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Ganesha (Eng)


(Sanskrit: गणेश; Ganeśa; listen (help•info), also spelled Ganesa or Ganesh, is one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in Hinduism. Although he is known by many attributes, Ganesha's elephant head makes him easy to identify. Ganesha is widely worshipped as the Remover of Obstacles, and more generally as Lord of beginnings and as the Lord of obstacles (Vighnesha), patron of arts and sciences, and the god of intellect and wisdom. He is honoured with affection at the start of any ritual or ceremony and invoked as the "Patron of Letters" at the beginning of any writing. Several texts relate mythological anecdotes associated with his birth and exploits and explain his distinct iconography.
Ganesha emerges as a distinct deity in clearly-recognizable form beginning in the fourth and fifth centuries, during the Gupta Period, although he inherited traits from Vedic and pre-Vedic precursors. His popularity rose quickly, and he was formally included among the five primary deities of Smartism (a Hindu denomination) in the ninth century. A sect of devotees, called the Ganapatya, (Sanskrit: gānapatya) who identified Ganesha as the supreme deity arose during this period. The principal scriptures dedicated to Ganesha are the Ganesha Purana, the Mudgala Purana, and the Ganapati Atharvashirsa.
Ganesha is one of the most-worshipped divinities in India. Veneration of Ganesha is considered complementary with other forms of the divine. Various Hindu sects worship him regardless of other affiliations. Devotion to Ganesha is widely diffused and extends to Jains, Buddhists, and beyond India.

Etymology and other names

Ganesha as 'Shri Mayureshwar' with consorts Buddhi and Siddhi, Morgaon (the central shrine for the regional astavināyaka complex)
Ganesha has many other titles and epithets, including Ganapati and Vighneśvara. The Hindu title of respect Shri (Sanskrit: श्री; śrī, also spelled Sri or Shree) is often added before his name. One popular way to worship Ganesha is to chant one of the Ganesha Sahasranamas, which means "a thousand names of Ganesha." Each name in the sahasranama conveys a different meaning and symbolises a different aspect of Ganesha. There are at least two different versions of the Ganesha Sahasranama. One of these is drawn from the Ganesha Purana, a Hindu scripture that venerates Ganesha.

The name Ganesha is a Sanskrit compound, joining the words gana (Sanskrit: गण; gana), meaning a group, multitude, or categorical system and isha (Sanskrit: ईश; īśa), meaning lord or master. The word gaņa when associated with Ganesha is often taken to refer to the gaņas, a troop of semi-divine beings that form part of the retinue of Shiva (IAST: "Śiva"). The term more generally means a category, class, community, association, or corporation. Some commentators interpret the name "Lord of the Gaņas" to mean "Lord of created categories," such as the elements. The translation "Lord of Hosts" may convey a familiar sense to Western readers. Ganapati (Sanskrit: गणपति; ganapati) is a synonym for Ganesha, being a compound composed of gana, meaning "group", and pati, meaning "ruler" or "lord." The Amarakośa , an early Sanskrit lexicon, lists eight synonymns of Ganeśa : Vināyaka, Vighnarāja (equivalent to Vighneśa), Dvaimātura (meaning "one who has two mothers") , Ganādhipa (equivalent to Ganapati and Ganeśa), Ekadanta (meaning "one who has One Tusk"), Heramba , Lambodara("one who was a Pot Belly", or literally "one who has a Hanging Belly") and Gajānana("having the face of an elephant").
Vināyaka is a common name for Ganesha that appears in the Purānas and in Buddhist Tantras. This name is reflected in the naming of the eight famous Ganesha temples in Maharashtra known as the astavināyaka. The name Vignesha, meaning "Lord of Obstacles," refers to his primary function in Hindu mythology as the creator and remover of obstacles (vighna).
A prominent name for Ganesha in the Tamil language is Pille or Pillaiyar, which translates as "Little Child." A. K. Narain differentiates these terms by saying that pille means a "child" while pillaiyar means a "noble child." He adds that the words pallu, pella, and pell in the Dravidian family of languages signify "tooth or tusk of an elephant" but more generally "elephant." In discussing the name Pillaiyar, Anita Raina Thapan notes that since the Pali word pillaka means "a young elephant" it is possible that the word pille originally meant "the young of the elephant."


