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Every temple dedicated to Siva or His consort, the Mother Goddess Uma or Parvati, would have at every one of its gates two altars, one on either side, the one dedicated to Lord Vinayaka and the other to Lord Subrahmanya. These two deities are so important to the understanding of Hinduism, and the Saivite temples, that we now turn our attention to them.

The Deity of First Worship

There is no other God or divinity in the entire Hindu pantheon who has such a variety of interpretations and such a spectrum of legends as those associated with Lord Ganesa. (or gaNapati or vinAyaka or vighneSvara, which are some of the most well known names of this divinity). He is the one Divinity who is considered the primal God of all worship and therefore always invoked at the commencement of any worship. Be it a secular function, a religious ritual, a marriage ceremony, an auspicious undertaking, or any individual or collective enterprise, He is propitiated first in order to have all obstacles removed.. Particularly in South India and more so in the Tamil region, whatever residential area you may visit you will find small or big Vinayaka temples everywhere. You will surely find them at every T-intersection, if not in the form of a temple, at least in the form of a small altar dovetailing with the wall in the background. There is no greater authority than gaNapati, the master of all the gaNa’s, namely, of all the associates and disciples of Siva. The word gaNa’s also means divine soldiers who constitute the dynamics of divine action or management. Worshippers of other divinities have to worship Him first. But to worship Him one is not obliged to worship any other deity. He is the Lord Special. Therefore He is vinAyaka. (nAyaka means Lord and vi is the prefix denoting distinguished or special). Everything about Him has an esoteric or philosophical meaning in addition to the mundane legends associated with Him.

In worshipping gaNapati, the devotee cuffs the head with a closed fist five times uttering his five names and prays for the removal of all obstacles. The five names are:

SuklAm-bara-dhara, He who is clad in pure white

vishNu He who pervades everything and everywhere

Sasi-varNa, He who is of the cool colour of the moon

catur-bhuja, He who has four hands

prasanna-vadana, He whose face is always beaming with satisfaction.

The deity is invoked here for meditation and reverence, through His five names. The obvious purpose is explicitly stated: ‘in order to quell every form of an obstacle (for the work to be started)’. He Himself is the Lord of all obstacles, not just the dispeller of obstacles as the above invocation would motivate us to conclude. So His name signifies He is at the same time the creator of obstacles and also the remover of them. He creates obstacles in order that people may shed their Ego and think of God with humility. He takes this offering of our ego, converts it into a mouse and neutralises it by sitting over it. When one thinks of Him thus with humility, He removes the obstacles to success and gives us siddhi – success or fulfillment, and buddhi – intelligence. The goddesses siddhi and buddhi are in fact the names of His two energy-consorts.

The four hands and the one trunk of this elephant-faced deity have esoteric significance. The upper left hand (with or without the noose) stands for Creation (or binding power). The binding power is what binds Matter and Spirit and is therefore the source of all this universe including all the living. The lower right hand (with or without the broken tusk) stands for Sustenance and Protection. He thus gives abhaya, Fearlessness. The upper right hand (with or without the hatchet) stands for Dissolution. The lower left hand with modaka or laddu (the standard sweet dish which is always associated with Him) stands for Grace. It gives Liberation (from the cycle of births and deaths). The trunk of the deity is His organ of smell and touch; it stands for Obliteration or Deception (maya).

See also the corresponding explanations for the five functions of the Lord in the context of the Cosmic Dance of Siva

The deity vinayaka is the embodiment of Om (or AUM) , the symbol for the Absolute. With His right tusk broken, he represents the female principle by his right half and the male principle by his left half. So He represents the Transcendental Absolute which is beyond any sexual principle. By His animal face and human limbs He signifies that He is beyond Man and Animal. The Absolute is also the Overlord of all the senses and their activates – as signified by the fact that He is gana-pati. The word gana also means ‘category’. So gana-pati is the Lord of comprehension or consciousness. Though He holds the sweet dish, called modaka in His hand, his trunk is never shown as putting that sweet dish in His mouth. He just holds them. He watches. He is the Witness to everything. He does not Himself consume or experience. He is the Witness of Consciousness in each one of us. He is the symbol of the Primordial Power of Consciousness.

His elephant-head is adored as the emblem of wisdom. The elephant-headed God is sitting on a mouse, the smallest of animals – showing His mastery over everything from the micro to the macro. He is therefore the wisdom of comprehension of the relationship between the micro and the macro. The whole figure of Vinayaka with the sweet dish in His hand and with His pot-belly infuses an utter contentment typifying wisdom. It is the spiritual contentment of the fullness of the Absolute. The pot-belly also signifies that the entire universe is within Him. It is this contentment that makes Him dance sometimes. There are innumerable images and artistic representations of dancing ganapati.


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 Ó Copyright. V. Krishnamurthy October 12, 2000