original: gouache & 22 carat gold on linen 6″x 10″ 2014
Ganesh, or Ganesha, is evoked at the beginning of any endeavor or spiritual practice because he is the remover of obstacles. The practitioner asks his help so that the prayers can be heard by the divine being they are requesting aid from. He is often portrayed as an infant, or very sweet and not at all like the powerful force that he really is. He has many forms as do most of the Gods of the Buddhist and Hindu pantheons. He has a large stomach to peacefully digest all the good and bad in life. He has multiple limbs, which symbolizes his supernatural powers. He has an axe to cut off all bonds and attachments. His upraised hand symbolizes protection to his devotees. Sometimes he holds a radish – this symbolizes abundance, which helps devotees to grow He holds sweets in another hand that represent Liberation, the reward of work, which is the sweetest thing of all. He has one tusk, which represents keeping the good, and throwing the rest away. His large ears encourage us to listen, and his small eyes to concentrate. He often rides a mouse or rat, which symbolizes desire. By riding it, you keep it under control so that it doesn’t control you.
His story is a parabal. It goes like this: Parvati, Ganesha’s mother, asked Nandi, her husband Shiva’s bull, to guard the door while she was taking a bath. But when Shiva came home Nandi, being loyal to him first, let him in. Parvati was upset that she had no one as loyal as Nandi, so she took tumeric ( which was like a bath salt in that time) and fashioned herself a devoted son named Ganesh. The next time she bathed Ganesh was at the door guarding. Shiva came home and Ganesh wouldn’t let him pass. Shiva was enraged – who was this boy? He ordered his army to destroy Ganesh, but Ganesh was so powerful they weren’t able to touch him. He asks the Creator, Brama to kill Ganesha and Brama cuts off his head. Parvati was very upset and threatened to destroy creation unless Bramha bring Ganesh back to life, and made him supreme before all other gods. Brama placed an elephant head on Ganesha’s body and breathed life back into him. And Ganesha is given dominion over all the gods and classes of beings. Which is why, if you want anything done or help received from the celestial beings, you ask ganesha first.
Here is the symbolism of the story:
Parvati, Ganesha’s mother, is a form of Devi, the Parashakti (Supreme Energy). In the human body She resides in the Muladhara chakra as the Kundalini shakti. It is said that when we purify ourselves, ridding ourselves of the impurities that bind us, then the Lord automatically comes. This is why Shiva, the Supreme Lord, came unannounced as Parvati was bathing.
Nandi, Shiva’s bull, who Parvati first sent to guard the door represents the divine temperment. Nandi is so devoted to Shiva that his every thought is directed to Him, and he is able to easily recognize the Lord when He arrives. This shows that the attitude of the spiritual aspirant is what gains access to Devi’s (the kundalini shakti’s) abode. One must first develop this attitude of the devotee before hoping to become qualified for the highest treasure of spiritual attainment, which Devi alone grants.
After Nandi permitted Shiva to enter, Parvati took the turmeric paste from Her own body, and with it created Ganesha.. Yellow is the color associated with the Muladhara chakra, where the kundalini resides, and Ganesha is the deity who guards this chakra. Devi needed to create Ganesha, who represents the earthbound awareness, as a shield to protect the divine secret from unripe minds. It is when this awareness begins to turn away from things of the world, and toward the Divine, as Nandi had, that the great secret is revealed.
Shiva is the Lord and Supreme Teacher. Ganesha here represents the ego-bound Jiva. When the Lord comes, the Jiva, surrounded as it is with the murky cloud of ego, usually doesn’t recognize Him, and maybe even ends up arguing or fighting with Him! Therefore, it is the duty of the Lord, in the form of the Guru, to cut off the head of our ego! So powerful is this ego however, that at first the Guru’s instructions may not work, as Shiva’s armies failed to subdue Ganesha. It often requires a tougher approach, but, eventually the compassionate Guru, in His wisdom finds a way.
Devi threatened to destroy the whole Creation after learning of Ganesha’s demise. This indicates that when the ego thus dies, the liberated Jiva loses interest in its temporary physical vehicle, the body, and begins to merge into the Supreme. The physical world is here represented by Devi. This impermanent and changeable creation is a form of Devi, to which this body belongs; the unchanging Absolute is Shiva, to which belongs the Soul. When the ego dies, the external world, which depends on the ego for its existence, disappears along with it. It is said that if we want to know the secrets of this world, which is a manifestation of Devi, then we must first receive the blessings of Ganesha.
Shiva restoring life to Ganesha, and replacing his head with an elephant’s, means that before we can leave the body, the Lord first replaces our small ego with a “big”, or universal ego. This doesn’t mean that we become more egoistic. On the contrary, we no longer identify with the limited individual self, but rather with the large universal Self. In this way, our life is renewed, becoming one that can truly benefit Creation. It is however only a functional ego, like the one Krishna and Buddha kept. It is like a thin string tying the liberated Consciousness to our world, solely for our benefit.
Ganesha is given dominion over all classes of beings, ranging from insects, animals and humans to the subtle and celestial beings. These various beings all contribute to the government of the Creation; everything from natural forces like storms and earthquakes, to the elemental qualities like fire and water, to functioning of the body’s organs and processes. If we don’t honor the Ganas, then our every action is a form of thievery, as it is unsanctioned. Therefore, instead of propitiating each Gana in order to receive their blessings, we bow to their Lord, Sri Ganesha. By receiving His grace, we receive the grace of all. He removes any potential obstacles and enables our endeavors to succeed.