Lord Ganesha

Ganesh is a zoomorphic Indian deity having an elephantine head and a human body. He is attributed with the titles of 'Siddhidata' (Donor of success) and 'Sankatmochan' (saviour). He is also worshipped as the God of knowledge, wisdom, education and wealth.

There are many stories about how Ganesh got his elephant head, and about his exploits and antics. According to Shiva Puran (Hindu scripture), Ganesh is the son of Parvati, the wife of Shiva, the Destroyer, the most powerful of the Hindu trinity of gods.

Once Parvati, while bathing, created a boy out of the dirt of her body and assigned him the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom. When Shiva returned, he was astonished to find an unfamiliar person denying him access. In His rage he struck off the boy's head. Parvati was intensely grief-stricken and to appease her, Shiva sent out his squad (gana) to fetch the head of any sleeping being who was facing the north. His emissaries found a sleeping elephant and brought back its severed head, which was then attached to the body of the boy. Shiva restored its life and made him the leader (pati) of his troops. The elephant headed boy got the name of 'Ganapti' or Ganesh and was also bestowed with a boon from Shiva that people would worship him and invoke his name before undertaking any venture.

Each part of the Ganesh idol has iconographic significance. Ganesh's head represents the 'atma' or the soul of human beings, signifying the ultimate reality of life. His human body represents 'Maya' or the illusory physical existence of humans. His potbelly contains infinite universes. Ganesh's curved trunk represents 'Oum', the sound symbol of cosmic reality. His big, fan like ears symbolize his attention to the prayers of His devotees. The position of his legs symbolizes the importance of participating in both the material and spiritual world. His Goad rids all difficulties and leads human beings ahead in the path of eternal wisdom. The noose in Ganesh's left hand is employed to capture all difficulties. The broken tusk that Ganesh holds like a pen in his lower right hand is a symbol of sacrifice. He broke it for writing the Mahabharat, the great Indian epic.

The rosary in his other hand suggests that the pursuit of knowledge should be continuous. The sweets indicate the sweetness of 'atma' and the serpent symbolizes power.

Ganesh is humble enough to ride the humblest of creatures - the rat, his Vahan (vehicle). According to the rules of Hindu iconography, Ganesh figures with only two hands are taboo. Hence, Ganesh figures are most commonly seen with four hands which signify their divinity. Figures may be seen with six to fourteen hands, each hand carrying a symbol which differs from the symbols in other hands, there being about fifty-seven symbols in all.

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