Ganesha is a popular figure in Indian art. Unlike some deities, representations of Ganesha show wide variation with distinct patterns changing over time. He may be portrayed standing, dancing, heroically taking action against demons, playing with his family as a boy, sitting down, or engaging in a range of contemporary situations.
Ganesha images were prevalent in many parts of India by the sixth century. The figure shown to the right is typical of Ganesha statuary from 900-1200, after Ganesha had been well-established as an independent deity with his own sect. This example features some of Ganesha's common iconographic elements. A virtually identical statue has been dated between 973-1200 by Paul Martin-Dubost, and another similar statue is dated circa twelfth century by Pratapaditya Pal. Ganesha has the head of an elephant and a big belly. This statue has four arms, which is common in depictions of Ganesha. He holds his own broken tusk in his lower-right hand and holds a delicacy, which he samples with his trunk, in his lower-left hand. The motif of Ganesha turning his trunk sharply to his left to taste a sweet in his lower-left hand is a particularly archaic feature. A more primitive statue in one of the Ellora Caves with this general form has been dated to the seventh century. Details of the other hands are difficult to make out on the statue shown; in the standard configuration, Ganesha typically holds an axe or a goad in one upper arm and a noose in the other upper arm as symbols of his ability to cut through obstacles or to create them as needed.
The influence of this old constellation of iconographic elements can still be seen in contemporary representations of Ganesha. In one modern form, the only variation from these old elements is that the lower-right hand does not hold the broken tusk but rather is turned toward the viewer in a gesture of protection or "no fear" (abhaya mudra). The same combination of four arms and attributes occurs in statues of Ganesha dancing, which is a very popular theme.

Common attributes

Ganesha has been represented with the head of an elephant since the early stages of his appearance in Indian art. Puranic myths provide many explanations for how he got his elephant head. One of his popular forms (called Heramba-Ganapati) has five elephant heads, and other less-common variations in the number of heads are known. While some texts say that Ganesha was born with an elephant head, in most stories he acquires the head later, with several accounts given. The most common motif in these stories is that Ganesha was born with a human head and body and that Shiva beheaded him when Ganesha came between Shiva and Parvati. Shiva then replaced Ganesha's original head with that of an elephant. Details of the battle and where the replacement head came from vary according to different sources. In another story, when Ganesha was born his mother, Parvati, showed off her new baby to the other gods. Unfortunately, the god Shani (Saturn) – who is said to have the "evil eye" – looked at him, causing the baby's head to be burned to ashes. The god Vishnu came to the rescue and replaced the missing head with that of an elephant. Another story tells that Ganesha is created directly by Shiva's laughter. Shiva became concerned that Ganesha was too alluring, so he cursed Ganesha to have the head of an elephant and a protruding belly.
Ganesha's earliest name was Ekadanta ("One Tusk"), referring to his single whole tusk, the other having been broken off. Some of the earliest images of Ganesha show him holding his broken tusk. The importance of this distinctive feature is reflected in the Mudgala Purana, which states that the name of Ganesha's second incarnation is Ekadanta.
Ganesha's protruding belly appears as a distinctive attribute in his earliest statuary, which dates to the Gupta period (fourth to sixth centuries). This feature is so important that according to the Mudgala Purana two different incarnations of Ganesha use names based on it, Lambodara ("Pot Belly", or literally "Hanging Belly") and Mahodara ("Great Belly"). Both names are Sanskrit compounds describing his belly (Sanskrit: udara). The Brahmanda Purana says that he has the name Lambodara because all the universes (i.e., cosmic eggs; Sanskrit brahmāndas) of the past, present, and future are present in Ganesha.
The number of Ganesha's arms varies; his best-known forms have between two and sixteen arms. Many depictions of Ganesha feature four arms, which is mentioned in Puranic sources and codified as a standard form in some iconographic texts. His earliest images had two arms. Forms with fourteen and twenty arms appeared in Central India during the ninth and tenth centuries.
The serpent is a common feature in Ganesha iconography and appears in many forms. According to the Ganesha Purana, Ganesha wrapped the serpent Vāsuki around his neck. Other common depictions of snakes include use as a sacred thread (Sanskrit: yajñyopavīta) wrapped around the stomach as a belt, held in a hand, coiled at the ankles, or as a throne. Upon Ganesha's forehead there may be a third eye or the Shaivite sectarian mark (Sanskrit: tilaka), three horizontal lines. The Ganesha Purana prescribes a tilaka mark as well as a crescent moon on the forehead. A distinct form called Bhālacandra ("Moon on the Forehead") includes that iconographic element.

The colors most often associated with Ganesha are red and yellow, but specific other colors are associated with certain forms. Many examples of color associations with specific meditation forms are prescribed in the Sritattvanidhi, which is a treatise on Hindu iconography that includes a section on variant forms of Ganesha. For example, white is associated with his representations as Heramba-Ganapati and Rina-Mochana-Ganapati ("Ganapati Who Releases From Bondage"). Ekadanta-Ganapati is visualized as blue during meditation on that form.