Shri Ganesha, also known as Lord Ganapati, God Vinayaka and Gajanana, is an elephant-headed Hindu deity whose vahana (vehicle) is musaka (mouse). He is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and brother of Kartikeya.
Deva Ganesha is one of the most worshiped Hindu deities who is also worshiped with the names: Lord Ganapatya, Ganesa and God Vighneshvara. The devotees of Lord Ganesha are found throughout India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The devotion for Ganesha Ji extends to Buddhists and Jains.
The first attribute that clicks on mind about Shri Ganesha is his elephant-headed appearance and mouse as mount (vahana).
Shri Ganesha is revered as obstacle remover, lord of wisdom, God of intellect, and patron of science, arts, learning and letters. He is honored during writing learning and writing sessions.
Lord Ganesha is also worshiped as the God of beginning and honored as the first God to remember and invoked before starting any auspicious occasion, ceremonies or rituals.
Popular Names and Titles
Lord Ganpati is known as several names, yet he is most popularly worshiped as:
Ganesha is also spelled as Ganesh or Ganesa, which is a compound Sanskrit word, made of ‘Gana’ and ‘Isha’. Here Gana means ‘group’, ‘categorical system’ or ‘multitude’ and Isha means ‘lord’, ‘god’ or ‘master’.
Gana is also referred to a troop of beings who are semi-divine and form the retinue part of Shiva, the father of Ganesha. This is widely termed as a class, community, association, category or corporation as well.
Ganesha, that is, ‘Isha of Gana’ (Lord of the Ganas) is also interpreted as the ‘Lord of categories’ or ‘Lord of hosts’.
Ganapati, also spelled as Ganpati is a synonym of Ganesha which is made of two words ‘Gana’ and ‘Pati’. Here Gana means ‘group’ and Pati means ‘lord’ or ‘ruler’. This word is found in both hymm and Rig-Veda.
Vinayaka, also spelled as Vinayak, is a name of Shri Ganesha which appears in both Puranas and Buddhist Tantras. The famous and nation-wide recognized eight temples of Shri Ganesha in Maharashtra are also known as Ashtavinayak (Ashtavinayaka).
Vighneshwara, also spelled as Vighneshvara and Vighnesvara is also a name of Shri Ganesha which is made of two words ‘Vighna’ and ‘Ishwara’ (Ishvara or Ishwar or Ishvar). Here Vighna means ‘hurdles’ or ‘obstacles’ and Ishwara or Ishvara means ‘God’ or ‘Lord’. Shri Ganesha is revered as the ‘God of obstacles’ who can remove all the hurdles. Vighnesha, also spelled as Vighnesa also means the same, which is made of Vighna (obstructions) and Isha (God).
Ganesha’s Significant Names as per Mudgala Purana and Brahmanda Purana
Mudgala Purana mentions Ekadanta as the name of Ganesha after his second incarnation. Mudgal Purana mentions his two other names as well which are based on his attribute; they are:
- Lambodara (One who has pot belly or hanging belly): A compound Sanskrit word that is made of lamba (long, pot or hanging) and udara (belly).
- Mahodara (One who has great belly): A compound Sanskrit word that is made of Maha (great) and udara (belly).
Both of the above names of Shri Ganesha are compound words, originated from Sanskrit language, which describe the belly.
Brahmanda Purana describes the name Lambodara as a title that refers to the entire universe which is in his great belly including the past, present and future.
8 Most Popular Names of Shri Ganesha (Mentioned in Amarkosha)
Amarakosha, which is a Sanskrit lexicon (list), mentions eight meanings or synonyms of Ganesha which are as follows:
- 1. Vinayaka
- 2. Vighnaraja (Vighnesha)
- 3. Dvaimatura (Someone who has two mothers)
- 4. Ganadhipa (Ganesha or Ganpati or Ganapati)
- 5. Ekadanta (Ganesha’s earliest name which refers to someone with one tusk)
- 6. Heramba (Who has five elephant heads)
- 7. Lambodara (Someone with pot belly or hanging belly)
- 8. Gajanana (Someone who has elephant like face)
Other Famous Names of Ganesha in Different Languages and Locations
In Tamil, Shri Ganesha is prominently known as Pillai or Pillaiyar, where ‘Pillai’ is referred for ‘child’ and ‘Pillaiyar’ is referred for ‘noble child’.
