Ganesha is one of the most distinctive Hindu deities, with his large elephant head and pot-bellied human body. Known as the Lord of Obstacles, Ganesha has a dual role of removing obstacles as well as creating obstructions for those whose hubris and ambition have become destructive.
As the Remover of Obstacles and the god of success, Ganesha is honored throughout India and in Hindu cultures, at both secular and religious ceremonies. When someone launches a new business or moves into a new home, for example, the elephant-headed god is invoked to bless the venture.
Revered for his cleverness and wisdom, Ganesha is also known as the patron of letters and learning. According to some scholars of Hindu literature, Ganesha is the scribe who wrote down the legendary Indian epic the Mahabharata, dictated to him by the ancient sage Vyasa. It is said that Ganesha agreed to transcribe the epic only if Vyasa would recite the poem without pausing.
In many depictions of Ganesha, he is shown holding a broken tusk in his lower right hand like a pen, perhaps symbolizing the sacrifice he made in feverishly writing the Mahabharata. Another interpretation of the broken tusk, however, is that it’s a symbol of the truth that outward imperfections have nothing to do with inner perfection.
How Ganesha Got His Elephant Head
The Hindu tradition contains many different versions of Ganesha’s origins. Some stories say that Ganesha was born with an elephant head, but most say that he was born with a human head that was later replaced with the elephant head. In one version of the story, Ganesha’s mother, the goddess Parvati, created Ganesha from the dirt off her body while she was bathing. She then had Ganesha guard the entrance to her bathroom. When her husband, Shiva, came home, he was angry about a stranger blocking his access and cut off Ganesha’s head in a fit of rage. Parvati was struck with grief, and to console her, Shiva restored Ganesha to life, giving him an elephant head. Shiva also granted Ganesha a boon – that he would be revered as a god of good fortune and success.
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