Tuesday, September 6, 2011




"Gajaananam bhootaganaadi sevitam | kapitta jambooophala saara bakshkam | Umaasutam
soka vinaasa kaaranam | namaami Vighnesvara pada pankjam ||" (Popular Sloka)
"Namo vraatapataye | namo ganapataye | namah prathampataye | namastestu lambodaraaya ekadantaaya Sivasutaaya varadamoortaye Namah || ( Mantra from Ganpaty-atharva-seersha-upanishat)
Popular hymn above says that Gajaanana also known popularly as Ganesha and Ganapati
is the son of Parvati. It also suggests that he was named as Gajaanana for the first time. The Mantra from the Upanishad above on Ganapati mentions that he is the son of Siva and also gives several epithets with which Gajaanana is addressed, glorified and worshiped. Gajaanaana means elephant faced. He is not a normal womb-born child. He is Ayonija (born outside the womb) that implies created. As we all know he was created by the power of Parvati. He was beheaded by Siva in fury but was restored to life with an elephant head being transplanted on the human trunk by none other than Siva himself who is the mentor of Ayurveda.
He thus became elephant headed
man or Gajaanana (gaja=elephant; aanana=face).
The surgical art of head transplantation was the first ever surgery that is mentioned in Puranas. It has given clue to modern transplantations of limbs and organs into human body.
Gajaanana is worshiped by all Hindus as Lord of all obstacles. No Hindu ritual,
ceremony or any auspicious act is ever undertaken without worshiping him to start with. According to some Hindus he has two wives Siddhi (success) and Buddhi (intellect). Thus he is the Lord of Knowledge and Success. Therefore no undertaking can fail with his invocation due to subjective
or objective obstacles.
The Rigvedic Mantra mentions the name of Ganapati which is often employed in his worship. The Mantra runs as follows:
"Om ganaanaam tvaa ganapati(ga)m havaamahe kavim kaveenaam upasravastamam | jyeshtharaajam brahmanaam brahmanspata aa nah srinvannootibhisseeda saadanam||"
Gajaanaa who is worshipped as Ganapati also today is quite different from the Ganapati mentioned in the Mantra above. The Rigvedic deity Ganapati is Brihaspati or Vaachaspati who is also known as Brahmanaspati who manifests himself through massive light. He is golden-red in hue. This Vaachaspati is portrayed with a battle axe and always found in the company of singers and dancers. He protects Deevas (divines) from Asuras (demons), archenemies of Devas, protects them and guides them through right path. Since he is always in a group he is known as Ganapati (Gana=group).
Another set of deities described in Rigveda as Marud-ganas are described as children of Rudras. They are destructive in nature to those who antagonize them and can go wild like elephants. They cannot be subdued by anybody and are not subject to any sovereignty. They are Araajana, meaning who have no kings to rule over which fits in with the popular name attributed to Gajaanana, Vinaayaka which means leaderless.

With the gaining popularity of Puraanic period several stories were developed about this enigmatic and wonderful deity;
  1. Ganesha was originally none other than Lord Krishna who descended on Earth as a human child. Saturn cast his evil eyes as a result the child's head got separated and flew towards Goloka, the world of Krishna. The trunk was then grafted with the head of an elephant and a child got emerged with elephant head and human body.
  2. Parvati out of fun prepared the image of a child with elephant head and human body out of the unguents smeared over her body and threw it in the River Ganga. The image surprisingly sprung with life and started kicking. Both Parvati and Mother Ganga took care of the new-born child. He was then on known as Dvai-matura, child of two mothers. We all know that Parvati spent lot of time in Sola-singar (sixteen steps for beauty) and so always played with beauty aids. Her icons are always dressed as beautiful bride in Hindu Temples.