In Dravidian, pell, pella and pellu words are referred for ‘tusk’, ‘tooth’, ‘elephant tusk’ or ‘elephant tooth’.
As the Pali word ‘pillaka’ signifies ‘a young elephant’, the word ‘pille’, a part of ‘Pillaiyar’ is referred for ‘the young elephant’ as well.
In Burmese, Shri Ganesha is popular as Maha Peinne, which comes from Pali Maha Winayaka.
In Thailand, Ganesha is known as Phra Phikanet.
In Sri Lanka, people in Singhala Buddhist zone know Shri Ganesha as Gana Deviyo. They worship Ganesha along with Vishnu, Buddha, Skanda and other deities.
Lord Ganesha’s name is taken with the title of respects among Hindus, Shri, also spelled as ‘Shree’ or ‘Sri’.
Emergence and Affiliation
Shri Ganesha emerged during Gupta period, which is also known as the Golden Age of India, in 4th and 5th centuries AD. His traits were inherited from Pre-Vedic and Vedic precursors. In 9th century, he was considered as one of five prime deities of Hindus (Smartism). That time, a religious group called Ganpatya arose who worshiped Shri Ganesha as the primary and supreme deity.
Ganesha Purana, Ganapati Atharvashirsha, Muggala Purana are three holy writings that are dedicated to Shri Ganesha. Other popular puranic genre writings about Ganesha are Brahma Purana and holy Brahmanda Purana.
Shri Ganesha is said to be living with his father Lord Shiva at Kailash mountain of Himalayas. As Ganesha is a Vedic God, he is also believed to be living in his respective planet. There is one more belief that Lord Ganesha lives in our Mooladhara Chakra, that is, Chakra of our root base. It is believed that if we awaken our Mooladhara Chakra we become an innocent human being who is less interested in materialistic things and also motiveless for our actions.
Family: Consort and Children
There are several stories about the birth of Shri Ganesha, which give different ideas about his family. Ganesha is popularly known as the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Some say they both had discovered Ganesha. Other stories say he was created by Parvati or Parvati’s body-waste or was born by elephant-headed Goddess Malini who drank the bath water of Parvati which was included in a river. Some stories say Ganesha appeared somewhere mysteriously.
However most of the depictions, sculptures and stories suggest his family includes Shiva, Parvati and brother Kartikeya, who is known as Murugan, Skanda (elder or martial diety) and God of War.
There are several mythologies about the marital status of Shri Ganesha. Some say him a Brahmachari (Unmarried). Others believe that Riddhi (prosperity), Siddhi (spiritual power) and Buddhi (intellect) goddesses were Ganesha’s wives. Some stories show association of Ganesha with Goddess Saraswati or Sharda (Sarda) who is believed to be the goddess of arts and culture. He is associated with Lakshmi as well who is the Goddess of prosperity and luck. Some finds connections of Ganesha with Kala Bo, the banana tree.
As per Shiva Purana, Shri Ganesha had two begotten sons who were called Ksema (wealth or prosperity) and Labha (profit). His sons are known as Shubha-Labha (auspicious-profit) as well. Some stories say Maa Santoshi his daughter, who is known as the goddess of satisfaction.
Iconography: Attributes and Weapon
Shri Ganesha is portrayed in a range of poses and contemporary situations, such as sitting, standing, dancing, as a small boy in a family, doing action against demons, etc.
Head and Body
Ganesha with elephant-head and big belly are two of his most popular parts that he is known for. His famous form Heramba-Ganapati is depicted with five elephant heads.
He is shown with four hands where his upper right hand holds a weapon called pasha or noose, upper left hand holds the weapon called axe or goad, lower right hand holds his own broken tusk and lower left hand holds the sweet (modak). His tusk is sharply turned to his left for tasting the sweet that he holds in his lower left hand.
In some of his depictions, he holds a human head too. In others, he might also be seen with his lower right hand in a pose of giving the viewer or devotee blessings, instead of holding his broken tusk. This gesture is his ‘abhaya daan mudra’ which shows he is giving blessing of protection and fearlessness.
However his number of hands in various depictions varies from two to sixteen arms.
