From time immemorial, the worship of Lord Ganesa has been important in India. The Vedas and other scriptures emphasize the importance of His worship. He is counted as the first and foremost among Gods and He occupies a unique place in worship and Yoga Sadhana (the practice of Yoga). Before commencing any activity, obeisance to Lord Ganesa is imperative. It is therefore appropriate that this discussion should first begin with a salutation to Him.
Lord Ganesa, as everyone has observed, has a human body and an elephant head. According to the folk tale, he was born of the Goddess Parvathi. One day when he was a boy she told him not to allow anyone into her house. Lord Shiva, coming to see Parvathi, his consort, was stopped by the boy. Angered, Lord Shiva beheaded him with his trident. When she saw what had happened, Parvathi was filled with anguish. Seeing her distress, Lord Shiva restored the boy to life by affixing to his body the head of the first animal that came along, which happened to be an elephant.
In addition, Lord Shiva ordained that henceforth the boy would be called Lord Ganesa, meaning Ish (Lord) of Gana (the followers of Lord Shiva who live with him). Obeisance and worship would be done to Him before any activity, without which insurmountable hurdles and difficulties would result. Thus, it is imperative to worship Lord Ganesa before undertaking any action. If devotees worship Him with due devotion, He will fulfill all their wishes.
The strange symbolic imagery of Ganesa's form represents majesty, calm and dignity, coupled with mighty strength to bring terror and fear to foes and wicked persons.
Lord Ganesa is regarded as 'Pranava Swarupi' meaning OM (ooOMmm). His curved trunk, in fact, resembles the syllable OM as it is normally written in all Indian languages. Hence He is also named 'Vakra Thunda' (curved trunk).
Lord Ganesa has also other names, including Ganapathi (Lord of Ganas or Assembly), Vigneshwara (Remover of obstacles and impediments), Gajanana (Elephant-faced), Eka Danta (one-tusked), and Lambodara (Pot-bellied or drum-like belly). In most temples, He is pictured with His trunk curved towards the left. On occasion, however, the trunk is curved towards the right, and He is named Valam Puri Vinayakar (Valam means "right-side" and Puri means "curved"). His long ears denote the habit of listening, as well as the ability to hear even the weakest voice, and to listen to voices from far away. His pot-belly represents his ability to digest what he has heard.
Even gods must pay obeisance to Lord Ganesa. For example, Lord Shiva, when he embarked to destroy the 'tripura' demons (three Demons taking the form of Gold, Silver and Steel) found the axle of His chariot broken. Realizing His mistake, He prayed to Ganesa, whereupon the axel was restored, and Shiva was able to destroy the three demons. Similarly, when Ganesa's younger brother, Lord Subramania (Kartikeya), did not seek his elder brother's blessings, he could not win the hand of Goddess Valli whom He loved. Only when He prayed for forgiveness, did Lord Ganesa help Him with the marriage.
In Southern India, Lord Ganesa is worshipped as a bachelor or single deity. In other places, He is often shown with two consorts, Sidhi and Budhi. Gods, of course, do not have wives or even bodily forms, and only for the convenience of worship do we regard them as such. Sidhi, in fact, denotes success, fulfillment, or accomplishment of desires, and Budhi means wisdom or intelligence. Thus, Sidhi and Budhi are not His wives, but two of his Shaktis, or powers, His Wisdom and Success.
The Lord is usually shown adorned with Aruham Grass which has the particular medicinal value of cooling what it touches. As the story goes, there was an Asura, or Demon, called Analasura, meaning Demon of Fire. Wherever he moved, his heat charred the surroundings. Because of the havoc he was causing in the world, Lord Ganesa swallowed him, which resulted in enormous heat inside Ganesa's body. Only when a sage covered him with Aruham Grass did His temperature return to normal. Thus, Lord Ganesa is always very pleased to be worshipped with Aruham Grass.
