Ganesha (Ganesh)

Ganesha, or Ganesh, is the most widely worshiped Hindu god in India. He is considered auspicious and is invoked at the beginning of every undertaking. Ganesha helps make the way smooth, removing obstacles and distractions, and protecting one from evil. He also bestows earthly prosperity and well-being, and is sometimes worshiped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. Ganesha is considered one of the five prime Hindu deities (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga are the other four).

One of the most obvious aspects of Ganesha's form is that he has a human body and an elephant head. This happened in quite an interesting way. Shiva, the Hindu god paired with Parvati, Ganesha's mother, had been away many years. Parvati was bored and lonely. She decided to make herself a baby to play with and fashioned a chubby little baby boy out of clay. One day when Parvati was bathing in a pool, she asked her son Ganesha to make sure no one disturbed her. Shiva arrived home at that moment and started to look for Parvati. The boy, not realizing who he was, stopped him from going near the pool. Furious at being opposed, Shiva immediately cut off the boy's head with his sword. Parvati, of course, was heartbroken and screamed and threw herself sobbing on the ground. To ease her pain, Shiva immediately sent 1,000 goblins, demons and imps to look for the head of any sleeping being who was facing north. The company found a sleeping elephant and brought back its severed head, which was then attached to the body of the boy. Shiva restored his life and made him the leader (pati) of his troops. Ganesha is sometimes known as Ganapati. Shiva also bestowed a boon that people would worship him and invoke his name before undertaking any new venture.

Ganesha's head symbolizes the soul, or Atman, which is the ultimate supreme reality of human existence. His human body signifies Maya, or the earthly existence of human beings. The elephant head denotes wisdom and its trunk represents Om, the seed (sound) syllable of the cosmic reality of the universe.

Ganesha occurs in various forms, with 4-8 arms. In his upper right hand he holds a goad, which helps him remove obstacles and move mankind along on the eternal path.The noose in his left hand is to capture difficulties, or restrain desires and passions. He may also hold a hatchet, symbol for cutting away of vanity and false teaching. He may also hold a trident, linking him to his father, Shiva. Often one hand gestures fearlessness and reassurance. He may also have a bowl of sweetmeats.