A depiction of Ganesha is almost incomplete without the presence of modak, also known as laddu, a round ball-like sweet. A large plate or big bowl, full of laddus and one laddu in his lower left hand are depicted in his portrayal.
The bowl of sweets is also called modakpatra.
The dancing Ganesha is also a popular portrayal with same hands gestures, which is pretty famous among his devotees.
Sacred Mark on Forehead
A sacred red mark of tilaka (tilak) in between three horizontal white marked lines on the forehead of Ganesha is one of the common and important parts of Ganesha’s depiction. Some people see this mark as the representation of third eye as well.
Along with the tilaka, Ganesha Purana also mentions a crescent moon on the head. Ganesha is also known as Bhalachandra which is based his image with Moon on forehead.
The serpent (a snake) is one of the common belongings of Shri Ganesha. As per Ganesha Purana, Lord Ganesha had wrapped Vasuki, a snake, around his neck.
The depiction of Shri Ganesha also includes a sacred thread around his stomach as a belt which is known as Yajnyopavita or Janeu. The sacred thread is depicted as coiled at ankles, throne and held in one hand too.
Shri Ganesha is described as red. However there are specific colors associated with different forms of Shri Ganesha, such as white is associated with Rina-Mochana Ganapati (One who releases from all the bondages) and Hermba Ganapati. Blue is associated with Ekadanta Ganapti.
It is believed that red and yellow are the favorite colors of Ganesha.
Symbol: Om or Aum
Shri Ganesha is identified as Om or Aum as well, which is a Hindu mantra. Its association is found in Ganapati Atharvashirsa as well, where it is mentioned for Ganesha, “You are Om”.
The similarity is found in the shape of Om and the linear portrayal of Shri Ganesha’s representation.
Mount or Vahana (Vehicle)
Most of the depictions of Lord Ganesha shows mouse as his vahana, which is described as his last mount or vehicle in various sculptures, Matsya Purana, Brahmananda Purana and Ganesha Purana.
As per Mudgala Purana, different vahanas are associated with different incarnations of Ganesha. This Purana describes mouse (rat or shrew) as the mount (Vahana) of five incarnations of Shri Ganesha. His Vakratunda incarnation uses lion, Vikata incarnation use peacock, Vighnaraja incarnation uses Shesha (the divine serpent) as his mount.
In Ganesh Purana, the four incarnations of Shri Ganesha: Mohotkata is associated with lion, Mayuresvara with peacock, Dhumraketu with horse and Gajanana is associated with mouse.
Jain depicts Shri Ganesha with various vehicles: mouse, peacock, elephant, ram and tortoise.
Martin-Dubost find mouse his principal mount and revere him with this mouse placed near Ganesha’s feet.
Lord of Obstacles
The significance behind the creation of Shri Ganesha lies in his dharma (duties allotted as per cosmic laws) of dealing with obstacles. He is known as both Vighnaharta (obstacle remover) for smooth functioning and Vighnakarta (obstacles creator) for testing those who are supposed to be checked.
Lord of Knowledge (Buddhi)
Shri Ganesha is revered as the Lord of learning, letters and knowledge. Because of this feature of Ganesha, he is also known as Buddhipriya as per Ganesha Purana and Ganesha Sahasranama. Here Buddhi, a feminine noun and Sanskrit word, is referred for intelligence, intellect and wisdom. Priya means ‘fond of’ or ‘love’ which is also referred as ‘lover’ or ‘husband’ in marital context. This way his Buddhipriya name suggests the meaning ‘Husband of Buddhi’ and ‘Fond of Buddhi’ (that is, fond of intelligence).
Shri Ganesha as Universe
An easier translation of Ganapati Atharvashirsa says for Ganesha,
“Oh Lord Ganesha! You are Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesha. You are Indra. You are air and fire. You are Sun and moon. You are Brahman. You are earth, space and heaven. You are Om.”
The whole passage denotes Shri Ganesha as Trinity, five basic elements, all three worlds, in short, the entire universe (Brahman).
As per Kundalini Yoga, Ganesha exists in Muladhara, the first chakra. Here Mula is referred for ‘prime’, ‘original’ or ‘main’ and Adhara is referred for the ‘base’ or ‘foundation’.
Ganapati Atharvashirsa mentions about this as, “You continuously live in the senses at the foundation of spine”, that is Muladhara Chakra. This denotes that he permanently resides in every human being. Ganesha is known for holding, supporting and guiding all the other chakras as well. This way he governs the forces that move the life wheels.