  3. The third story is the most prevalent story where Parvati prepared a human form out of scuff from her body, gave life to it and posted him as a guard to keep her privacy while taking bath. Siva who walked in while she was taking bath, in his amours to meet Parvati ignored the warning of the powerful sentry. He turned himself to be Rudra and beheaded the child. He later restored the child back to life with a miraculous surgery of transplanting the head of an elephant, the first living being his attendants could come across in the act of not delaying the process. Once having cut off the head and made it lifeless he could not reuse it. He thus consoled Parvati somewhat but had to grant lot of power, intelligence and concessions to this ugly looking child to gain her confidence back. Parvati was very up-set because this was her first attempt to test her strength as Primordial Energy. Earlier she was not encouraged to get a child with the support of her recluse husband. Lord Siva not only restored the child but also made him the leader of all his retinues (gana) honoring him with the title Ganapati. He also ordained no worship by any devotee will be accepted unless first worship went to Ganapati.
  4. Gods wanted a deity capable of removing all obstacles in their path of action and success. Siva conceded to their request and born as Gajaanana in the womb of Parvati.
  5. Gajaanana sprang from Siva's countenance as Aaakaasa-tattva representing one of his principles Ether. As you all know Siva contains in him five Tattvas in which elemental forms he is worshiped in the South Indian Temples. Parvati being jealous reacted to the captivating splendor of the new born child and cursed him as a challenge, testing her power as Primordial Energy, which resulted in an uncouth human body and ugly elephant's head in appearance only but nevertheless contained Microcosm as well as Macrocosm.
These Puraanic stories gradually metamorphosed Ganapati-Brahmanaspati to the deity Gajaanana-Ganesha-Vighneshwara-Vinaayaka and also glorified him as Vyaahriti (accessory) of Brahman in later Ganapati Atharvaseersha Upanishat which also came out with the Gayatri Mantra modifying it from the original Gayatri Mantra in the older Maha Naaraayan Upanihad.
The Gayatri Mantra in Mahaa Naaraayana Upanishd is as follows:
"Tatpurushaaya Vidmahe vakratundaaya dheemahi | tannoe danth prachioedayaat ||
We meditate upon the Purusha. For this purpose, we meditate upon the one who has the curved trunk. May the Lord with the elephant face invigorate us! [danti=elephant]
The Gayatri Mantra in the Ganapatyathrvasheersha Upanishat reads as follows:
"Ekadantaaya Vidmahe vakratundaaya dheemhi | tannoe dantih Prachoedayaat ||
We meditate upon the Ekadanta. For this purpose we meditate upon the one who has the curved trunk. May the lord with the elephant face invigorate us! [Here the term Ekadantam is referred to Ganesha himself as Brahman. Moudgila Purana elaborates on this. [Ekadnatam may mean one who has single tusk. It could also mean Ekadam +tam=The One and Only Him, Supreme Principle].
There is yet another popular hymn which can be interpreted as per Puranas as well as spiritually as we find in Vedas:
Agajanana padmaarkam gajaananam-aharnisam / anekadantam bhaktaanaam ekadantam upaasmahe //
To the elephant-faced One (on seeing him whom his mother Parvati's face lights up) just as lotus blooms at the sight of the rising Sun, to that Gajaanana do we pray day and night; to that Gajaanana with single tusk; who grants many boons to devotees; to that Ekadanta (single tusked One) do we pray.
Here anekadantam may be split to anekadam+tam meaning to you who is worshipped as many by the devotees; Ekadantam can also be split as ekadam+tam=the One and only One meaning Supreme Principle. The hymn would then mean in Vedantic sense:
Our obeisance day and night to the elephant faced Gajaanana (representing Jeevatman with Paramatman) who is like the lotus that blossoms as the rising Sun, The One who is worshiped as Many by his devotees, substantiating the Vedic maxim Eko viprah bahudaa vadanti—The One the wise call as many.
Pouraanikas (the authors of Puranas), followers of devotional schools and saint-poets have successfully thus metamorphosed vedic ganas to retinue of Puranic Ganesha and made him Ganapati identifying him with Ganapati mentioned in Vedas. Later an exclusive Upanishat came out making Ganesha-Gajaanana-Vinayaka, Ganapati, who is Vyahriti of Parabrahman mentioned in the Vedas.
