Ganesha Meaning : Overcoming and New Beginnings
Ganesha is one of the most well-known and popular deities in the Hindu pantheon. He is also known as Ganapati or Lord Ganesh. He is the colorful and memorable elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati.
Ganesha is primarily viewed as the lord of new beginnings and the overcomer of obstacles. His mantras and prayers are often used at the beginning of an undertaking. Ganesha is an unusual and beloved part of Hindu tradition.
Origins of Ganesha
Tales of Ganesha’s origins differ widely. In some stories, Parvati created him from clay. Another legend says that Parvati created him from the soap suds in her bath. Another myth claims that Shiva’s laughter created him. In yet another tale, Ganesha simply appeared mysteriously and was found by Shiva and Parvati.
In a simple version of the story, Ganesha was born from Malini. Malini is an elephant-headed goddess. She drank bath water that Parvati had thrown into a river. Subsequently, Ganesha was born.
These stories do not necessarily explain Ganesha meaning completely. A longer version of Ganesha’s origins involves the separation and eventual reunion of the goddess Parvati and Shiva.
The Parents of Ganesha: Shiva and Parvati
Ganesha’s mother Parvati and his father Shiva have very different personalities. Parvati is loving and devoted. Shiva is austere and fierce. Some legends suggest that they had a disagreement about whether or not to have children. As a result of this disagreement, Shiva and Parvati separated.
During their long separation, Parvati realized that she could create a child for herself without Shiva’s assistance. After all, she is a goddess. In this version of the story, Parvati breathed into the foam in her bath. Her son Ganesha appeared.
Unfortunate Death of Ganesha
As Ganesha grew up, he became his mother’s defender. Shiva had been absent a long time and many suitors were coming to the palace door. One day Shiva himself appeared.
Not knowing his son (clearly his paternity can be debated), he thought that someone had taken his place. He immediately challenged Ganesha, attacked him and cut off his head. This reckless murder was a huge obstacle interfering with Shiva’s quest to reunite with Parvati.
Why Ganesha Has an Elephant Head
Realizing his horrendous error, Shiva ran into the forest. He saw an old elephant. Fortunately, the elephant was a Shiva devotee. The elderly elephant offered to assist him. When Shiva explained the situation, the elephant allowed himself to be sacrificed. Shiva rushed back to the palace and magically joined the elephant’s head to the body of his son.
Why Ganesha Meaning Relates to Obstacles
The story of Parvati and Shiva’s separation and reunion explains why Ganesha is viewed as the overcomer of obstacles. By magically fusing the elephant head to his son’s body, Shiva brought his son back to life. In this way, Shiva overcame the seemingly insurmountable obstacle to his reunion with Parvati. This was a new beginning for the entire family. Ganesha received a new name after undergoing this ordeal and transformation.
Ganesha Meaning, Learning and the Arts
Ganesha is also associated with success, wisdom, learning and writing. Elephants are known for high intelligence. They have the largest brain of any land animal. In addition, they are artistic, can use tools and mimic human speech. Ganesha is a very curious and intellectual god. Thus, he is the god of intellect and wisdom. Ganesha is a patron of the arts and sciences.
Other Roles of Ganesha
In contrast with his reputation as the remover of obstacles, Ganesha is occasionally thought to place obstacles in the path of those who need to be checked. This is sometimes the role of an archetypical guru: to place obstacles along the path of the student to help them gain mastery. Obstacles also help the student to stay focused with an awareness of present challenges in life.
Sadashiva, One of Many Forms of Shiva
Father of Ganesha
There are a number of mantras to Ganesha. This video is a variation of one of the more common ones.
Ganesha Sharanam, Sharanam Ganesha (2x)
Sayisha Sharanam Sharanam Ganesha Sharanam (2x)
Meaning: I take refuge (sayisha) in Ganesha. I surrender (sharanam) to Ganesha.
Another common mantra is the following:
Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha (repeat)
Meaning: I give honor to Ganesha.
Ganesha Meaning and Symbolism
Depictions of Ganesha have multiple symbolic meanings. Illustrations and explanations for some of the more common symbols are included in the table below. Other symbols are described in the final section of this article.
Ganesha’s large stomach indicates that he contains all of the universes (cosmic eggs) of the past, present, and future.
Elephants use their heads to break paths through the forest. This symbolizes breaking through obstacles on every level.
Ganesha’s large elephant ears represent willingness to listen and bring together ideas. This creates success in human affairs.
Ganesha’s trunk is able to hold anything in the universe. This symbolizes the idea that successful people hold whatever life brings.
Ganesha’s four-armed form represents the inner attributes of the subtle body: mind, intellect, ego, and conditioned conscience.
Ganesha’s axe symbolizes cutting off desires. He can also destroy obstacles or move a person to the right path with his axe.
Ganesha wears yellow as a reminder to all to cultivate purity, peace, auspiciousness, self-control, and truthfulness.
One of Ganesha’s hands is typically turned towards the viewer in a gesture of blessing, refuge, and protection.
One of Ganesha’s hands holds a lotus flower. This symbolizes the realized inner self. The color red indicates activity in the world.
Sometimes Ganesha is pictured with common Indian sweets in his hand. He is known to have a fondness for sweets.
The mouse represents ego and the wandering of the human mind. Ganesha stands over the mouse, meaning that he has complete control over ego and the mind.
Ganesha poses with one foot over the other to show that to live a successful life, you must balance knowledge and your emotions.
Ganesha Meaning and the Root Chakra
Ganesha is associated with the root chakra at the base of the spine. The heaviness of an elephant connects them to the earth. This chakra is the foundation for the other energy centers located further along the spine.
This chakra establishes a connection to your physical body, the earth, and the environment. The base chakra is associated with survival instincts for food, shelter, safety, comfort, and belonging. “Lam” (lum) is the seed syllable for the base chakra. The base chakra is said to support all of the other chakras.
Most sources say that the base chakra governs the lower part of the body, including the legs, hips, lower back, and lower spine. These generally provide a strong foundation for physical health and a platform for our presence in the world.
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