Ganesha, also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka, is one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India. Hindu sects worship him regardless of affiliations.

Although he is known by many attributes, Ganesha's elephant head makes him easy to identify. Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom. As the god of beginnings, he is honoured at the start of rituals and ceremonies. Ganesha is also invoked as patron of letters and learning during writing sessions.

Ganesha emerged as a distinct deity in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, during the Gupta Period, although he inherited traits from Vedic and pre-Vedic precursors. He was formally included among the five primary deities of Smartism (a Hindu denomination) in the 9th century. A sect of devotees called the Ganapatya arose, who identified Ganesha as the supreme deity. The principal scriptures dedicated to Ganesha are the Ganesha Purana, the Mudgala Purana, and the Ganapati Atharvashirsa.

Etymology and other names

Ganesha has been ascribed many other titles and epithets, including Ganapati and Vighneshvara. The Hindu title of respect Shri is often added before his name. One popular way Ganesha is worshipped is by chanting a Ganesha Sahasranama, a litany of "a thousand names of Ganesha". Each name in the sahasranama conveys a different meaning and symbolises a different aspect of Ganesha. At least two different versions of the Ganesha Sahasranama exist; one version is drawn from the Ganesha Purana, a Hindu scripture venerating Ganesha.

The name Ganesha is a Sanskrit compound, joining the words gana, meaning a group, multitude, or categorical system and isha , meaning lord or master. The word gaņa when associated with Ganesha is often taken to refer to the gaņas, a troop of semi-divine beings that form part of the retinue of Shiva The term more generally means a category, class, community, association, or corporation. Some commentators interpret the name "Lord of the Gaņas" to mean "Lord of Hosts" or "Lord of created categories", such as the elements. Ganapati a synonym for Ganesha, is a compound composed of gaṇa, meaning "group", and pati, meaning "ruler" or "lord". The Amarakosha, an early Sanskrit lexicon, lists eight synonyms of Ganesha : Vinayaka, Vighnarāja (equivalent to Vighnesha), Dvaimātura (one who has two mothers), Gaṇādhipa (equivalent to Ganapati and Ganesha), Ekadanta (one who has one tusk), Heramba, Lambodara (one who has a pot belly, or, literally, one who has a hanging belly), and Gajanana having the face of an elephant).

Vinayaka is a common name for Ganesha that appears in the Purāṇas and in Buddhist Tantras. This name is reflected in the naming of the eight famous Ganesha temples in Maharashtra known as the Ashtavinayak. The names Vighnesha and Vighneshvara (Lord of Obstacles) refers to his primary function in Hindu theology as the master and remover of obstacles (vighna).

A prominent name for Ganesha in the Tamil language is Pillai or Pillaiyar. A. K. Narain differentiates these terms by saying that pillai means a "child" while pillaiyar means a "noble child". He adds that the words pallu, pella, and pell in the Dravidian family of languages signify "tooth or tusk", also "elephant tooth or tusk". Anita Raina Thapan notes that the root word pille in the name Pillaiyar might have originally meant "the young of the elephant", because the Pali word pillaka means "a young elephant".

Common attributes

Ganesha has been represented with the head of an elephant since the early stages of his appearance in Indian art. Puranic myths provide many explanations for how he got his elephant head. One of his popular forms, Heramba-Ganapati, has five elephant heads, and other less-common variations in the number of heads are known. While some texts say that Ganesha was born with an elephant head, he acquires the head later in most stories. The most recurrent motif in these stories is that Ganesha was created by Parvati using clay to protect her and Shiva beheaded him when Ganesha came between Shiva and Parvati. Shiva then replaced Ganesha's original head with that of an elephant. Details of the battle and where the replacement head came from vary from source to source. Another story says that Ganesha was created directly by Shiva's laughter. Because Shiva considered Ganesha too alluring, he gave him the head of an elephant and a protruding belly.

