Image used with permission.

Basic Description:   god of 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.   As the remover of obstacles he is invoked before any undertaking, his images are seen everywhere on buildings, at the side of roads, and even in the dedications of books.   Since the rat is his riding animal 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:   Bath Birth/Head Myth:   Shiva was in the habit of surprising Parvati while she was bathing.   One day Parvati decided to create for herself a son to keep Shiva from surprising her.   She formed him out of oils and dirt from her bath and set him to guarding the door.   When Shiva came to surprise Parvati, he found Ganesha there guarding the door.   The two fought and Shiva chopped off Ganesha's head.   When Parvati emerged from her bath and found her son dead, she was very grieved and began to mourn.   Shiva , feeling badly, took the head of the first creature he found and used it to restore Ganesha to life.

Vishnu/Shanee Birth/Head Myth:   Parvati wanted a child so badly she petitioned Vishnu for one.   Vishnu took pity on her and formed her a son out of some of his own substance.   When the child was born, all the other gods and goddesses came to see him and to congratulate Parvati.   Shanee however would not look at the child or anyone else.   Irritated, Parvati asked him why and he explained that his wife, in a fit of jealousy, had cursed him that whoever he looked at would die.   Arrogantly, Parvati bragged that her son was immune to this and insisted that Shanee look at him.   As soon as Shanee's gaze fell on the boy's face his head flew from his body and reverted the substance returned to Vishnu.   Furious, Parvati cursed Shanee with lameness and then began to wail loudly.   Vishnu took the head of the first creature he found and with the help of Brahma brought the child back to life.

Heaven/Hell Birth Myth: The gods realized that mortals were avoiding going to hell by visiting the shrine of Somnath.   As a result, heaven was getting overcrowded and hell was without occupants.   Not knowing what to do, they brought the matter before Shiva , who sent them to Parvati.   Upon being petitioned, Parvati began to rub her body and produced a son with four arms and an elephant's head.   This son would create obstacles for 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 he was the only one capable of creating a being that could handle it.   So Shiva pondered how he could best fill this request and while he was pondering, out of his great ego sprang up a beautiful and radiant young man.   When Parvati saw him she was jealous and in her jealousy she cursed him to be ugly and fat and the perpetrator of success and failure.    And instantly he took on the head of an elephant and his stomach became fat.   And thus the gods and sages were provided with their answer.

Tusk Myth: One day Parasurama came to visit Shiva .   When he tried to enter Shiva 's abode, Ganesha stopped him and told him that Shiva was asleep and had asked not to be disturbed.   Parasurama was impatient however, and tried to push past Ganesha and see Shiva anyway.   Ganesha again stopped him and the two started fighting.   Ganesha picked up Parasurama in his trunk and threw him.   Parasurama in response threw his ax at Shiva and it broke off one of Ganesha's tusks.   It was at this point that Parvati entered and seeing what Parasurama, had done to her son, she began to curse him.   But Brahma intervened on his behalf and promised 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 and agreed that whichever of them won a race around the world, won the ladies.   Kartikeya immediately started out, but Ganesha remained at home.   When Kartikeya returned, Ganesha used his knowledge of geography and literature to prove to Kartikeya that he, Ganesha, had completed the trip first.   By the time the fraud was discovered by Kartikeya it was too late.

Riding Animal:  Mouse/Rat

Consort:   Siddhi and Buddhi

Other References on the Karma-to-Grace website:   A Rat in the Temple.  Fire walker discovers his penance was paid.


Corduan, Winfried  Neighboring Faiths .   Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

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.

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