Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, is easily the most recognizable and loveable of Hindu deities. But pinpointing his various attributes is not quite so simple. He is at once the portly, merry, childlike god and the sage, complex philosopher. He is the presiding deity of material wealth and the lord of spirituality. He removes all impediments for his devotees but creates all manner of difficulties for the transgressors, men or gods. And associated with every aspect of Ganesha- be it his extraordinary birth, his elephant head, his broken tusk, his vehicle (the mouse), his appetite or his anger- are scores of myths, each more colourful than the other. <>In this thoroughly researched and delightfully narrated book, Royina Grewal gives us the many stories of Ganesha, exploring their significance and cultures in which they originated.
Royina Grewal is the author of two travel books, Sacred Virgin: Travels Along the Narmada and In Rajasthan. She has conceived, scripted and directed son et lumiere shows at Gwalior, Anandpur Sahib, Chandragiri (near Tirupati) and Khajuraho. She is also the first person in India to create audio-guided tours to historic sites and has so far completed guides to Orchha, Khajuraho and Amber.
Royina Grewal and her husband divide their time between Delhi and Rajasthan.
Shree Ganeshaaya Namaha
(Salutations to you, O Ganesha)
All Hindu prayers, all new endeavours, all the simple routines of daily life and especially all new books are preceded by this invocation.
Since Ganesha is very specially the patron deity of writers and since all books, particularly this one that attempts to grasp some nuances of his elusive essence, exist in his mind, the invocation to the elephant-headed god used by the Chalukya king Someshvara Malla at the beginning of his work Manasollasa is appropriate:
I prostrate myself before you, O Ganeshvara,
Your icon is a hallowed charm
That assures fulfillment of all desire.
With the fanning of your broad ears,
You scatter away all obstacles,
As though they were weightless as cotton.
To call upon Ganesha at the beginning of a new book is particularly important, for as Ganesha made it possible for sage Vyasa to complete the Mahabharata, so too did he impede the sage’s compilation of the Puranas when he was not invoked.
Ganesha is one of the most widely worshipped deities in India, regarded by millions with love and adoration. Simple everyday routines, a new business, a journey, even an examination- all are preceded by a prayer to Ganesha, beseeching his benediction. Even little children in some parts of the country begin their writing lessons with the invocation Harih Sri Ganapataya namaha (Salutations to Ganesha, son of Shiva).
The elephant-headed deity transcends the boundaries of sect and caste, even of religion and geography. He is worshipped in many destant countries, invoked by Buddhists, Jains and all Hindus, high as well as low caste. Indeed, the emphatically non-sectarian temper of Ganesha worship inspired freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak to use Ganesha as an icon of concord. In the late nineteenth century, he initiated a community festival of Ganesha in Maharashtra, deliberately designed to bring people of various castes together and to forge a new unity in the freedom movement.
Ganesha is many things tom any people. He is the portly, merry and mischievous childlike god, as well as the abstract philosopher. To his devotees he is the creator of the universe (a role more generally ascribed to Brahma) and also Siddhidata, the one who bestows blessings. He is the lord of obstacles, who removes impediments, but also creates all manner of difficulties if not propitiated. He is the presiding deity of material riches, and also the lord of spirituality. He is the guardian of the threshold who combats evil influences. To some he is also their primary personal god, their ishtadevta. Above all, Ganesha, more than any other deity, satisfies human aspirations for worldly success and fulfillment.
Ganesha is also a most accommodating deity, easy to please. He does not demand lengthy penance or austerities of his devotees but is contented by simple devotion, provided only that it is sincere.
The elephant-headed deity is one of the most frequently encountered icons of the Hindu pantheon. Images of Ganesha are often installed over the entrances to homes, shops, restaurants, office buildings- indeed almost any structure where people live or work- and many a framed picture presides over their interiors, He is present in every family shrine, where he is usually placed to the south, the direction of the demons, to defend the other gods from their baneful influences. He also wards of evil from the intersections of roads and the boundaries of villages, where he is often simply represented, like Shiva, as a rough stone daubed with red paint.
Icons are sculpted in most temples- at the threshold, in inches, in shrines, or in temple friezes associated with the mythology of Shiva. And today a living craft tradition revolves around the fashioning of clay images of the god, sold in the thousands during celebrations of Ganesha Chaturthi.
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