Ganesha's earliest name was Ekadanta (One Tusked), referring to his single whole tusk, the other being broken. Some of the earliest images of Ganesha show him holding his broken tusk. The importance of this distinctive feature is reflected in the Mudgala Purana, which states that the name of Ganesha's second incarnation is Ekadanta. Ganesha's protruding belly appears as a distinctive attribute in his earliest statuary, which dates to the Gupta period (4th to 6th centuries). This feature is so important that, according to the Mudgala Purana, two different incarnations of Ganesha use names based on it: Lambodara (Pot Belly, or, literally, Hanging Belly) and Mahodara (Great Belly). Both names are Sanskrit compounds describing his belly. The Brahmanda Purana says that Ganesha has the name Lambodara because all the universes (i.e., cosmic eggs; brahmāṇḍas) of the past, present, and future are present in him. The number of Ganesha's arms varies; his best-known forms have between two and sixteen arms. Many depictions of Ganesha feature four arms, which is mentioned in Puranic sources and codified as a standard form in some iconographic texts. His earliest images had two arms. Forms with 14 and 20 arms appeared in Central India during the 9th and the 10th centuries. The serpent is a common feature in Ganesha iconography and appears in many forms. According to the Ganesha Purana, Ganesha wrapped the serpent Vasuki around his neck. Other depictions of snakes include use as a sacred thread wrapped around the stomach as a belt, held in a hand, coiled at the ankles, or as a throne. Upon Ganesha's forehead may be a third eye or the Shaivite sectarian mark, which consists of three horizontal lines. The Ganesha Purana prescribes a tilaka mark as well as a crescent moon on the forehead. A distinct form of Ganesha called Bhalachandra "Moon on the Forehead" includes that iconographic element.Ganesha is often described as red in color. Specific colors are associated with certain forms. Many examples of color associations with specific meditation forms are prescribed in the Sritattvanidhi, a treatise on Hindu iconography. For example, white is associated with his representations as Heramba-Ganapati and Rina-Mochana-Ganapati (Ganapati Who Releases from Bondage). Ekadanta-Ganapati is visualized as blue during meditation in that form.


The earliest Ganesha images are without a vahana (mount/vehicle). Of the eight incarnations of Ganesha described in the Mudgala Purana, Ganesha uses a mouse in five of them, a lion in his incarnation as Vakratunda, a peacock in his incarnation as Vikata, and Shesha, the divine serpent, in his incarnation as Vighnaraja. Mohotkata uses a lion, Mayūreśvara uses a peacock, Dhumraketu uses a horse, and Gajanana uses a mouse, in the four incarnations of Ganesha listed in the Ganesha Purana. Jain depictions of Ganesha show his vahana variously as a mouse, elephant, tortoise, ram, or peacock.
Ganesha is often shown riding on or attended by a mouse, shrew or rat. Martin-Dubost says that the rat began to appear as the principal vehicle in sculptures of Ganesha in central and western India during the 7th century; the rat was always placed close to his feet.The mouse as a mount first appears in written sources in the Matsya Purana and later in the Brahmananda Purana and Ganesha Purana, where Ganesha uses it as his vehicle in his last incarnation. The Ganapati Atharvashirsa includes a meditation verse on Ganesha that describes the mouse appearing on his flag.The names Mūṣakavāhana (mouse-mount) and Ākhuketana (rat-banner) appear in the Ganesha Sahasranama.

The mouse is interpreted in several ways. According to Grimes, "Many, if not most of those who interpret Gaṇapati's mouse, do so negatively; it symbolizes tamoguṇa as well as desire". Along these lines, Michael Wilcockson says it symbolizes those who wish to overcome desires and be less selfish. Krishan notes that the rat is destructive and a menace to crops. The Sanskrit word mūṣaka (mouse) is derived from the root mūṣ (stealing, robbing). It was essential to subdue the rat as a destructive pest, a type of vighna (impediment) that needed to be overcome. According to this theory, showing Ganesha as master of the rat demonstrates his function as Vigneshvara (Lord of Obstacles) and gives evidence of his possible role as a folk grāma-devatā (village deity) who later rose to greater prominence. Martin-Dubost notes a view that the rat is a symbol suggesting that Ganesha, like the rat, penetrates even the most secret places.



Ganesha is Vighneshvara or Vighnaraja or Vighnaharta (Marathi), the Lord of Obstacles, both of a material and spiritual order. He is popularly worshipped as a remover of obstacles, though traditionally he also places obstacles in the path of those who need to be checked. Paul Courtright says that "his task in the divine scheme of things, his dharma, is to place and remove obstacles. It is his particular territory, the reason for his creation."

