Vinayagar or Ganesha is best known as the God of new beginnings. This aspect of the God can be explained by the stories of his origins. The Padma Purana tells that Ganesha was the son of Shiva and Parvati and was born a perfect and normal child. At Parvati's invitation, the other gods and goddesses came to see the new baby and to bestow their blessings upon him. Unfortunately, Parvati's brother Sani had been cursed by his wife so that if he looked at anyone, that person was reduced to ashes. Parvati was so proud of her son that she insisted that Sani come to admire him. Only a quick sideways glance from Sani was enough to cause Ganesha's head to fly off his shoulders. Brahma was also present and promised that the transplantation of the head of the first living creature seen would enable the child to live. Vishnu set off at once and returned with the head of an elephant.
A more popular tale comes from the Shiva Purana. Parvati wanted to bathe but did not want to be disturbed. She created a boy from the dirt of her body to stand outside and guard against intruders. Her husband Shiva returned from hunting to find his access to his wife blocked by a stranger and angrily cut off the boy's head. Parvati was grief-stricken, so to soothe her, Shiva sent his men out to find the first animal they could that was sleeping with its head pointed north. When they returned with the head of an elephant, Shiva attached this to the boy's neck and promised that from then on, all men would call upon Ganesha at the beginning of any new enterprise.
Another tale explains why Ganesha is also known as the remover of obstacles and why he is always the first deity invoked in any Hindu ceremony or festival. Shiva wanted Ganesha and his brother Subramanya (also called Kartikeya) to circle the world. Subramanya dutifully set off around the world, but Ganesha simply circled his parents, saying that to him, his parents were the world. This greatly pleased Shiva who decreed that henceforth, people would worship Ganesha before beginning any important task.
A similar story relates how Ganesha won his two wives. In this version both brothers wished to marry the same two women, and decided that whichever of them was the first to circumnavigate the world would become the bridegoom. Kartikeya set off on foot, but Ganesha stayed home and studied the scriptures. Kartikeya's travels took years and by the time he returned, Ganesha had married the pair. He justified this by explaining that through his studies and learning, he had gone around the world in a lesser time than had his brother.
Ganesha's two wives are Buddhi, whose name means wisdom and intelligence, and Siddhi, whose name denotes prudence, prosperity, and suceess in undertakings. Thus Ganesha is also patron god of these very attributes. After all his studies, Ganesha was very knowledgeable of the scriptures and had become an excellent scribe. In this way, he became the god of education, literature, and the fine arts.
Images of Ganesha are full of symbolism. He is most often depicted as a short man with an elephant head, yellow skin, a pot-belly, and four arms. His human body represents earthly existence while his elephant head represents the soul, or atman, and is a reminder of his wisdom and understanding. The large size of his head represents the cosmos, and his fat belly denotes the capacity to face all of life's experiences, whether they be good or ill.
Ganesha's large ears illustrate his ability to be a good listener and assure his devotees that he hears all their pleas, while his large eyes show his perceptiveness. The wide mouth symbolizes the human desire for earthly pleasures and his elephant trunk shows that he is capable of great strength or precise delicacy in his actions. Ganesha has one intact tusk, and one that is broken. The most common story of how this came to be is that Ganesha's pen broke while he was writing down the Mahabhrata at the dictation or Vyasa, one...
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