Ganpatyatharvaseersha Upanishat of much later period also elaborates on the description of Ganapati as follows which has given rise to different iconic representation of Gajaanana:
One tusked; four hands; two of the hands hold Paasa (noose) and Ankusa (goad); The other two hands held in Abhaya (protection) and Varada (boon giving) Mudras; red in complexion: the belly long and generous; willow like ears; smeared with red sandal paste; worshiped with red flower; compassionate towards devotees; apart from normal beings meaning Super Power—so praise the Yogis and so he is dearer to Yogis.
This Upanishat emphasizes the fact that Ganapati is none other than the Supreme Principle and adds the name Gajaanaana to the list of the names of Brahman by which He is known following the Vishishtaadvaita followers who have added the name of Sriman Naaraayana whose description is given in Mahaa Naarayana upanishad in the beginning mantra. This description has given ideas to icons that represent blue skinned Vishnu relaxing on the serpent, served by Lakshmi and gazing at the vast universe. The description provided in Ganpatyatharvaseersha similarly gives scope for iconic representation of Gajaanana worshiped in temples.
Spiritual seekers have tried to give proper explanation to the words Gaja and the elephant face. In the normal sense Gaja in Sanskrit means elephant; hence the name Gajaanana or Gajamukha. But the word Gaja has deeper spiritual meaning. Ga indicates Gati, the final goal in which direction every human being is moving whether knowingly or unknowingly. Ja stands for Janma which birth or origin. Therefore ga-ja signifies God from whom the worlds have come out and towards whom everyone is progressing to ultimately merge with him.
Again giant elephant represents Brahmaanda, Macrocosm and human body Pindaanda, Microcosm. The two form one unit. Since Macrocosm is the goal of Microcosm, the elephant part of it has been given greater prominence by making it the head. You know the reverse in Greek Mythology. Centaur has horse body and human head.
Chandogya Upanishad contains one of the Mahavakyas Tat tvam asi. This means the individual is limited but in essence, The Cosmic Truth, Absolute. The elephant-man form of Gajaanana reveals this great Vedantic Maxim. The elephant stands for Cosmic Truth whereas the human stands for individual soul. Thus the Puranic Popularity of Gajaanana and unquestionable faith on him by devotees has given scope for him to be visualized as none other than Supreme Principle as enumerated in this Upanishad devoted to Ganesha and as celebrated in Moudgila Puraana.
Other discourse on Ganesha adequately covers symbolism of the icons we worship. There are several varieties of icons of Gajaanana in archeological monuments, museums and temples. They may be 71, 50, 31 or 21. It will be too much to go through all these but few need special considerations. Some are simple enough to understand from the name given to the deity.
Balaganapati and Taruna Ganapati show him as he was growing up in the company of his sibling Subrahmanya. Heramabha Ganapati has five heads, ten hands, three eyes in each face and rides on a lion. Sakti Ganpati is glorified in Tantric texts in several varieties with his Sakti called variously as Lakshmi, Riddhi, Siddhi, Pushti and others.
Sankata Ganapati is also called Ucchishta ganpati. Ucchishta in Sanskrit means unclean things like ort. This form of worship is popular amongst Vaamaachaara Tradition (Sampradaaya) followers. Hinduism always talks of both extremes— Lakshmi and Alakshmi, clean path and dirty path etc. Dirty things are as much part of nature as clean things. Unless dirty things are properly taken care of clean things cannot be enjoyed. Even in human body this is the problem. Unless impure blood is cleaned regularly one cannot survive. Nature converts clean things to dirty things and vice versa. Ganapati presiding over it is prayed to handle dirty things scientifically and religiously for the well being of the society. His intervention in his role as Ucchishta Ganpati is therefore necessary.
Space junk has made such a mess of earth's orbit that man created that experts say we may need to finally think about cleaning it up. Thus this unclean problem has gone beyond Earth we live in. It may mean vacuuming up debris with weird space technology-cosmic version of nets, magnets and giant umbrellas. There are 22000 objects in space that can cause damage to future space programs but also damage valuable satellites. Someone in India called his brand of Beedi (country cigarette) as Ganesh Beedi either due to his faith in the Lord to make his business flourish or he wanted him to take care of the universal toxic effect of beedi and save the smokers while his business prospers due to his grace!
