GANESHA Biography - Religious Figures & Icons


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Ganesha is the God of success and overcoming obstacles, but is also associated with wisdom, learning, prudence, and power. As the god of success, his names are chanted at the start of any important venture. As the remover of obstacles, he is invoked at the start of every journey, marriage, religious rite, house construction, the writing of a book or even a letter.


There are two myths about his birth and how he came to posses the head of an elephant. One myth relates that his mother, Parvati, had to go for her bath when her husband, Shiva, was not at home. As Shiva had gone on a meditation retreat and was not expected to return, Parvati ordered Ganesha to keep guard and not let anyone inside the room. But after a while Shiva arrived and when he tried to enter, the child refused to let him do so. This angered Shiva, who cut off the child’s head.


In order to make up for his mistake, Shiva promised Parvati that if she places the head of any person or thing which crosses her path early the next day, the child would come back to life. The first person or thing that passed by them was the mighty elephant. Shiva cut off its head and placed it on the torso of the beheaded child.


Another version says that Parvati was blessed with a beautiful son, and all the Gods assembled to see and admire the son of Shiva and Parvati. They all gazed at the child except Shani, because he was under a curse, which caused any being he looked at to be burnt to ashes. Parvati insisted that Shani also look at and admired her son.


But no sooner had he done so than Ganesha’s head was burnt to ashes. Parvati cursed Shani for having killed her son, but Brahma intervened, and comfortingly told her that if the first available head were planted on her son’s shoulders, he would be alive again. So Vishnu set forth on Garuda and the first creature he found was an elephant sleeping beside a river. He cut off its head and this was fixed on Ganesha’s body.


According to legends Ganesha is a great scribe and learned in religious lore and scriptures. Hence, Ganesha is often depicted with only one tusk, since it is believed that he broke off the other so that he could inscribe the Mahabharata, which was dictated by to him the seer Vyasa.