Symbolism of Ganesha
- Goad - helps steer you away from ignorance just like a mahout would steer an elephant from a treacherous path
- Rope - helps remove obstacles and pulls you closer to your spiritual path
- Sweetmeat - a sweet reward for a life well lived
- Mudra - blessings and protection as you journey through life
- Broken tusk - symbolizes sacrifice for a good cause, to urge you to keep the good and throw away the bad
- Mouse - to help you overcome fear, indecision and anxiety
Ganesh Chaturthi is an annual festival which honors Ganesha and is celebrated in late summer. I fondly recall the ritual of shopping for a clay idol of Ganesha at the bazaar the evening before Ganesh Chaturthi, to symbolize welcoming Ganesha into our homes. We then enjoyed decorating the clay statue and eating yummy kolukattai (sweetmeats). On the third day we immersed the statue in the well behind our house (clay is returned back to earth). In many parts of India the festival is celebrated for 10 days.
How did Ganesha get his elephant head?
Ganesha’s story starts with Shiva’s return from his journey to resolve disorder in the world. When Parvati heard about her beloved Shiva’s return, she prepares to welcome him and gets ready to bathe. Since there were no guards available she crafted a boy from turmeric sandalwood paste, named him Ganesha, and told him not to let anyone disturb her. When Shiva arrived, Ganesha did not recognize him and therefore did not let him pass by. In anger, Shiva chopped off the boy’s head. Parvathi was inconsolable at the loss of her child, so Shiva sent his ganas (attendants) to find a replacement head. They searched for the first living thing sleeping with its head lying to the north (devotees of Shiva look towards his abode in Mt. Kailash in the north). The ganas returned with the head of an elephant, and Shiva used this head to reconstruct Ganesha - leader of ganas.
Since then, he has been revered as the god of success and remover of obstacles; and is regarded as the guiding force behind intellect, learning and wisdom.
In my family, we call upon Ganesha as our guide whenever we start something new. We pray to Ganesha when we face obstacles and remember that all will be well in the future. A few years ago, as I explored my roots my aunt told me about our ancestral Vinayagar temple in Kottar, Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu. This temple, which my great grandfather was instrumental in building, is called sendra thisai vendra vinayagar koil (winner of all chosen paths and directions). It’s my favorite now, and I visit every time I travel to India. This temple of my ancestors makes me feel that Ganesha is with me whichever direction my life takes me.
Send someone a Ganesha to wish them well as they begin a new journey. Send a Ganesha to offer wisdom and well wishes. Click images below to shop.
*our very famous Patriots quarter back is rumored to have a picture of Ganesha in his locker.