Image used with permission.
Basic Description: godof prudence and sagacity, remover of obstacles. Son of Shiva and Parvati, but born from only one of them. Always the first god worshipped at a temple service.
Alternate Names: Ganapati, Vighnesvara, Vinayaka, Gajanana and Gajadhipa
History/Practices: Ganesha is the first god worshipped at every temple service and is usually worshipped at the outset of any event. His birthday is also celebrated with a festival that lasts for many days. Asthe remover of obstacles he is invoked before any undertaking, his images areseen everywhere on buildings, at the side of roads, and even in the dedicationsof books. Since the rat is his ridinganimal it is considered to be sacred and is not harmed.
Iconography: Ganesha's most distinctive feature is his elephant head. He is usually also depicted having four arms and only one tusk.
Mythology: BathBirth/Head Myth: Shiva was in the habitof surprising Parvati while she was bathing. One day Parvati decided to create for herself a son to keep Shiva fromsurprising her. She formed him out ofoils and dirt from her bath and set him to guarding the door. When Shiva came to surprise Parvati, he foundGanesha there guarding the door. The twofought and Shiva chopped off Ganesha's head. When Parvati emerged from her bath and found her son dead, she was verygrieved and began to mourn. Shiva ,feeling badly, took the head of the first creature he found and used it torestore Ganesha to life.
Vishnu/Shanee Birth/Head Myth: Parvati wanted a child so badly shepetitioned Vishnu for one. Vishnu tookpity on her and formed her a son out of some of his own substance. When the child was born, all the other godsand goddesses came to see him and to congratulate Parvati. Shanee however would not look at the child oranyone else. Irritated, Parvati askedhim why and he explained that his wife, in a fit of jealousy, had cursed himthat whoever he looked at would die. Arrogantly, Parvati bragged that her son was immune to this and insistedthat Shanee look at him. As soon as Shanee'sgaze fell on the boy's face his head flew from his body and reverted thesubstance returned to Vishnu. Furious,Parvati cursed Shanee with lameness and then began to wail loudly. Vishnu took the head of the first creature hefound and with the help of Brahma brought the child back to life.
Heaven/Hell Birth Myth: The gods realized that mortals wereavoiding going to hell by visiting the shrine of Somnath. As a result, heaven was getting overcrowdedand hell was without occupants. Notknowing what to do, they brought the matter before Shiva , who sent them toParvati. Upon being petitioned, Parvatibegan to rub her body and produced a son with four arms and an elephant'shead. This son would create obstaclesfor those desiring to go to heaven and thus allow only the worthy in.
Shiva's Ego Birth/Head Myth: All the gods and sages came to Shiva with the problem of how to create obstacles for mankind. They asked him to solve the problem since hewas the only one capable of creating a being that could handle it. So Shiva pondered how he could best fill thisrequest and while he was pondering, out of his great ego sprang up a beautifuland radiant young man. When Parvati sawhim she was jealous and in her jealousy she cursed him to be ugly and fat andthe perpetrator of success and failure. And instantly he took on the head of an elephant and his stomach becamefat. And thus the gods and sages wereprovided with their answer.
Tusk Myth: One day Parasurama came to visit Shiva . When he tried to enter Shiva 's abode, Ganeshastopped him and told him that Shiva was asleep and had asked not to bedisturbed. Parasurama was impatienthowever, and tried to push past Ganesha and see Shiva anyway. Ganesha again stopped him and the two startedfighting. Ganesha picked up Parasuramain his trunk and threw him. Parasuramain response threw his ax at Shiva and it broke off one of Ganesha's tusks. It was at this point that Parvati entered andseeing what Parasurama, had done to her son, she began to curse him. But Brahma intervened on his behalf andpromised her that the loss of a tusk would not hinder her son's power.
Consorts Myth:Ganesha and his brother Kartikeya both fell in love with Siddhi and Buddhi andagreed that whichever of them won a race around the world, won the ladies. Kartikeya immediately started out, butGanesha remained at home. When Kartikeyareturned, Ganesha used his knowledge of geography and literature to prove toKartikeya that he, Ganesha, had completed the trip first. By the time the fraud was discovered byKartikeya it was too late.
Riding Animal: Mouse/Rat
Consort: Siddhi and Buddhi
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Danliélou, Alain. The Myths and Gods of India . Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1991.
Thomas, P. Epics, Myths and Legends of India. Bombay, India: D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Private Ltd, 1961.