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Ganesha, also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka, is one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India. Hindu sects worship him regardless of affiliations. Devotion to Ganesha is widely diffused and extends to Jains, Buddhists, and beyond India.
Although he is known by many attributes, Ganesha’s elephant head makes him easy to identify. Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom. As the god of beginnings, he is honoured at the start of rituals and ceremonies. Ganesha is also invoked as patron of letters and learning during writing sessions. Several texts relate mythological anecdotes associated with his birth and exploits and explain his distinct iconography.
Ganesha emerged as a distinct deity in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, during the Gupta Period, although he inherited traits from Vedic and pre-Vedic precursors. He was formally included among the five primary deities of Smartism (a Hindu denomination) in the 9th century. A sect of devotees called the Ganapatya arose, who identified Ganesha as the supreme deity. The principal scriptures dedicated to Ganesha are the Ganesha Purana, the Mudgala Purana, and the Ganapati Atharvashirsa.
Ganesha is Vighneshvara or Vighnaraja or Vighnaharta (Marathi), the Lord of Obstacles, both of a material and spiritual order. He is popularly worshipped as a remover of obstacles, though traditionally he also places obstacles in the path of those who need to be checked. Paul Courtright says that “his task in the divine scheme of things, his dharma, is to place and remove obstacles. It is his particular territory, the reason for his creation.”
Krishan notes that some of Ganesha’s names reflect shadings of multiple roles that have evolved over time. Dhavalikar ascribes the quick ascension of Ganesha in the Hindu pantheon, and the emergence of the Ganapatyas, to this shift in emphasis from vighnakartā (obstacle-creator) to vighnahartā (obstacle-averter). However, both functions continue to be vital to his character.
Ganesha is identified with the Hindu mantra Aum, also spelled Om. The term oṃkārasvarūpa (Aum is his form), when identified with Ganesha, refers to the notion that he personifies the primal sound.The Ganapati Atharvashirsa attests to this association. Chinmayananda translates the relevant passage as follows:
(O Lord Ganapati!) You are (the Trinity) Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesa. You are Indra. You are fire [Agni] and air [Vāyu]. You are the sun [Sūrya] and the moon [Chandrama]. You are Brahman. You are (the three worlds) Bhuloka [earth], Antariksha-loka [space], and Swargaloka [heaven]. You are Om. (That is to say, You are all this).
Ganesha (Devanagari) Aum jewel
Some devotees see similarities between the shape of Ganesha’s body in iconography and the shape of Aum in the Devanāgarī and Tamil scripts.
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