Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha
Traditionally, this chant is used at the beginning of a new venture, a journey, or a new year, to clear the path ahead of potential difficulties. This chant invokes Ganesh, the well known deity and ‘lord of obstacles’.
Also known as Ganesha, Ganapati, The Lord of Beginnings, The Remover of Obstacles, and The Deity of Good Fortune, Ganesh is perhaps one of the most well known deities. He’s the son of Shiva and Parvati, two of the most prevalent and powerful gods and goddesses, but despite the famous depictions of his elephant’s head, he wasn’t born that way….
The story about how Ganesh got his elephant’s head varies as you travel across India – as most things do – but one of the widely-told stories goes like this:
The Story of The Elephant-Headed Boy
A long time ago, Shiva and Parvati lived happily together upon Mt. Kailash, until Shiva was called away and had to take a long journey, leaving Parvati alone.
As time passed, Parvati grew more and more lonely, wishing she had a son to cherish and play with. Using her powers, she created Ganesh from sandalwood, turmeric, and from the flesh of her own body. She gave him life by sprinkling holy Ganges water over him, and was overjoyed with her new companion.
After some time, Parvati wanted to take a bath, and asked Ganesh to guard the door of the house for her. She told him not to let anyone pass him, no matter who they were.
Coincidentally, as Ganesh was guarding the door, his father Shiva returned from his journey, and was surprised to see someone standing at the door of his house.
‘Let me pass’ he ordered, but Ganesh refused, telling him that no one would be allowed to enter without his mother’s permission.
Shiva – being quite a quick-tempered god – was enraged that an impostor was preventing him from entering his own house, and proceeded to cut off the head of the young boy. The head flew far into the distance, and the body fell to the floor.
Hearing the commotion, Parvati ran to the door and let out a cry as she saw the body of her son lying on the floor. In floods of tears, she told Shiva that he had just killed their only son, and ordered him to revive the boy.
Dismayed at what he had done, Shiva agreed to bring their son back to life, and vowed to use the head of the first being he came across to replace the one he’d cut off.
As Shiva made his way deep into the forest, the head was nowhere to be seen. Running out of time, Shiva was worried he wouldn’t be able to bring their son back to life and make his wife happy again, until he heard loud crashing footsteps behind him.
An elephant appeared through the trees and as Shiva remembered his promise, he took his sword and swiftly cut off the elephant’s head. Picking up the large and heavy head, he took it back to his house and attached it to the body of their son. Giving him life once again, the boy awoke, this time with the head of an elephant.
Parvati was overjoyed, and although her son now had the face only a mother could love, she loved him as a mother would nonetheless. To further please his wife and as a mark of respect to his son for the loyalty and bravery it must have taken to guard the door for his mother, Shiva declared that Ganesh would be worshipped first, before any other gods.
Lord of Beginnings, Remover of Obstacles
Today, it’s common to see images and statues of Ganesh at the entrances of temples and sacred buildings, as a way to protect them from anyone who wishes to enter. Before any festivities or sacred rituals, Ganesh mantras are chanted as a way to bring protection, luck and power to all those involved, and remove any potential ‘obstacles’ that may lie ahead.
As well as removing obstacles, Ganesh is known to place obstacles in front of us, so that we may overcome them, in order to learn and grow as people. This is one of the reasons Ganesh is revered before any journey, teaching, or project, as a difficult relationship with the deity can cause problems along the way…
All deities are extremely representational, with their various markings, colours, faces and objects surrounding them holding deep significance and sometimes abstract meaning. As Ganesh is all about protection and power, much of his symbolism is related to safeguarding us from life’s physical and subtle obstacles.
In Ganesh’s four hands, he holds various objects, as do many deities. These objects are particularly important for symbolising how each deity can help us progress throughout life.
In one hand he holds a rope, which represents Ganesh’s ability to help pull us up towards our ultimate goal of realisation and liberation. Another hand holds an axe to cut all attachments with the impermanent and material world we continually grasp for. In his third hand, he holds a bowl full of sweets, which represents rewards for spiritual development. His fourth hand is often shown in a mudra, with the most common depiction of him showing the blessing mudra, which looks almost identical to the Abhaya or ‘fearless’ mudra. This hand gesture is taken by many deities as a way of blessing those who worship them.
Perhaps if we ask nicely though, Ganesh will lend a hand……
Written by Emma Newlyn and published on blog.yogamatters.com/ 06th March 2017