Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati. He is also known as Vinayaka (‘one who removes obstacles’) or Ganapati. Ganesha removes fear from the minds of his worshipers and helps them to surmount every difficulty. Ganesha is associated with general abundance, which explains a lot his popularity.

The tiny mouse at his feet called Mushika represents our worldly desires that need to be overcome. It is the symbol of mankind’s ignorance, its insecurities and his deep attachment to worldly objects. By riding on the mouse, Ganesha shows that one must overcome all petty feelings and desires.

Ganesha offers prosperity and success to all who invoke him. As Lord of Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles, he’s the first to call on before the undertaking of a new task or business.

His large head personifies knowledge and intelligence. Ganesha’s small eyes represent keen, precise observation. He reminds us to focus our attention on the workings of our own mind, watch how it runs here and there, never immobile, a continuous flow of unceasing thoughts.

Ganesha worship can bestow both siddhi (success), buddhi (intellect) and riddhi (wealth). Because of his power of buddhi (intelligence), he is also revered in Buddhism and Jainism.

Ganesha pratima at Luhur Poten Temple, Mount Bromo, Java

A popular deity

From India to Bali, his image is everywhere. All over Asia and beyond, Ganesha is worshiped by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Chinese, Japanese and others alike.

  • In India and Southeast Asia, he is not only worshiped by Hindus, but people of all faiths. Ganesha icons are almost always found in places of potential danger, such as steep slopes, river and road crossings.
  • In Japan, Ganesha is known as Kangiten, the God of Fortune and Prosperity. There are 250 temples consecrated to Kangiten. The Shingon ritual practice also centers on Ganesha.
  • In Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos and Vietnam, where Buddhism and Hinduism are intertwined, Lord Ganesha appearing predominantly as a protector, guardian and deity of success. As lord of business, his shrine standson a high pedestal outside Bangkok’s World Trade Centre. The world’s tallest Ganesha statue (made of bronze) is in Khlong Khuean, Chachoengsao Province, Thailand.
  • In the Tibetan Buddhism, Ganesha is associated as a Buddhist Tantric deity. The Tibetan Ganesha appears, besides bronzes, in the resplendent Thangka paintings alongside the Buddha.
  • In Jainism Ganesha occasionally found a place alongside Mahabir.
  • In Bali, you’ll often see his lower-right hand turned toward his audience in abhaya mudra (gesture of protection and fearlessness). Ganesha’s role as a protector is also more pronounced in Indonesia, where he can be seen sitting at the gates of temples. European scholars call him the ‘Indonesian god of wisdom’.

The Indonesian representations of Ganesha often present a very rich esoteric iconography, which meanings are obscure and only known by the initiates. The Javanese scripture Smaradahana narrates Ganesha’s mythological origin.

In India, Ganesha is usually paired with Maa Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. In Indonesia, he is more often paired with Devi Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning.

He is first mentioned as Ganapati in the Rig Veda (hymn 2.23.1 and 10.112.9). The Mahabharata mentions him as Ganesvaras and Vinayakas. The Ganapati Upanishad asserts that Ganesha is same as the ultimate reality, Brahman. This is put in practice by the Ganapatya sect.

Traces of Ganesha worship have been mentioned all over the ancient world, way beyond Greater India and the Indosphere. Inscriptions mention him in Azerbaijan, a golden Ganesha idol was found in Kuwait, etc. He was worshiped as Janus by the Romans. A Ganesha murti was once unearthed in a village in Bulgaria.

Ganesha murtis are increasingly used as good luck charms in the Western world, both at home and at work.

Lord Ganesha worship at Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple, Singapore

Purification of the Mind

Ganesha worship leads to self-purification as Ganesha removes the obstacles of ignorance, delusion, attachments and egoism from his devotees. The real obstacles are those that clog our minds and prevent us from seeing and discerning truth or reality. Lord Ganesha helps us see the truth which is hidden in all.

Fear is the most formidable obstacle in our lives. Ganesha frees our minds from fear and also strengthens our resolve and courage. With Ganesha worship, devotees can overcome fear and gain strength and courage to realize their goals.

Ganesha reigns over muladhara chakra. He is the ruler of both the instinctive mind and of the intellectual mind. He clears the mind so that awareness can flow into it.

To worship Ganesha, hold his form steady in your mind with eyes closed. Talk to him and put all your problems at his feet. Ganesha answers you by influencing events slowly and in unseen ways. Situations will change for you and doors will open through your prayers.

Ganesha enjoys worship  through constant repetition of his name (japa). It was Rishi Bhrigu who recommended the worship of Ganesha in the Tattriya Upanishad.

Attributes of Ganesha murtis

Every body part of Ganesha’s representation teaches us something of deep spiritual significance:

• Small Eyes symbolize concentration. Ganesha’s eyes teach us to concentrate our mind, as only a person who has controlled his mind can achieve any success in life.

• Big Head – symbolizes Ganesha as the god of Wisdom. His elephant head indicates intelligence and discrimination.

• Big Ears – that means ‘listen more’. Ganesha’s wide ears denote the ability to listen to people who seek his help. Ears are also used to gain knowledge.

• Small Mouth – that means ‘talk less’ and value our words.

• Big Belly – Digest all good and bad in life, and you will attain the virtue of calmness. Ganesha’s belly contains infinite universes; this signifies the ability of Ganesha to swallow the sorrows of the universe and protect the world.

• Blessing Hand – The third hand, turned towards the devotee, is in a pose of blessing. Ganesha offers protection and guidance to the spiritual seeker. We must also offer that same grace and blessings to those we meet on the path of life.

• Four Arms – represent the four cardinal directions and his mastery over the physical world (similar to how Lord Brahma has four heads).

• Mark on the Forehead – Ganesha’s urdha mark signifies being a Master of Time. On Ganesha’s forehead is located the trishula, symbolizing Time (past, present, and future) and Ganesha’s mastery over it.

• Axe – represents the severing of all bonds, attachments and desires, and therefore of pain and suffering.

• Sweets – The fourth hand holds modaka (sweets), which symbolizes the reward of sadhana (devotion).

The Ashtavinayaka: Eight Manifestations of Lord Ganesha

The Ashtavinayaka, or Eight Forms of Lord Ganesha are mentioned in the Mudgala Purana, which is consecrated exclusively to Him. In each form, he defeats each of the eight human weaknesses:

Vakratunda (defeats Matsaryasura, the demon of jealousy and envy)

Ekadanta (defeats Madasura, the demon of arrogance)

Mahodara (defeats Mohasura, the demon of confusion and delusion)

Gajanana (or Gajavaktra) (defeats Lobhasura, the demon of greed)

Lambodara (defeats Krodhasura, the demon of anger)

Vikata (defeats Kamasura, the demon of lust)

Vighnaraja (defeats Mamasura, the demon of ego and possessiveness)

Dhumravarna (defeats Abhimanasura, the demon of self-infatuation, pride and attachment)