We all know and love him as a modak-eating, mouse-riding, plump pot-bellied deity with an elephant’s head atop a human body. But have we ever wondered about the significance of one of the most revered and worshipped gods in the Hindu religion? Every Ganesha Chaturthi, we sing his praise and call him “sukh karta, dukh harta” (provider of joys, he who banishes sorrow) and overload on modaks using him as an excuse. Enter the home of someone who follows the Hindu religion, and you are bound to see at least one (if not many) images of this popular divine being. His devotees claim to be enchanted by his gentle gaze and lovable image, and it is hard not to conjure up an image of him when we think of Hindu rituals and poojas.
Ganesha is popularly known to stand for wisdom and knowledge. Through the physical image that has been depicted of the god throughout the years, a few symbolisms have been inferred and are associated with the god, and are projected as desirable traits so that we too, in our daily lives, try to emulate these characteristics.
His head and trunk represent the “Om” symbol, the aural symbol of cosmic reality. If you look closely, you’ll see that one of his tusks is missing or in some idols, partially absent (ekdanta). This is to signify that good will prevail, while the bad will be severed. This is only one inference out of many; the Hindu culture is full of varied legends and stories about how events occurred. His broad forehead signifies that he is wise and invites us to think in broader terms. The abhaya mudra he holds on one hand is symbolic of fearlessness and protection, while in two others, he holds an axe to show the severing of material attachments and a “pasha” or noose symbolizes the power to capture and overcome obstacles. He usually is depicted as having more than two hands, in order to show his divinity. In his lower left hand, he holds a modak, and this is meant as a reward for “sadhana” or dedicated meditation by his devotees. (To be honest, we would be more than happy to meditate only if it resulted in modak rewards.)
Another attribute you notice immediately is Ganesha’s big belly. We normally associate it with the modaks and the warnings of our mothers when we eat too many, but the rotund tummy actually points to the necessity of consuming everything that comes our way in life – the good, the bad, and all that lies in between. Lying at his feet is the “Mushak , his mouse vehicle, commonly seen as paying obeisance to him. Mice are normally considered pests, and the placement of the Mushak at Ganesha’s feet signifies his role as Vigneshwara or Remover of obstacles since Ganesha has mastered the mouse.
These are just a few of the manifold interpretations the Ganesh murti or idol that are spread throughout the religion’s history. Different scholars infer dfferent meanings, and it is believed that the unseen entity known as Ganpati, or Ganesha, was molded into his current form through the use of symbolic images.
The modern Ganpati is cool. Honestly. The forms of Ganesha have been evolving throughout the years, and today we get to see cute, artistic, unconventional versions of the lovable god. If you’re not someone who sticks to conservative ideals, maybe a contemporary Ganpati statue will please you. After all, a god who eats sweets all day, rides a mouse, and is shown doing wacky stuff in his idol depictions? Yes, please!
Images lovingly sourced from: