Weekly Focus Week 2: Ganesh

Ganesha or Ganesh Or Ganapati is the son (or in some tales the creation) of Shiva and Parvati. He is the lord of Beginnings and both the placing and removing of obstacles. As a bramachari he is often seen draped in yellow and he is the god of intellect, a patron of arts and sciences and letters and is a symbol of good fortune. As the god of beginnings, he is honored at the beginning of every ritual or puja and is extremely well-loved and popular across almost every class and religious affiliation in South Asia.

His birth story varies based on region and purpose and group. In some tales he is made of the dirt and mud from Parvati’s bath, a tale that is explored during Ganesh Chaturthi when devotees make mud or clay Ganeshas. In other versions, he’s born from Parvati, and Shiva finds him out of place and cuts off his head and when Parvati sees what happens she insists Shiva brings him back. Shiva acquiesces and uses the head of the first creature he sees: an elephant. Another tale has Parvati making him from cloth and she begs Shiva to bring him to life. 

He’s pictured with the head of an elephant and with a very round belly. His number of arms can change depending on depiction, but is often holding various items: his own broken tusk, a sweet, a goad or axe, a noose, or the abhaya mudra (fearlessness mudra). His companion is a mouse, who has several stories as well.

It is said that Ganesha himself is the sound Om. He is the product of Shiva and Shakti (Parvati) and sound OM along with his brother Skanda (light) were born. He is the visual representation of OM as pranava – the origin sound of the universe.

As a bramachari he often depicted as celibate. But many traditions say he married Buddhi (wisdom) and Siddhi (success) and in some traditions Riddhi (prosperity) so he is deeply connected to these ideas.  Worship of Ganesha is about the devotee’s desire for wisdom and success through work and deep devotion. Ganesha represents determination as a bramachari and scholar and in this way he is a demonstration of how human obstacles can be overcome: we learn, we stay the course, and our obstacles will often dissolve or be converted.  Ganesha takes joy in all of his work, and so too should we.

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