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Born to Parvati, who created a child on her own by using the turmeric paste, with which she anointed herself, Vinayaka (one who is born without the intervention of a man), knew not that Shiva was his mother’s consort. He was asked by his mother to guard the entrance to her bath when Shiva happened to visit.
An otherwise calm Shiva, felt jealous when the little boy, Vinayaka, stopped him from entering her doorway. He lost his cool and beheaded the boy with his trident. However, on seeing Parvati inconsolable and enraged in her grief at her son’s death, Shiva ordered his followers, the ganas (celestial armies) to fetch him the head of the first living being they came across.
They returned with an elephant’s head and Shiva restored Parvati’s son back to life. In doing so, he consciously became the boy’s father. He renamed the boy Ganesh, and appointed him the leader of his followers. For this reason, he is also referred to as Ganapati (lord of the ganas). Ganesh also becomes the doorway through which Shiva enters Samsara (the manifested world) and transforms from being a hermit to a householder.
As the lord of the ganas, Ganesh stands for intellect and unmatched wisdom (Ga symbolises buddhi or intellect, and Na symbolises vijnana or wisdom) and his elephant head is symbolic of material abundance (In Hinduism, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi, is flanked by elephants.)
Since the upper part of his body is created by Shiva and the lower part by Shakti (Parvati), he is the perfect embodiment of soul and substance. He is the lord of the thresholds between spiritual bliss (yoga) and material delights (bhoga).
According to some scriptures, he is married to two daughters of Bramha, Riddhi (wealth) and Siddhi (wisdom) and has two sons, Shubh (auspiciousness) and Labha (profit) and a daughter Santoshi (satisfaction). In Bengal, during the harvest time around autumn, Ganesha is worshipped alongside his mother(in the form of goddess Durga) and her three other children, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kartikeya.
But what makes him one of the most sought after deities in the Hindu pantheon of gods, is his seemingly innocuous vehicle that he rides on, the rat. In ancient times, when agriculture was the primary mode of sustenance, the rats would gnaw at the crops and eat up the stored grains. This would result in severe losses and was a hindrance to prosperity. The rat also represents the unforeseen obstacles and stubborn problems that we encounter when we take up a project, such as, building a house or writing a book. By having a rat as his vehicle, Ganesh is symbolically shown to have conquered this pest which is an obstacle to prosperity and success.
Hence, in Hinduism, he is also known as Vighnaharta – conqueror of obstacles. With his blessings, this lord of beginnings and remover of obstacles, ensures that any new project or endeavour runs smoothly, bringing us wealth, prosperity and success. The rat is also symbolic of our ignorance (ajnana), which traps us in the world of maya (delusion). Our ignorance makes us arrogant and conceited (ego) and is the greatest obstacle in our journey to self-realisation. This Ganesh Chaturthi, let us invoke the blessings of this ‘Vighnaharta’ to help us transcend the world of maya by conquering our sheath of ignorance, our ego.