People all over the planet know fat ‘n friendly Lord Ganesh is the God of Wealth and “Remover of Obstacles.”
But few folks know the many tales we tell about him (most coming from the holy books called Puranas—from 1500 years ago).
These Puranic stories are a great sea of meaning.
Dive into them with me as we review this popular pachyderm’s birth.
The father of this elephant-guy is the god, Shiva.
Shiva is said to fritter away his days meditating in the mountains.
He name means quiescence.
Naked and killer-cool, Shiva is the potential concealed in emptiness.
He symbolizes being.
Ganesh’s mother is the Goddess, Shakti.
Her name means “power.”
She represents doing.
When Shiva and Shakti come together, it’s like Frank Sinatra singing, “Do-be-do-be-do!”
These opposites are the key to their child, Ganesh.
Shiva is a yogi.
We see images of him sitting cross-legged in forests or atop snowy peaks.
He is the power of openness.
His opposite, Shakti, is fecundity.
She acts and creates.
She flows in the power of fullness.
The Indian tradition calls our world, samsara—the “All Flow.”
The myth of Ganesh’s birth begins simply.
The Puranas tell us Shakti just wanted a child.
Desire and wanting are important in Hindu philosophy.
They’re called, iccha–one of the first principles of the universe.
As a Goddess, Shakti fulfilled her desire through a “virgin birth.”
In the bath, she pushed the dirt off her body to form him as if from clay—very much like the way Yahweh created the first man, Adam, as the Bible tells us.
Water symbolizes the unconscious in the archetypal imagination.
Shakti was in the flow in her bath, in dreamtime.
Ganesh was made up from the ideal world of illusion.
When he was complete, she set him up as the stiff-standing guardian of her bath chamber.
We humans do stuff like this.
Don’t get me out of bed! My dreams are streaming sweetly. Don’t rain on my parade! I’m going along fine just as I am.
Ganesh was set up to protect Shakti’s dreamy fantasies—the cozy comfort of her status quo.
This is merely human.
We try to protect what is meaningful to us by using rigid ideas—or even angry ideas—that guard us from what is contrary to our familiar assumptions. We use familiar ideas to defend us against what’s real.
Shiva is emptiness and all possibilities that come out of emptiness.
He represents the fearsome things that come from the abyss of the unknown; hence, he is honored as, “The Destroyer.”
His beingness is greater than anything that is less than being.
Shiva is all being, the All-in-All.
He is greater than any human idea of self or the world.
Shiva and Shakti, being and becoming, the uncreated and created, must move toward each other.
Shiva loves Shakti.
He meets the boy guarding his wife and cuts his head off.
Upon birth, Ganesh was “headstrong.”
His mother and he believed he was pure, standing strong like an “Ivory Tower”—but he expressed a mere ideal.
He was his mother’s dream of perfection (as boys tend to be), and he lived inside the Oedipal dream that he could stand between his father and mother.
In this first form, Ganesh stands for fantasy—for the confusions that block life’s real flow. Later, he becomes The Remover of Obstacles, but–in his youth–Ganesh was the obstacle that needed to be removed.
He blocked the movement of Shiva toward Shakti––never a good idea.
Shiva destroys every idea.
In fact, in the end, he destroys all that is, was, or will be.
He is eternity, and eternity swallows everything that has odor, taste, touch, color, sound or thought in this realm.
All things fade, change, dissolve and disappear.
Only being is eternal.
When Shiva decapitated Ganesh, Shakti was mortified.
She was shocked by the absoluteness of her husband’s destructive act.
As wives do—she berated Shiva, and—as husbands do—because the grace and flow of the feminine is holy to them—he moved to appease her.
He found an elephant.
One who is said to have also died defending his mother.
He chopped that head off, too.
He melded it to Ganesh.
We say, “Elephants never forget.”
They symbolize the ups and downs of the past, and the wisdom that results from pain and experience.
Walking heavy and slow, they represent the reflection arising from passing years.
“Things are not black and white,” we say.
Elephants are gray.
They symbolize the retreat from extremism—from the lightness of belief in a perfect world.
Elephants symbolize the painful heaviness of the real.
Life is wisdom and experience.
Life is the change of ideals into the real—that unexpected, wild and self-contradictory thing that life always is.
The surreal elephant, with its tree-legs, butterfly-ears, and a nose like a snake, represents this.
When all diversities come together, we have the Ultimate.
Shiva made Ganesh a god.
His big, big head is the big, real world.
This now-transformed Ganesh represents life “as it is” (yatha bhuta, as the Buddhists say) and he assumes a new position as the guardian of Shakti and captain of Shiva’s army of ganas, his ghosts, or reminders of being.
Ganesh is the isha or pati (both mean “ruler”) of these ghosts; hence, he is called Ganesha or Ganapati.
In esoteric understanding, he is said to lead the “ghost” of the body (the prana, or the life force).
In maps of the subtle body, he is positioned at the low power center (the root chakra) called Muladhara which negotiates our connection to the animal power, tribal support, and the Earth.
Here, he controls the “obstacles” to our flow.
To create concrete action, life force must flow through us into the world of being.
Our prana creates doing, deciding and duality.
Ganesh can open us to the door of infinite bliss, infinite flow, and infinite possibility.
This is why people put statues of him around the house.
His fat belly is satisfaction–all things made by doing—all wealth.
The godly vahana (“vehicle”) he sits upon is the mouse–which means he crushes the small-life-making, worrying, scurrying mind.
Opening the gate to flow, he is the mind’s alpha state—what we need to make books, art, or music.
Indian lore makes him the lord of scholars, artists and musicians. In legend, he broke off his tusk to use as a pen to record India’s great epic poem, the Mahabharata.
Ganesh opens Muladhara.
He secures us to the ground of being, helping us to sacrifice what is over-detailed, meaningless and mousy in the world, so the heights of being can be had.
He stops us from being “headstrong” or stiff-necked (as the Bible says the Jewish people were when Moses tried to take them toward Israel).
He opens up the head and neck’s higher power centers, making us available to the blessings of divinity and doing.
These two are represented by Ganesha’s wives: Siddhi (Holiness) and Riddhi (Wealth).
Every obstacle yields to flow. Everything yields to Ganesh.
That is why some sects of India make him their chief spirit.
They see Ganesh as important because he guides our way into the material world—or the divine world—or both.
We praise him with a phrase that means, “Victory for Ganesh!” singing, “Jaya, Jaya, Jaya! Ganesh!”
READ THE ARTICLE AT ELEPHANT JOURNAL HERE