The all eight incarnations or avatars of Ganesha are known as the following names or titles:
- Vakratunda (One with Twisted Trunk)
- Ekadanta (One with Single Tusk)
- Mahodara (Great-Bellied)
- Gajanana (Elephant-faced)
- Lambhodara (Long-Bellied one)
- Vikata (Misshaped)
- Vighnaraja (The King of this whole World)
- Dhoomravarna (Smoke-Colored one)
As per Puranas, the above eight avatars of Ganesha were taken to slay the demons in different ages.
The eight demons are also associated with eight doshas (faults, disorders in attributes or traits) in humans which are:
- Kaam (lustful love or desire)
- Moh (attachment)
- Krodh (rage or wrath)
- Mad (hubris or pride)
- Lobh (greed, possessiveness or covetousness)
- Ahankar (ego or sense of I, me, mine, my)
- Matsar (envy, hostility, jealousy)
- Agyan (wrong knowledge or ignorance due to Maya, the worldly illusion)
These all faults halt the spiritual growth and distracts from being the idol soul. Lord Ganesha is believed to protect us from these eight types of doshas.
Beliefs, Mythologies and Folklores
Story of Ganesha’s Birth and Elephant-Head
There are several stories and their different details are believed about the birth of Ganesha and his head of elephant. Some say Ganesha had taken birth with elephant head, others believe he had acquired his head later. Some say Ganesha had come directly from the laughter of Lord Shiva.
The most believed story of his birth says that he was created by Goddess Parvati using clay or her body-waste. Later when unintentionally Ganesha came in between Shiva and Parvati for fulfilling Parvati’s order, Shiva beheaded him in anger. When Parvati mourned a lot, Shiva replaced Ganesha’s head with the head of an elephant.
Interpretation of Mouse, Vahana of Ganesha
The mount or vehicle of Shri Ganesha is interpreted as Tamas Guna (attribute of anxiety, disorder, negative, dull, destruction, violent, ignorant) and desires. As the rat is a menace to corps and a destructive pest, it is referred to vighna (harm, hurdle, obstacle or impediment) that is supposed to be overcome. It symbolized to those who wish to be selfless and fulfill their desires. Shri Ganesha is signified as the lord and master of his mount mouse, also known as Musaka, derived from mus (robbing and stealing). This whole is associated with the beliefs that being the master of obstacle generators, he can remove all the hurdles coming in the way and so is worshipped to fulfill wishes and desires without any trouble.
Worship at Beginning of Events and Ceremonies
Being the ‘God of Beginning’ people start their religious events and worship with remembering Shri Ganesha first and then other deities are worshiped. As Ganesha is revered as the ‘God of Obstacles’ people worship him first before starting any auspicious, religious, secular or business related work. Other than at the beginning of venture, Ganesha is worshipped while buying a vehicle. When people enter in a new home, then too his idol is established before starting to reside in the new home.
The Idol and Photo of Shri Ganesha
People who belong to Hindu religion, there is hardly a home where the idol of Ganesha does not exist.
His idol or photo is established at the doorway of many Hindu temples with a belief that he will keep the unworthy out. This belief has an analogy with his role of gatekeeper for Goddess Parvati.
Not only this, devotees believe that if his idol is presented to someone is proves auspicious to the person. So people gifts his idol to their beloved one when they start a new business, job, project or start living in new home, or get married.
Devotees do this all with a faith that Shri Ganesha will bestow prosperity, success and protection from evils, obstructions and adversities. And so Hindus invoke him at the beginning of prayer, important events, ceremonies and religious deeds.
Importance of Shri Ganesha for Artists
Those who belong to art, such as dancers, painters, musicians and those who are associated with the fashion industry, begin their work and performances such as stage shows, exhibition, Bharatnatyam, etc with a prayer to Shri Ganesha.
Worship (Puja) of Ganesha
As Ganesha is identified with red color, his worship items include red sandalwood (raktachandana) paste and red flowers. Ganesha’s worship essentials also include Durva grass, which is also known as Cynodon dactulon.Lord Ganesha’s devotees offer him sweets, especially modaka or laddus, round sweet balls that are made of small round sweet balls. It is believed that laddus are the best option to impress Ganesha as it is his favorite sweet, which Maa Parvati also used to make for him in his childhood.
