carved standing Ganesh under umbrella from Mysore, India.
Intricately carved from White Cedar wood.
16" high, 7.5" wide, and 4" deep. Please scroll down
to see details of other pictures.
elephant-faced-Deity popularly known as Ganesha has intrigued
thinking men all over the world, all through the ages even unto
the present day. The sacred texts give a variety of stories
narrating the sequence of Ganesha's birth. The most popular
being the one mentioning that Ganesha was created by Goddess
Parvati as a guardian to her privacy:
Incensed by the
refusal of her husband to respect her privacy, to the extent of
entering her private chambers even while she was having her
bath, Parvati decided to settle matters once and for all. Before
going for her bath the next time, she rubbed off the sandalwood
paste on her body and out of it created the figure of a young
boy. She infused life into the figure and told him he was her
son and should guard the entrance while she bathed.
Soon after, Shiva
(Lord of destruction and husband of Parvati,) came to see
Parvati but the young boy blocked his way and would not let him
in. Shiva, unaware that this lad was his son, became furious and
in great anger fought with this boy whose head got severed from
his body in the ensuing battle. Parvati, returning from her
bath, saw her headless son and threatened in her rage to destroy
the heavens and the earth, so great was her sorrow.
Shiva pacified her
and instructed his followers (known as ganas) to bring the head
of the first living being they encounter. The first creature
they encountered was an elephant. They thus cut off its head and
placed it on the body of Parvati's son and breathed life into
him. Thus overjoyed, Parvati embraced her son.
The son of Parvati
was given the name Ganesha by Shiva. The word Ganesha is made up
of gana (followers of Shiva) and isha (lord), thus Shiva
appointed him the lord of his ganas.
Ganesha is usually
depicted either as a pictograph or as an idol with the body of a
man and the head of an elephant, having only one tusk, the other
tusk appearing broken. His unique feature, besides the elephant
head, is the large belly practically falling over his lower
garment. On his chest, across his left shoulder, is his sacred
thread, often in the form of a snake. The vehicle of Ganesha is
the mouse, often seen paying obeisance to his lord.
According to the
strict rules of Hindu iconography, Ganesha figures with only two
hands are taboo. Hence, Ganesha figures are most commonly seen
with four hands which signify their divinity. Some figures may
be seen with six, some with eight, some with ten, some with
twelve and some with fourteen hands, each hand carrying a symbol
which differs from the symbols in other hands, there being about
fifty seven symbols in all, according to the findings of
attributes of Ganesha are themselves rich in symbolism. He is
normally shown with one hand in the abhaya pose of protection
and refuge and the second holding a sweet (modaka) symbolic of
the sweetness of the realized inner self. In the two hands
behind him he often holds an ankusha (elephant goad) and a pasha
(noose). The noose is to convey that worldly attachments and
desires are a noose. The goad is to prod man to the path of
righteousness and truth. With this goad Ganesha can both strike
and repel obstacles.
His pot belly
signifies the bounty of nature and also that Ganesha swallows
the sorrows of the Universe and protects the world.
The image of
Ganesha is a composite one. Four animals viz., man, elephant,
the serpent and the mouse have contributed for the makeup of his
figure. All of them individually and collectively have deep
symbolic significance. The image of Ganesha thus represents
man's eternal striving towards integration with nature. He has
to be interpreted taking into consideration the fact that though
millenniums rolled by, man yet remains closer to animal today
than he was ever before.
The most striking
feature of Ganesha is his elephant head, symbolic of
auspiciousness, strength and intellectual prowess. All the
qualities of the elephant are contained in the form of Ganpati.
The elephant is the largest and strongest of animals of the
forest. Yet he is gentle and, amazingly, a vegetarian, so that
he does not kill to eat. He is very affectionate and loyal to
his keeper and is greatly swayed if love and kindness are
extended to him. Ganesha, though a powerful deity, is similarly
loving and forgiving and moved by the affection of his devotees.