Krishan notes that some of Ganesha's names reflect shadings of multiple roles that have evolved over time. Dhavalikar ascribes the quick ascension of Ganesha in the Hindu pantheon, and the emergence of the Ganapatyas, to this shift in emphasis from vighnakartā (obstacle-creator) to vighnahartā (obstacle-averter). However, both functions continue to be vital to his character.

Buddhi (Knowledge)

Ganesha is considered to be the Lord of letters and learning. In Sanskrit, the word buddhi is a feminine noun that is variously translated as intelligence, wisdom, or intellect. The concept of buddhi is closely associated with the personality of Ganesha, especially in the Puranic period, when many stories stress his cleverness and love of intelligence. One of Ganesha's names in the Ganesha Purana and the Ganesha Sahasranama is Buddhipriya. This name also appears in a list of 21 names at the end of the Ganesha Sahasranama that Ganesha says are especially important. The word priya can mean "fond of", and in a marital context it can mean "lover" or "husband", so the name may mean either "Fond of Intelligence" or "Buddhi's Husband".


Ganesha is identified with the Hindu mantra Aum, also spelled Om. The term oṃkārasvarūpa (Aum is his form), when identified with Ganesha, refers to the notion that he personifies the primal sound. The Ganapati Atharvashirsa attests to this association. Chinmayananda translates the relevant passage as follows:
(O Lord Ganapati!) You are (the Trinity) Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesa. You are Indra. You are fire [Agni] and air [Vāyu]. You are the sun [Sūrya] and the moon [Chandrama]. You are Brahman. You are (the three worlds) Bhuloka [earth], Antariksha-loka [space], and Swargaloka [heaven]. You are Om. (That is to say, You are all this).

Some devotees see similarities between the shape of Ganesha's body in iconography and the shape of Aum in the Devanāgarī and Tamil scripts.

First chakra
According to Kundalini yoga, Ganesha resides in the first chakra, called Muladhara (mūlādhāra). Mula means "original, main"; adhara means "base, foundation". The muladhara chakra is the principle on which the manifestation or outward expansion of primordial Divine Force rests. This association is also attested to in the Ganapati Atharvashirsa. Courtright translates this passage as follows: "[O Ganesha,] You continually dwell in the sacral plexus at the base of the spine [mūlādhāra cakra]. Thus, Ganesha has a permanent abode in every being at the Muladhara. Ganesha holds, supports and guides all other chakras, thereby "governing the forces that propel the wheel of life".

Family and consorts

Though Ganesha is popularly held to be the son of Shiva and Parvati, the Puranic myths give different versions about his birth. In some he was created by Parvati, in another he was created by Shiva and Parvati, in another he appeared mysteriously and was discovered by Shiva and Parvati or he was born from the elephant headed goddess Malini after she drank Parvati's bath water that had been thrown in the river.

The family includes his brother the war god Kartikeya, who is also called Skanda and Murugan. Regional differences dictate the order of their births. In northern India, Skanda is generally said to be the elder, while in the south, Ganesha is considered the first born.In northern India, Skanda was an important martial deity from about 500 BCE to about 600 CE, when worship of him declined significantly in northern India. As Skanda fell, Ganesha rose. Several stories tell of sibling rivalry between the brothers and may reflect sectarian tensions.

Ganesha's marital status, the subject of considerable scholarly review, varies widely in mythological stories. One pattern of myths identifies Ganesha as an unmarried brahmacari. This view is common in southern India and parts of northern India. Another pattern associates him with the concepts of Buddhi (intellect), Siddhi (spiritual power), and Riddhi (prosperity); these qualities are sometimes personified as goddesses, said to be Ganesha's wives. He also may be shown with a single consort or a nameless servant . Another pattern connects Ganesha with the goddess of culture and the arts, Sarasvati or Śarda (particularly in Maharashtra). He is also associated with the goddess of luck and prosperity, Lakshmi. Another pattern, mainly prevalent in the Bengal region, links Ganesha with the banana tree, Kala Bo.

The Shiva Purana says that Ganesha had begotten two sons: Kşema (prosperity) and Lābha (profit). In northern Indian variants of this story, the sons are often said to be Śubha (auspiciouness) and Lābha.