“Om Shri Ganeshaya Namah!”
“Om Gam Ganapataye Namah!”
The above two mantras are the most popular shlok (verse) associated Shri Ganesha, which are said in salutation.
The devotees of Shri Ganesha observe fast on Sakat Chauth, also known as Sankashti Chaturthi, Sankata Hara Chaturthi, Sankat Chauth, Vakra-Tundi Chaturthi, Maghi Chauth and Til-Kuta Chauth. Sakat Chauth falls on every Chaturthi tithi of Krishna Paksha in Magha month, that is, fourth date of waning moon in Magha month of Panchang, Hindu calendar. People, especially women keep this fast in the name of Goddess Sakat, also known as Sakat Chauth Mata, for well-being of their sons.
Some people keep this fast on every Chaturthi of Krishna Paksha, throughout the year as well.
People observe fast during Ganesh festival in Bhadrapada as well, where significant fasting days for Ganesha are believed to be Ganesh Janma (Ganesh Birthday) and Anant Chaturthi, the day of Ganesh Visarjan.
Those who believe in Ganesha, they dedicatedly worship him specially on Tuesday of every week with observing fast in his name.
Festivals and Popular Events
Ganesha Chatruthi, also known as Vinayaka Chaturthi, is considered as the most important day for the devotees of Lord Ganesha. As per Panchang, a Hindu calendar, this day falls on every Chaturthi tithi of Shukla Paksha. Here ‘chaturthi’ is ‘fourth’, ‘tithi’ is (date) and ‘Shukla Paksha’ is referred for ‘waxing moon’. People worship Shri Ganesha on every Ganesh Chaturthi which falls on Shukla Paksha’s Chaturthi tithi, that is, on fourth day of waxing moon.One of the biggest events associated with Shri Ganesha, which is celebrated as a festival, is birth day of Ganesha that falls on Ganesha Chaturthi in Bhadrapada (A month in Hindu calendar which falls in August/September). This day is also known as Ganesh Chauth. The special Ganesh puja goes on for 10 to 11 days. People celebrate this as an annual fest from Ganpati Sthapana to Ganpati Visarjan. People bring the clay idols (murtis) of Ganesha on Ganesh Chaturthi and immerse the idols on Ananta Chaturdathi (fourteenth day). The whole event symbolizes that Ganesha visits to our life and immerse taking all our troubles, obstacles and bad luck with him. Some people perform the immersion ceremony on 2nd, 3rd, 5th or 7th day as well. The whole event is also known as Ganeshotsava or Ganesh Utsava.
Some people celebrate this as Ganesh Jayanti on Ganesha Chaturthi in Magha (A month in Hindu calendar which falls in January/February).
The most famous temple dedicated to Shri Ganesha is Ashtavinayak, which is also spelled as Ashtavinaya (Sanskrit) and consists of two words; ‘Ashta’ (eight) and ‘Vinayaka’. As its name suggests, this temple has eight shrines and eight idols of Lord Ganesha, where each one has a distinguished form of God Vinayaka. They are named as Morgan, Pali, Siddhatek, Theur, Mahad, Lenyadri, Ranjangaon and Ozar. The area of Ashtavinayaka is spread in 100 kilometer radius of Maharashtra’s Pune city.
Other significant Ganesh temples are in:
- Wai, Maharashtra
- Baidyanath, Bihar
- Ujjain Madhya Pradesh
- Dhundiraj, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
- Raipur, Nagpur and Jodhpur, Rajasthan
- Dholaka, Baroda and Valsad, Gujarat
- Bhadrachalam, Andhra Pradesh
- In Southern India: Kanipakam, Chittoor; Jambukesvara, Tiruchirapalli, Rameshvaram; Suchindram, Tamil Nadu; Kottarakara, Malliyur, Kasargod, Pazhavangadi, Kerala; Idagunji, Hampi, Karnataka
These are just some prominent temples; however the establishment of the Ganesha idol can be seen at entrance of forts, villages, many Hindu temples, inside Shiva and Vishnu temples, below Pipala tree and almost every home with people belonging to Hindu pantheon.
Other than India, the temples of Ganesha can be seen in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, Southeast Asia and several other western countries.