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Philosophical Significance of Ganesha's form: Ganesha's elephantine head and human body are explained as follows in the Mudgala Purana: Ganesha's human body representing 'tvam', His elephantine countenance representing 'tat' and their joining together signifies the nondifference of 'tvam' (You) and 'tat' (Brahman). Thus, the body of Ganesha is the visible representation of the highest reality, Brahman, realised from 'tat tvam asi'.

Another explanation has it that Ganesha's head signifies Atman the Highest Reality, while the body below the neck represents maya, the principle of phenomenal existence. The Atman's involvement with the world is characterised by the assumption of mind and speech. Ganesha's ears, which appear like large winnowing baskets, have a philosophical significance too. Just as one uses a winnowing basket to separate grains from dirt, one must use discrimination (viveka) to separate the real (Brahman) from the unreal (maya) in life. Here the grains stand for Brahman and the dirt signifies maya. Or, Ganesha's ears indicate that such discrimination between Brahman and maya is to be gained by taking recourse to Sravana or hearing. Listening to the scriptures from a Guru will lead to proper discrimination and Brahman realisation.

Ganesha Legends:

Perhaps the most popular story regarding Ganesha's origin is the one derived from the Shiva Purana. Mother Parvati once wanted to take a bath and created a boy from the dirt of Her own body, asking him to stand as a guard outside while She bathed. In the meantime Lord Shiva returned home to find a stranger at His door, preventing Him from entering. In anger, Lord Shiva cut off the boy's head, upon which Parvati was stricken with great grief. In order to console Her, Lord Shiva sent out His troops (gana) to fetch the head of anyone found sleeping with his head pointing to the north. They found an elephant sleeping thus and brought back its head.

Lord Shiva then attached the elephantine head to the body of the boy and revived him. He named the boy Ganapati or commander of His troops, and granted Him a boon that anyone would have to worship Him (Ganesha) before beginning any undertaking.

The Brahma vaivarta Purana narrates a different story regarding the origin of Ganapati. Shiva instructed Parvati, who wanted to have a son, to observe the punyaka vrata for a year to propitiate Vishnu.

O Beautiful Goddess! Perform the worship of Hari by observing the punyaka vrata for a year. The Lord of Gopikas, the Lord of all creatures, Krishna Himself will be born as your son, as a result of the vrata.

On completion of the vrata by Parvati, it was announced that Krishna would incarnate Himself as Her son in every kalpa. Accordingly, Krishna was born as a charming infant, delighting Parvati who celebrated the event with great enthusiasm.

All the Gods arrived to have a look at the baby. But Shani, the son of Surya, did not look at him and stared at the ground instead. Upon Parvati's questioning regarding his behaviour, Shani said that his look would harm the baby. Parvati, however, insisted that he should look at the baby. In deference to Her wish Shani cast his eyes on the baby. Due to his malevolent glance, the baby's head was severed and flew to Goloka, the abode of Krishna. Parvati and all the Gods assembled there, including Lord Shiva, were grief-stricken. Thereupon, Vishnu mounted Garuda and rushed to the banks of the Pushpa-bhadra river and brought back the head of a young elephant. The head of the elephant was joined with the headless body of Parvati's son, reviving him. All the Gods blessed Ganesha and wished Him power and prosperity. Vishnu blessed Ganesha thus: O Excellent God! O dear one! May Your puja be performed before that of any other God. May You be situated in all venerable beings and may You be the best among Yogis. This is My boon to You.

Lord Shiva made Ganesha the leader of his troops (gana), and also gave Him the following boon: All obstacles, whatever they may be, will be rooted out by worshipping Ganesha, even as diseases are cured by the worship of Surya and purity results when Vishnu is worshiped.

Copyright 2002 [R.Shiva Raj]. All rights reserved.
Revised: November 13, 2002 11:31 PM