Varasiddhi Ganesha is worshiped on Ganesha Chaturthi day. Ganesha is also worshiped as Vighnesvara, Lord of Obstacles—all that obstructs, or restricts, hinders or prevents. He can therefore create all sorts of troubles for us also if he wants. In Mythology this process was to obstruct progress in the path of perfection. This is in a way to show that nothing can succeed without his grace, a boon got from his father Siva.
His devotees will be led to the path of success and prosperity (Siddhi and Buddhi) if they are short sighted and ask for Preyas, worldly pleasures. Ganesha thus comes in their way granting short time success and taking their thoughts away from Sreyas, spiritual happiness. It is only very few that turn towards God and seek Sreyas like Nachiketas. Ganesha takes care of them too. Geetaa also says it is only one in a million that turns towards God. Among such souls very few withstand the struggle and attain liberation (VII-3). Thus Ganesha is also the Lord of Obstacles and Remover of Obstacles. We do not know what we want. Instead of settling on short term benefits it is better we leave the choice to him. Then he will not be an obstacle in our way towards Liberation. He will certainly take us to Sreyas, that is Eteranal Bliss. The famous Vedic Mantra Says: "Visvaani deva savitar duritaani paraasuva | yad bhadram tanma aasuva"-- Oh Resplendent Lord Savitar, the cause of this Universe! Do destroy all our sins. Grant us which are ultimately good for us! As Kathopanishad says, it is Sreyas which is to be sought from the Lord. We do not know what is good for us. So we pray to the Lord to grant us what will be good for us leaving the choice to him.
My thoughts pondered over certain things at this juncture. But I could not find an answer. The names Vakratunda, Ganapati, Danti, Ekadanta all appear in Vedas and Upanishads. But it is not clear whether they are in glorification of Puranic Gajaanana! Rama before going to battle to eliminate Ravana chanted long Adityahridaya slokas for his success. Aditya is identified with Rudra in Vedas. At that time all the above Vedic Mantras existed in which the names Vakratunda, Danti and Ganapati existed along with the Ganapati Gayatri Mantra. Why then Lord Rama did not pray to Lord Ganesha as ordained by Lord Siva that for any success or obstacle removal first worship should go to Lord Gajaanana but went by sage Agastya's advice? Ganesha devotees may say that Ravana made a mistake in not worshiping Ganesha, instead worshiped Lord Rudra and therefore did not prove an obstacle to Rama. Again in Bhagvadgeeta Lord Krishna says, "Amongst Rishis, I am Bhrigu; amongst generals I am Skanda" Why did he not mention Vyaasa who was there on the scene and why did he not mention "amongst obstacles or success I am Ganesha" though Ganesha was the forerunner of Subhramanya as Puranas say. Probably here Ganesha devotees will say Krishna is Gajaanana as one of the Puranas says and total worship to Krishna led to the success of Arjuna. Ganesha ashtottara includes the Geetaa terms "Gunaateeta, Sat-chit-aanada, Sarvaatmaka, Avyaya etc. which refer to the Supreme Principle and to Krishna in Bhagvadgeetaa. Probably Siva's ordinance to worship Ganesha first before starting any work came later? Probably out of modesty Vyaasa eliminated his name while editing Bhagvadgeeta and so Ganesha's reference also got deleted!
There is a Puranic citation that Lord Krishna had to face slanders looking at the moon on Ganesha Chaturthi Day which is linked to the Syamantkopakhyana of Srimad Bhagavata. Bhagavata itself has not made any reference to Ganesha in this regard. Ramabhaktas also believe Jambava-chief father of Jambavati (Krishna's wife) was none other than Jambavan who is a chiranjeevi (immortal) and who was one of the captains of Rama's army.