But at the same time the elephant can destroy a whole forest and
is a one-man army when provoked. Ganesha is similarly most
powerful and can be ruthless when containing evil.
large head is symbolic of the wisdom of the elephant. His large
ears, like the winnow, sift the bad from the good. Although they
hear everything, they retain only that which is good; they are
attentive to all requests made by the devotees, be they humble
Ganesha's trunk is
a symbol of his discrimination (viveka), a most important
quality necessary for spiritual progress. The elephant uses its
trunk to push down a massive tree, carry huge logs to the river
and for other heavy tasks. The same huge trunk is used to pick
up a few blades of grass, to break a small coconut, remove the
hard nut and eat the soft kernel inside. The biggest and
minutest of tasks are within the range of this trunk which is
symbolic of Ganesha's intellect and hiss powers of
aspect of Ganesha's iconography is his broken tusk, leading to
the appellation Ekdanta, Ek meaning one and danta meaning teeth.
It carries an interesting legend behind it:
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
A different legend
narrates that Ganesha was asked to scribe down the epic of
Mahabharata, dictated to him by its author, sage Vyasa. Taking
into note the enormity and significance of the task, Ganesha
realized the inadequacy of any ordinary 'pen' to undertake the
task. He thus broke one of his own tusks and made a pen out of
it. The lesson offered here is that no sacrifice is big enough
in the pursuit of knowledge.
Sanskrit drama titled "Shishupalvadha", presents a different
version. Here it is mentioned that Ganesha was deprived of his
tusk by the arrogant Ravana (the villain of Ramayana), who
removed it forcefully in order to make ivory earrings for the
beauties of Lanka!
The little mouse
whom Ganesha is supposed to ride upon is another enigmatic
feature in his iconography. At a first glance it seems strange
that the lord of wisdom has been granted a humble obsequious
mouse quite incapable of lifting the bulging belly and massive
head that he possesses. But it implies that wisdom is an
attribute of ugly conglomeration of factors and further that the
wise do not find anything in the world disproportionate or ugly.
The mouse is, in
every respect, comparable to the intellect. It is able to slip
unobserved or without our knowledge into places which we would
have not thought it possible to penetrate. In doing this it is
hardly concerned whether it is seeking virtue or vice. The mouse
thus represents our wandering, wayward mind, lured to
undesirable or corrupting grounds. By showing the mouse paying
subservience to Lord Ganesha it is implied that the intellect
has been tamed through Ganesha's power of discrimination.
Any attempt to
penetrate the depths of the Ganesha phenomenon must note that he
is born from Goddess Parvati alone without the intervention of
her husband Shiva, and as such he shares a very unique and
special relationship with his mother. The sensitive nature of
his relationship with Parvati is made amply clear in the
As a child,
Ganesha teased a cat by pulling its tail, rolling it over on the
ground and causing it great pain, as naughty young boys want
to do. After some time, tired of his game, he went to his mother Parvati. He found her in great pain and covered with scratches
and dust all over. When he questioned her, she put the blame on
him. She explained that she was the cat whom Ganesha had teased.
His total devotion
towards his mother is the reason why in the South Indian
tradition Ganesha is represented as single and celibate. It is
said that he felt that his mother, Parvati, was the most
beautiful and perfect woman in the universe. Bring me a woman as
beautiful as she is and I shall marry her, he said. None could
find an equal to the beautiful Uma (Parvati), and so the legend
goes, the search is still on...
In variance with
the South Indian tradition, in North India Ganesha is often
shown married to the two daughters of Brahma (the Lord of
Creation), 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.
In a different,
slightly erotic version from Tantric thought, Ganesha is
depicted in a form known as "Shakti Ganpati". Here he is
depicted with four arms, two of them holding symbolic
implements. With the other two arms he fondles his consort, who
is comfortably balanced on his left thigh. The third eye in this
representation, is of course the eye of wisdom, which sees above
and beyond mere physical reality.
No analysis of
Lord Ganesha can be concluded without a mention of the mystical
syllable AUM. The sacred AUM is the most powerful Universal
symbol of the divine presence in Hindu thought. It is further
said to be the sound which was generated when the world first
came into being. The written manifestation of this divine symbol
when inverted gives the perfect profile of the god with the