The Symbolism of Lord Ganesha

Ganesha Symbolism

by Jayaram V

There is a belief that Ganesha and the Vedic gods Indra, Brahmanaspati, Agni are forms of the same divinity and represent the same divine power and glory. They symbolize heroic power, strength, leadership, knowledge and wisdom. All these qualities are well represented in Ganesha.

Ganesha is currently one of the most popular gods of Hinduism. He is worshipped in India as well as elsewhere. He is worshipped in Hinduism as well as in Buddhism and Jainism also. While the Puranas describe him chiefly as the lord of the gods and the son of Siva, some regard him as Brahman Himself. Followers of the Ganapatya sect follow this vision and worship Ganesha or Ganapati as Brahman or the lord of the universe.

For a god, Ganesha has a strange form. The Ganapatyam describes 32 forms of Lord Ganesha, each having its own significance. In general, his form (murthi) represents life itself in its varied states. It is truly a combination of both human and animal parts and thereby symbolizes life or beingness in its diverse aspects. His form also symbolizes the combination of all five elements. It has both symmetrical and asymmetrical aspects. Together they represent fullness. They also reflect the duality of perfection and imperfection as well as the transcendental and the immanent aspects of our creation.

According to the tantra tradition, Lord Ganesha is considered the resident of the muladhara chakra, from where speech arises as a subtle sound (para vak). It may be recalled that in the Vedic tradition speech has a great importance, because it is through speech human beings are able to establish communication with gods and fulfill their desires. Speech in the body represents the power of Brahman, which gives us the ability to chant the Vedic hymns, perform sacrifices, communicate with gods and with their help remove obstacles and manifest our desires. Lord Ganesha therefore is considered the Lord of the speech, lord of the gods and the personification of Pranava or Aum.

According to Ganesha Upanishad, one should meditate upon him as having one tusk and four arms, with the two upper arms holding the noose and goad, while one of the lower ones is held in the posture of giving (varada) and the other in the posture of assurance (abhaya). The elephant head symbolizes strength, majesty, peace, power, knowledge and wisdom. The weapons symbolize his power, strength, mastery and leadership. His large belly symbolizes the womb of the universe and abundance.

The following are a few more salient features of Ganesha's symbolism worth remembering on a day like Ganesh Chathurthi.

1. He is the first god to awaken in our consciousness and the first god to preside over our inner transformation.

2. As Vighneswara, the remover of obstacles, he removes ignorance, the biggest obstacle in our spiritual transformation.

3. Seated in the Muladhara chakra, he opens the blockages of inertia (tamas) present in the body and facilitates the passage of Kundalini and the free flow of spiritual energy.

4. As the harbinger of good, messenger of God and lord of the divinities, he fulfills the desires of his devotees and opens to them the doors of prosperity and abundance.

5. He is not only the son of Siva but also of Parvathi (nature). Since he is born out of their union, he personifies life, duality and manifestation in its diverse aspects.

5. His vehicle is the lowly mouse. His association with it symbolizes his lordship or control over fear, hesitation, weakness, doubt and nervousness, which the mouse symbolizes. He removes these obstacles to facilitate success and achievement for those who pray to him.

6. Lord Ganesha is the enjoyer of food. As the eater of various forms of food, he symbolizes Brahman, the ultimate recipient of all sacrificial offerings, In the body he symbolizes the individual Self, which is described in the Vedas as the enjoyer and the witness consciousness.

7. Lord Ganesha is the lord of Siva ganas. In the body, the ganas symbolize desires, thoughts and impulses. They are responsible for the instability and the modifications of the mind. They are also responsible for our distractions and failures in life. As their lord, Ganesha helps us in stabilizing our minds and experiencing peace and sameness.

Lord Ganesha is our friend and benefactor in the fulfillment of the four aims of human life, namely duty (dharma), wealth (artha), enjoyment (kama) and liberation (moksha). He helps both the householders as well as the ascetics in realizing their goals. He is also described as a galactic god, who keeps balance among various worlds. He is the true son of God, Isvara, the Lord of the Universe.

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