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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Matteoda

An introduction to Ganesha

Today I’m going to write a little about one of my favourite Hindu gods, Ganesha. He is easily recognisable thanks to his elephant head and big belly. Please note that this is just an introductory article as I am by no means an expert!

There are several tales as to his origins, but this is the one I like best, which also happens to be one of the most popular.

One day, while Lord Shiva was away from home, his wife, the Goddess Parvati, decided to take a bath. There was no one around to guard the door, so she created a little boy from turmeric paste and breathed life into him. She made him her son, and asked him to guard the doors whilst she bathed, instructing him not to let anyone pass.

While she was bathing, Lord Shiva returned home and wanted to see his wife. The little boy refused to let him pass as he did not know he was his father. Obviously Shiva did not know that he was looking at his own son either and, quick to temper, he drew out his trident and beheaded the boy.

On hearing the commotion, Parvati came running out and was distraught to see her little boy lying dead on the ground.

When Shiva realised what he had done, he decided to bring the boy back to life, but it was impossible to reattach the boy’s head to the body, so he instructed his bull, Nandi, to bring him the head of the first animal he found, which happened to be an elephant calf. Shiva placed the elephant’s head on the boy and brought him back to life.

Parvati, though delighted to have her boy back, was concerned that he would be mocked for having a half-human, half-elephant appearance, so she invoked the gods asking them to bless her son. Shiva recognised him as his own son, and called him Ganesha, which means “leader among all classes of beings”. He is one of the most worshipped Hindu deities and is considered the patron of the arts and sciences, the Lord of Beginnings, the Remover of Obstacles, and the Deity of Good Fortune.

Some of the symbolism behind Ganesha:

· Elephant head: Elephants are a symbol of strength and power, they clear paths through the forest. Elephants can be tamed, but wild elephants are often destructive. Ganesh is usually worshipped before starting anything new, as he clears the path ahead and removes obstacles.

· Large ears: These represent his ability to listen to those who ask him for help.

· Large head: This symbolises his intelligence and thinking ability – he is the patron saint of arts and sciences after all!

· Small mouth: This indicates that he listens more and talks less.

· One broken tusk: This represents retaining the good but throwing away the bad that we do not need. Note: there are some variations. My Ganesha (pictured) has no tusks at all. 

· Large belly: Ganesh has a large stomach because he consumes and digests all the good and bad in life, he takes away our problems and "stores" them in his belly.

· Ganesha has 4 arms: In one hand he holds a rope, representing his ability to help pull us up towards our ultimate goal of realisation and liberation.

· In another hand he holds an axe to sever all attachments with the material world we are constantly trying to hang on to.

· In his third hand, he holds a bowl full of sweets; these are rewards for spiritual development.

· His fourth hand is often shown in a mudra (ritual gesture), most commonly Abhaya mudra or ‘fearless’ mudra. This hand gesture its also a way of blessing those who worship him.

· The mouse on which Ganesha rides represents our ego.

I wrote the above article on the basis of knowledge gained from personal study and the information found on the following web pages:

I hope you enjoyed it :-)

Photograph: my wooden Ganesha, a gift from my friend Ana Aparicio. We were supposed to travel to India together in 2017, but I broke a toe and had to cancel. She went without me, and was kind enough to bring me this lovely present, which sits on my office desk.


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