Worship and festivals

Ganesha is worshipped on many religious and secular occasions; especially at the beginning of ventures such as buying a vehicle or starting a business. K.N. Somayaji says, "there can hardly be a Hindu home in India which does not house an idol of Ganapati. Ganapati, being the most popular deity in India, is worshipped by almost all castes and in all parts of the country". Devotees believe that if Ganesha is propitiated, he grants success, prosperity and protection against adversity.

Ganesha is a non-sectarian deity, and Hindus of all denominations invoke him at the beginning of prayers, important undertakings, and religious ceremonies.

Dancers and musicians, particularly in southern India, begin performances of arts such as the Bharatnatyam dance with a prayer to Ganesha. Mantras such as Om Shri Gaṇeshāya Namah (Om, salutation to the Illustrious Ganesha) are often used. One of the most famous mantras associated with Ganesha is Om Gaṃ Ganapataye Namah (Om, Gaṃ, Salutation to the Lord of Hosts).

Devotees offer Ganesha sweets such as modaka and small sweet balls (laddus). He is often shown carrying a bowl of sweets, called a modakapātra. Because of his identification with the color red, he is often worshipped with red sandalwood paste or red flowers. Dūrvā grass (Cynodon dactylon) and other materials are also used in his worship.

Festivals associated with Ganesh are Ganesh Chaturthi or Vināyaka chaturthī in the śuklapakṣa (the fourth day of the waxing moon) in the month of Bhadrapada (August/September) and the Ganesh Jayanti (Ganesha's birthday) celebrated on the cathurthī of the śuklapakṣa (fourth day of the waxing moon) in the month of magha (January/February)."

Ganesh Chaturthi,/i>

An annual festival honours Ganesha for ten days, starting on Ganesha Chaturthi, which typically falls in late August or early September. The festival begins with people bringing in clay idols of Ganesha, symbolising Ganesha's visit. The festival culminates on the day of Ananta Chaturdashi, when idols (murtis) of Ganesha are immersed in the most convenient body of water. Some families have a tradition of immersion on the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, or 7th day.

In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak transformed this annual Ganesha festival from private family celebrations into a grand public event. He did so "to bridge the gap between the Brahmins and the non-Brahmins and find an appropriate context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them" in his nationalistic strivings against the British in Maharashtra. Because of Ganesha's wide appeal as "the god for Everyman", Tilak chose him as a rallying point for Indian protest against British rule. Tilak was the first to install large public images of Ganesha in pavilions, and he established the practice of submerging all the public images on the tenth day. Today, Hindus across India celebrate the Ganapati festival with great fervour, though it is most popular in the state of Maharashtra. The festival also assumes huge proportions in Mumbai, Pune, and in the surrounding belt of Ashtavinayaka temples.


In Hindu temples, Ganesha is depicted in various ways: as an acolyte or subordinate deity (pãrśva-devatã); as a deity related to the principal deity (parivāra-devatã); or as the principal deity of the temple (pradhāna), treated similarly as the highest gods of the Hindu pantheon. As the god of transitions, he is placed at the doorway of many Hindu temples to keep out the unworthy, which is analogous to his role as Parvati’s doorkeeper. In addition, several shrines are dedicated to Ganesha himself, of which the Ashtavinayak "eight Ganesha (shrines)" in Maharashtra are particularly well known. Located within a 100-kilometer radius of the city of Pune, each of these eight shrines celebrates a particular form of Ganapati, complete with its own lore and legend. The eight shrines are: Morgaon, Siddhatek, Pali, Mahad, Theur, Lenyadri, Ozar and Ranjangaon.

There are many other important Ganesha temples at the following locations: Wai in Maharashtra; Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh; Jodhpur, Nagaur and Raipur (Pali) in Rajasthan; Baidyanath in Bihar; Baroda, Dholaka, and Valsad in Gujarat and Dhundiraj Temple in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Prominent Ganesha temples in southern India include the following: Kanipakam in Chittoor; the Jambukeśvara Temple at Tiruchirapalli; at Rameshvaram and Suchindram in Tamil Nadu; at Malliyur, Kottarakara, Pazhavangadi, Kasargod in Kerala, Hampi, and Idagunji in Karnataka; and Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradesh


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