Ganesa is not only mysterious but also evocative. Every year during 10 day long Ganesa Parva, questions are flung far and wide as to why Hindu-s worship “the elephant headed” deity so adoringly. Elephant is a symbol of authority, dignity, strength and endurance. Explanations and Puranic texts are repeated with regularity just as the question is. It was Maharsi Bhrgu who conceptualised the worship and mentioned it in one of the most ancient Upanisad-s Taittiriya some 10,000 years ago in Vedic state of Brahmavarta. The legendary Maharsi had contributed to other Samhita-s and Rg Veda too. The concept consecrated by him is very much alive, rather expanding beyond boundaries of Bharata. Ganesa emerged as a deity during 4th / 5th centuries CE of Gupta Period encumbered with traits from pre-Vedic precursors. A sect of devotees known as Ganapatya came into being who identified Ganesa as their supreme deity. Principal scriptures dedicated to Ganesa are Ganesa Purana, Mudgala Purana and Ganapati Atharvasirsa. Brahma Purana and Brahmanda Purana are other two Puranic texts dealing with Ganesa.
At the core of Vedic wisdom is convergence of all cosmic forces and human intellect as a means of their manifestation. Veda-s incessantly emphasise association of two in the name of Yoga. Activities of Brahma are held in highest esteem and such persons are known as Brahmana-s. Elephant contoured part of human brain lies at the base of skull that does ‘intelligent’ activities with two ear shaped Corpus Callosum on both sides inter-linking two hemisperes of brain, Medulla in the centre resembling trunk, Pineal and Pituitary glands represented by two tusks. Purana-s beautifully narrate a tale on how Ganesa was created at the instance of Parwati by Siva at the entrance of Her dwelling. Herein, Base of Skull is the entrance into human brain and the realised ones are endowed with divine faculties to sift and regulate every external stimulus received by five organs of cognition i.e. Indriya-s. Thus, function of organs collectively known as Ganesa at the Base of Skull is critical in nature. Functions related to intelligence and consciousness too, are examined by Ganesa, also known as Karta as He is responsible for all actions enacted through human body.
Gana refers to a group and Isa or Pati refers to Isvara. Gana-s are all creatures and Ganesa, their Master Deity. If Gana-s refer to entire spectacle of Mantra-s, Ganesa as Omkara is pre-eminent at the core of all of them. If Gana-s are various orders of Prana, Ganesa is the inner Self and foremost. If Gana-s are fundamental Tattva-s, Ganesa is again the pivotal inner Self. If Gana-s are stream of Karma-s, Ganesa is the Prajna that dispenses proceeds of Karma-s enacted. Ganesa dwells in Muladhara Cakra, ruling over Prthvi and holding Kundalini, supreme strength of transcendence. Thus, Ganesa is the confluence of Siva and Sakti having a couple of consorts, Siddhi i.e. supreme accomplishments and Buddhi, faculty of discriminative wisdom.
Ganesa Caturthi is a ten day festival in the month of Bhadrapada from Sukla Caturthi to Ananta Caturthi, to celebrate advent of Ganesa into our consciousness. Celebrations trace back to dynasties of Satavahana, Rastrakuta and Calukya, used to be held in Maharashtra and Goa to begin with, then it expanded all over Bharata. Now Ganesa Parva is celebrated all over the world by Hindu-s. Individual celebrations are conducted in homes, communities and public places. He is worshipped every morning, evening elaborately and immersed on the day of Ananta Caturthi. Four main rituals for the entire celebration are Pranapratistha i.e. infusion of deity into Murty, Sodasopacara i.e. 16 forms of adoration unto Him, Uttarapuja i.e. Puja after which He can be shifted and finally, Ganapati Visarjana i.e. immersion into river. Modaka is the main sweet that is offered to Ganesa and partaken as Prasada. He is known by 108 names with every name pertaining to a unique aspect of His persona. For instance, Ganesa is Acintya i.e. beyond contemplation, Avyakta i.e. beyond manifestation and Ananta i.e. eternal. He is Master of all disciplines of knowledge and wisdom, adored before commencement of all ceremonies and rituals being Adi Deva i.e. deity of beginning. Legend has it that Ganesa was created by Siva and Parwati after entreaties of Deva-s to act as Vighna–Karta i.e. hurdle-maker for devils and demons as well as Vigna–Harta for Deva-s themselves. Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak revived the tradition of Ganapati Puja, popularised it at national level to unite all communities and groups. He transformed it into a rallying point for heralding freedom movement against British occupation of the country in 1893. After independence was attained, it was declared a national festival.