It may be of interest to note that Valmiki Ramayana devotes one complete Canto (Sarga 37) in Balakanda on Kumarasmbhava (emergence of Lord Subhramanya). Subhramanya is popularly known as Skanda as he slipped out of the womb of Ganga and so got the name. He is also the son of Parvati (adopted?) and Ganga as well as Krittikas. While Ganesha is called Dvaimatura, Subhramanya is not called Dvai-matura or Ashta-matura. Nowhere Ramayana mentions Ganesha, such a popular deity of today. Subhramanya though celebrated in the Adikavya is least known in the North except in Bengal where he is known as the sibling of Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Ganesha but not popularly worshiped. He was progressively pushed to the background and Ganesha was brought to the forefront. Subhramanya was the most popular deity of Tamilians but later Puranas brought in Ganesha to share that popularity and also elevated him as to be worshipped first. Kalidasa got inspiration from this canto of Ramayana and wrote his famous drama Kumara-sambhava in later years. It is therefore no wonder Rama sought the help of Aditya to overcome any obstacle coming his way in terminating Ravana. Probably Subhramanya (Guruguha) is too much of a Jnaana Yogi who even defeated his father in knowledge but not comprehensible and appealing to common folks to whom Bhatimarga, Puranas and mythology are more appealing!
Even though Puranas glorify Lord Ganesha as the scribe of Mahabharata I wonder whether there is any mention of Ganesha in Bhagavdgeetaa or Vishnusahasranama! Vishnusahasranama mentions Skanda (Subhramanya) and Skandadhara (Rudra). Some ardent followers of Ganesha make us believe that the most popular hymn for Vishnu "Suklambaradharam……….vighnopasantaye" only refers to Lord Ganesha to take his popularity to Dvaaparayuga beside the puranic story. Some experts think that the introductory portion and the Phalasruti in Vishnusahasranama were later introductions as in Badrinath version of Vishnusahasranama you do not find them.
Gajaanana is popular with millions of votaries over several centuries. Probably this started from the time Sankara established Ganapatya somewhere between 509 and 477 B.C.E. This is the period Sankara lived according to Jagadguru Chandrasekharaananda Sarasvati of Kanchi Kamkoti Peetham (in his book on Dharma) and not 788 C.E. to 820 C.E. as we learnt in British History. This worship of Gajaanana has been successfully fused into an authoritative scriptural base by his ardent devotees and scholars. Several Puraanas have also struggled in this endeavor. None can shake the faith of his devotees who are too numerous and spread all over India. E.V. Ramasamy Naicker (Father of Dravida Kazhagam Movement) who started his atheistic movement in Tamil Nadu started with the slogan "He is a fool who believes in God" which motto is still displayed in Tamil Nadu on his memorial statue in the center of a famous city in Tamil Nadu. He tried his hands first at Lord Ganesha and broke many of his idols on the streets of Chennai. Ganesha as usual was serene alike in peace and danger. It did not take too long for his devotees to install Ganesha idols in multiple numbers to the number of broken at all street corners not even caring for consecration, at each street corner ignoring its hazards to traffic though his first enragement was Naamam and the holy thread of Iyengars, from my own personal experience. Hanuman devotees did not lag behind and took the other side of the street corner. They carried the message to Delhi too! All these road side camps for deities flourish today and have also brought forth pseudo-priests on emergency basis who have built a fortune. This disease has spread to neighboring States too. Interested people may visit Bangalore's very busy bus stand in Hanumanta Nagar in Bengaluru. In these make-shift wayside temples hardly there is any space for prostration. But Tamilians know how to pay their obeisance To Ganesha by squeezing the years and with crossed legs called Toppukaranam about which we talked about before.
Vaishnavites In Tamil Nadu also later reluctantly accepted him as "Tumbikkai Azhwar", saint with a curved trunk granting him the status of saints like Aandal, Ramanuja, Nammazhwar, Vedant Desika etc. whose idols are consecrated and worshiped in all Srivaishnava Temples. They had no problem in accepting him in his Man-elephant posture as they have similar Avataars like Narasimha, Man-Lion, Hayagreeva, Man-Horse incarnations. Incidentally Avatar has now gone to English dictionary after the movie Avatar and saves the trouble of translation. One good thing that came out was Vaishnavites know now how to make Modakas pleasing to Lord Gajaanana which was kept a secret for long in the hands of Gajanana and released to his ardent devotees only with the formula. His devotees know the trick how to prevent the mouse from having a go at Modakas before Gajaanana's blessing. Mouse is directed to look up to Gajaanana and not to look down on Modaka! A modaka in the hands of Gajaanana is worth a fortune and high way to heaven than the several hundred Modaks (they say 108 is the minimum) in a plate on the ground!
