By ancient tradition, the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, is always
worshipped first in every ritual or festival. Being the lord of
all things auspicious and successful, he is given pride of place
at housewarmings, the beginning of a child's education, weddings,
and in every temple devoted to other deities. Ganesha, the remover
of obstacles, represents wisdom, goodwill and most important,
the art of living a balanced life. Many myths exist describing
how he came to have an elephant's head on a rotund human body.
But in concept, he demonstrates that an elephant and a mouse -
always seen with him - can live happily together; that love of
good food and profound spiritual knowledge can go together; that
a corpulent person can still be a connoisseur of dance and music.
He proves that the world is full of opposites which co-exist peacefully.
As a personality, Ganesha has a pot belly, is short and is usually
portrayed in a sitting position with one leg folded and the other
touching the ground. Around his waist, there is a hooded snake.
In his four hands, he carries a noose (human bondage to desires);
an axe (destruction of all evil); a modak or sweet (joy) and a
lotus (human evolution). His trunk, usually turned to the left,
represents OM, the origin of the cosmic universe. Ganesha is the
lord of all learning, the arts and of finer skills. He bestows
achievement and success and is the guardian of all human endeavour.
Ganesha is the eldest son of Shiva and Parvati. It is written
in the Puranas that Parvati created him from the unguents and
scents which she used on her body and set him to guard the house
while she bathed. Shiva, on arrival, was stopped by the new addition
to the family. In a fit of temper, he killed the child. Parvati
was stricken with grief and demanded that her son be brought back
to life. So angry was she that she fought with her husband and
the armies of lesser gods and defeated them. She made Shiva bring
the child to life by attaching the head of the first being which
slept with its head towards the south. She also demanded that
her son be the first god to be propitiated and the first to be
mentioned in a literary work or at any celebration. Ganesha being
an auspicious deity, icons of him were carried by many travellers
and traders. Recognising him as a symbol of good luck, people
of other countries and cultures also built shrines to him as in
China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Turkey, Afghanistan,
Nepal and Iran. Each of these countries has adopted him according
to its own culture. In India, temples of Ganesha are found almost
in every village. Famous sculptures can be seen at Hampi, in the
Vijayanagar ruins in Karnataka; in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh;
in Ellora, Maharashtra and other archaeological monuments. There
are eight important temples situated in Maharashtra. These ancient
shrines are famous for the natural rock formations which look
like idols of Ganesha. These Ashtavinayakas attract thousands
of pilgrims each year. Ganesha is credited with writing the Mahabharata
at the behest of the sage Vyasa.