Ganesa appears in Mahayana Buddhism, not only as Vināyaka Buddhist but also as a demon bearing the same name. His image appears in Buddhist sculptures of Gupta period. As Buddhist Vināyaka, He is often dancing as Nṛtta Ganapati, popular in Nepal and Tibet too. In Nepal, Ganesa is known as Herambha, has five heads and rides a lion. Tibetan representations of Ganesa reveal renderings of Ganapati as tshogs bdag. In another Tibetan manifest, He is depicted being trodden by Mahakalesvara, a widely worshipped Tibetan deity. Other depictions present Him as Destroyer of Obstacles. Ganesa appears in China and Japan manifesting as distinct regional deities. Ganesa is worshipped by Jains too as Kubera i.e. deity of wealth though their literature may not describe that. Earliest known Jain Ganesa statue belongs to 9th century and a Jain text belonging to 15th century describes procedures for installation of Ganapati images. Images of Ganesa appear in the Jain Mandir-s of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Japan has some 250 Ganesa Mandir-s wherein Ganapati is known as ‘Kangiten’, first mentioned in 806. Ganesa was worshipped in Central Asia as His statues have been discovered in Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Indonesia, Brunei, Bulgaria, Mexico and other Latin American countries. Earliest known statue of Ganesa in China carries an inscription dated to 531. Romans too, worshipped Ganesa before commencement of every new venture. Irish Embassy in New Delhi is the first European Embassy to instal a Ganesa statute at their main entrance to invoke His blessings. Silicon Valley have accepted Ganesa as their presiding deity of cyberspace technology. Greek coins dating first / third century BC has images of elephant headed Ganesa. So do Indonesian currency notes.
According to Daivata Sastra, Ganesa is not only presiding deity of all disciplines of erudition, but also fine as well as performing arts too. His another name ‘Rangaraja’ precisely describes Him performer par excellence being an exquisite dancer, as if dance had been His very existence being progeny of Nataraja Siva, identified with Tandava dances and Parwati, presiding deity of gracious Lasya. Ganesa beautifully blended both forms of performing art revered and adored by all dancers who sing an ode unto Him before commencement of their every performance. He exists everywhere, in every testimony of art viz. paintings, sculptures, scriptures etc. Krida Khanda of Ganesa Purana describes a dance by Him as a child which memerised Siva into dancing in abandon. Linga Purana too, describes Ganesa as the presiding deity of dances. So do Bharata’s Natya Sastra and Vedic Samhita-s too. 10th century author Dhananjaya invoked Ganesa in the opening prayer of his famous work on dramaturgy, Dasarupaka as it goes, “I salute Ganesa whose Mrdanga like Hunkara acts as an accompaniment to Siva’s Tandava.” He is often seen in paintings, playing musical instruments to the dancing Gana-s surrounded by Siva. Acarya Nandikesvara wrote in his 12th century work Abhinaya Darpana, every Nartaka must pray to Vighnesa, Murajadhipa, Akasa and Prthvi, must strike Kapittha Mudra and follow movements detailed in Gajalila Gati. In every opening ceremony of Alaripu Nrtya, Bharatanatyama Nartaka performs Ganesa Vandana singing the verse, “Tandava Ganapati, Narayana Ganapati” accompanied by Mrdangam. After Puspanjali and Bhumi Pranama, Odissi Nartaka performs Vandana during Mangalacarana with profoundly evocative Bhava and Mudra. 17th century Marathi Santa Ramdasa beautifully described Nrtya Ganesa in his work Dasabodha. Nrtya Ganesa is visualised as dancing under Kalpavriksa tree holding Hastidanta i.e. tusk symbolising Param Brahma being the Absolute One, Ankusa i.e. goad symbolising self-restraint, Parasu i.e. axe and Pasa i.e. noose symbolising discipline, in His four hands. Enormous belly with a serpent around symbolises acceptance with consciousness, Modaka being attainment of ultimate bliss and Durva grass dedicated, all our woes and agonies. Most beautifully crafted Nrtya Ganesa Murti is in Hoyasalesvara Mandir in Halebidu, Karnataka belonging to 12th century.
Legend has it that Ganesa shall assume an Avatara in the manifest of a tree to destroy the demon of pollution and protect nature.
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