- Ganesha, lord of beginnings and remover of obstacles, is probably the most worshipped divin-ity of the Hindu pantheon. With the head of an elephant and a human body that shows a pro-truding belly—the sign of Ganesha’s fondness for sweets—the god is a central figure in the cult of SHIVA, as the elder son of Shiva and PARVATI. He is also worshipped as a deity on his own, as is shown in Ganesha PURANA. Nearly every Indian PUJA or worship service commences with verses to and adoration of Ganesha. The figure of the sitting Ganesha and his incongruous vehicle, the rat, is found near the entranceway or one of the entranceways of many, many Hindu temples.As is usual in Hindu mythology and lore, there are many and various stories about the events of Ganesha’s life. The most common story of his ori-gin is that he was made by Parvati, who rubbed off material from her skin and formed it into a shape of a person. She set this “child” Ganesha to guard her shower or inner chamber. Shiva, unaware of this, found Ganesha at his post and thinking that he was a lover or intruder he cut off the child’s head. Scolded by an angry Parvati, Shiva hastily rushed off to find a new head for the child and returned with the head of an elephant.In one popular story Parvati declares a race around the universe between the ponderous Gane-sha and his younger brother, Skanda or KARTTIKEYA. The younger boy takes off on his swift peacock vehicle swift as lightning, leaving the slow Gane-sha with his pitiful rat vehicle far behind. Thinking a moment, Ganesha realizes that his mother and father themselves constitute the entire universe. He simply walks around his mother and father Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, is the son of Lord Shiva and known as remover of obstacles. (Saiva Siddhanta Church, Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii) and wins the race. Ganesha is also said to have written down the MAHABHARATA epic as quickly as its reciter VYASA was able to tell it. For this Gane-sha broke off one of his tusks to use as a stylus. In South India Ganesha is known as a bachelor, but in other parts of India he is seen as married.Iconographically Ganesha appears in many poses and forms, but he is most often sitting, accompanied by the rat, with one tusk broken. Most often he is shown with two arms, but he is also depicted with several pairs. In his hands are sweets, his tusk, an axe, a noose, or an elephant goad.After his popularity had been well established in the Brahminical tradition, Ganesha appeared in Jain tradition as well (see JAINISM), in which he was seen as a remover of obstacles. Outside India Ganesha is found in Buddhist contexts as a TA N-TRIC deity, with sometimes unbenign characteris-tics. He is found in Southeast Asian art, in Tibet, in China, and even in Japan.The cult of Ganesha is probably quite old, originating in the worship of the elephant, but its actual origin is difficult to determine. The cult is visible in extant sources dating from the fourth century C.E. He is not mentioned at all in earlier texts such as the Mahabharata or the RAMAYANA, in which Shiva and VISHNU and their emerging cults are developing.Further reading: Robert L. Brown, ed., Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991; Paul Courtright, Ganesha: Lord of Obsta-cles, Lord of Beginnings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, Lov-ing Ganesha, Hinduism’s Endearing Elephant-Faced God (Kapaa, Hawaii: Himalayan Academy, 1996).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.