full of details that are just waiting to be interpreted. If you see his image and look at it for a while, you will discover a lot of wisdom from Hinduism.
Beside the elephant’s head, the four arms of Ganesha immediately catch the eye. These symbolise four qualities of the human being: Intellect, spirit, ego and consciousness. In his hands he holds various objects, each of which has a meaning. An axe symbolises the destruction of all bonds and desires, with a rope Ganesha saves the seeker from the problems of this world and shows him the way to eternal happiness. In another hand he holds a sweet – a reward for the spiritual quest and in the last hand a lotus blossom symbolising the great goal of enlightenment. However, some illustrations also show him with more than four arms or with other symbols, for example with a sacred hand position that is supposed to bless and protect the person looking at him.
The small eyes of the elephant’s head pierce every person, discovering every detail and possessing the inner vision that recognises the divine spirit in everyone.
However, Ganesha’s elephant head is not the only attribute from the animal kingdom. His mount, a mouse, can be seen in the illustrations. In Hinduism, the mouse symbolises egoism and worldly desires – the reason for humanity’s suffering. Ganesha is master of his mount and has thus gained control over egoism and the pursuit of new desires. Instead of being guided by the limited body and limited thinking, Ganesha uses these to spread the absolute truth.
Ganesha’s Relevance in Society
Ganesha is not only a symbolic image of a deity from forgotten times, but still plays a major role in the lives of Hindus today. Schoolchildren before important exams, new founders of a company or the participants of a festivity – each of them prays to the god of obstacles beforehand to make success possible in the first place. Ganesha is also often seen at weddings to bring luck to the new marriage. The importance of Ganesha can also be seen in the mantra he stands for: OM, one of the most sacred syllables in Sanskrit.
Every year in August/September, a festival is held in honour of the deity Ganesha. The holiday in honour of Ganesha is called Ganesh Chaturthi and takes place on the fourth day of the Hindu month Bhadrapad.
Devotees come from all over – carrying their own Ganesha statues, which have occupied an important place in their homes all year, for example above the door beam or in the corner of a room. Large statues made of clay are presented with sweets, bananas and coconuts, festive music accompanies the spectacle and at the end of the festival, Ganesha returns to the place where he was created: the celebrants carry the figures and statues into the water and sink them there.
Ganesha in your home
Are you fascinated by Ganesha and want to place the lucky charm in your home? Be careful not to place figures of Ganesha on the floor, as this placement is considered dishonouring.
Whether a figurine, Ganesha tapestry or pendant, Ganesha comes in many shapes and colours. Choose the colours that are most appropriate for your purpose. A red Ganesha symbolises the ascent to the spiritual world and helps you in your self-realisation, while a white Ganesha supports you in your search for prosperity, happiness and peace.