Lord Ganesa also relishes Modakam, a dish prepared out of rice flour and jaggery (a sweet paste made from sugar cane). This sweet dish symbolizes the fulfillment or joy hidden within everything. Coconuts and plantains are also offered to Ganesa during puja.
In his left hand the Lord holds a Noose which he uses to capture and contain all obstacles and difficulties. At the same time he uses it to guide one in the right path, much as a rider steers his horse with the bridle and reins. In his right hand He carries a Goad, which serves much the same purpose - to remove obstacles and difficulties from our path, and also to push us forward toward the Eternal.
The single broken tusk in his fourth hand symbolizes sacrifice. All elephants, of course, consider it a matter of pride, grandeur, and strength to have tusks. However, Lord Ganesa broke one of his tusks to become a scribe to sage Veda Vyasa in order to transcribe the verses of the Mahabaratha which Veda Vyasa dictated. Thus, Ganesa demonstrated the noble principle of self-sacrifice. By taking down the dictated verses, he became the first stenographer.
While all the Gods and Goddesses have their own Vahanas, or mounts, Lord Ganesa's mount is a tiny Mouse. Though very small, it is always active and moves under the cover of darkness, carrying Ganesa's grace to every nook and corner. In effect, Mushika (mouse) is the unseen grace which influences our lives.
The great saint of our land, Shri Sankara Bagavadpatha commonly known as Adi Sankara, a reincarnation of Lord Shiva himself, has for our daily rituals established six forms of worship. They are: worshipping Lord Ganesa, Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Goddess Shakti, Lord Kartikeya and the Sun God. The worship devoted to Lord Ganesa is called Ganapathiyam.
Although the form and customs differ, the worship of Lord Ganesa is found in many countries, including Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Japan, Mexico, and Central America.
This mantra to Lord Ganesa is used by all Vedic astrologers before initiating an astrological reading. To ensure the truth and accuracy of his words, the astrologer must have purity in thought and action. For this, he turns to Lord Ganesa, the guardian of mind and thoughts, who directs him away from impurity and kindles intuition in the mind, allowing him to grasp the root of any question.
To fix his desire (SANKALP, which means the determination to fulfill some purpose or aim), the astrologer prays, "Oh, Lord Ganesa, Oh, Lord Vighnesh, Oh, the beloved son of Mother Parvathi, I am opening this horoscope to find the remedy for the blocking planets. I bow before you. Kindly bless (name of the native), so that his problem may be solved. I lay all my good deeds, if any I have done, at your feet, for his welfare."
The astrologer's mantra is: "OM SIDHI VINAYAKAY NAMAH OM," which means all the living souls in the universe along with the universe bow before the learned lord Vinayak (Lord Ganesa). By remembering him only pure thoughts come into the heart, bypassing the mind.
Following this Sidhi, or meditation, arises Ridhi, or knowledge. Opening the horoscope, the astrologer then proceeds to contemplate the stars of the native's horoscope, awaiting the activation of VANI (voice, speech), which is the gift of Mother Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and enlightenment.
Ganesa is also designated as lord of KETU. As the story goes, Danav (a demon) stole a drop of Amritam (nector of eternal life). Although he drank it, Lord Vishnu cut off his head before the liquid could pass from his head to his body. Thus, only the head, which held the Amrit, remained alive, as Ketu. The Amrit gave Ketu Trikaldarshi, the ability to see all segments of life, past, present and future. Since Lord Ganesa is the lord of Ketu, the astrologer prays to Ganesa for this ability also.
Lord Ganesa has never been related to any ceremony, gifts, or sacrifice, only devotion and the surrender of self. Thus, no astrologer will accept any gift, money, or fee for his service, only perhaps some coconut, a little cloth, and whatever expenses for stationery and ink have been used in preparing the horoscope. Unfortunately, today many traditions have been broken, and a decline in the accuracy of prediction is being felt everywhere.
Shri G. Krishnan
New Delhi, India