There is no village in India where Gajaanana is not worshiped even though they cannot afford a temple. A pyramidal stone bolder is installed under a tree often, smeared with Vibhuti, sandal paste and vermilion and worshiped with devotion as Ganesha. During Pooja a small pyramid is made out of cow dung and on which tender grass is planted. It is then worshiped as Ganesha (may be symbolic of Ucchishta Ganapati) as in the case of boulder above. Tender grass is sacred to Ganesha. No sacrament, worship or ceremony, starting a new venture, beginning of education and career, learning of fine arts etc start without worshiping Ganesha and chanting the Sloka:
"Suklaambaradharam vishnum sasivarnam chaturbhujam |Prasann vadanam dhyaayet sarva vighnopa saantay ||
Gajaanana devotees claim this Sloka (Hymn) was first composed for Gajaanana and later adopted by Vaishnavites for Upendra, brother of Indra, a vedic minor deity who was raised to the status of Trinities now worshiped as Vishnu. So the meaning of the above Sloka according to them is: Oh Lord Gajaanana! This hymn in Sanskrit means: "You are clad in white clothes; you are all pervasive; you are dark in complexion; you have four arms; you have a pleasant countenance. To you Lord, my obeisance to bring down all kinds of obstacles (to do my work). Vighna in the sloka according to them is very specific Vighnaraaja. As you all by now familiar that priests always ask you to do aachamana (purification) chanting Achyutaaya namah, Anantaaya namah and Govindaaya namah followed by Praanaayaama Mantra and then the above invocation Mantra "Suklaambaradharam" before starting any Pooja.

Being an illustrious student of great sage Kapila, Eternal Tradition (Sanatana Dharma) shows how ancient Vishwaksena is as his ardent student. He was a divinity of the Vedic period associated with Trivikrama.  In earlier iconographic representation he was shown like Vishnu with four hands with Discus and Conch but without the Srivatsa Chinha (mark), Conch and holy thread (Janhu).     Puraanas mention of several Ganapatis. Ganapati, the Saivites worship is known as Ekadanta or one with single tusk. Under the command of Vishwaksena who keeps vigil on Paramapada there are hundreds of elephant headed commanders having two tusks as well as several horse headed commanders. They all wear Urdhwapundram or Srivaishnava  Naamam unlike Ganapati  idols.  Mundaka Upanishad mentions of Laksmi Ganapati worship for attaining salvation in the awakened state. This Lakshmi-Ganapati is Sri Vishnu himself with Urdhwa Pundram. Hence often Ganesha is   thought to be Vishwaksena who was later brought into Siva worshipers’ fold by concocting puranic stories. His one tusk was broken to write Mahabharata dictated by Vyasa as the story goes.  It is also told He is brought to life as a human being by Parvati out of her body scum and later elephant head was surgically fused on to human body.   Syamantaka jewel story is also distorted to mean Ganesha, the son of Paarvati according to Chinna Jeer, the head of the Tengalai Vaishnavites.  That is why there is no mention in the earlier Purana Ramayana about Ganesha while Skanda or Kumara is celebrated.  Otherwise why it would miss a modern persona God celebrity like Ganesha who is also considered to be elder to Ganesha? Also Rama worshiped Surya as Vighnaraja. Riigveda aslo refers to Indra only as Ganapati in Srirudram.                    


 This discourse for Vedanta Class participants in Nashville has been prepared by N.R.Srinivasan drawing considerable help from the following publications:
  1. Swami Harshanada, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai< India
  2. Svaami Devaroopaanandah, Ganpatya-atharvaseersha Upanishat, Mantrapushpam, Ramakrishna Math, Khar, Mumbai, India
  3. N.S. Ananta Rangacharaya, MahaNarayana Upanishad, Bangalore, India.
  4. Jagadguru Chandrasekahranada Sarasvati, Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
  5. T.K. Mukundan, A Concept of Hinduism, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.