Ganesh: the embodiment of joyous freedom beyond limitation! He is a pot-bellied, elephant-headed human-bodied deity riding a mouse. One of his tusks is held in one hand and his other three hands typically hold a sweet dessert, a noose, and an elephant prod. It’s Ganesh himself who provides us with the capacity to see beyond forms so let's peer more closely into this phenomenal embodiment of consciousness...
At first glance he defies categorization. And yet this name itself means “The Master of the Categories”. It was his father Shiva who gave him this name upon his birth, well to be more specific, upon his re-birth!
This popular story about Ganesh has him fashioned from the dirt sloughed of his mother Parvati’s skin. She created him to guard the door to her chambers as she bathed. Trouble arises when the child, empowered by his mother’s divine power (Shakti), stops Shiva from visiting his wife. Shiva sends his army of attendants, his Ganas, to eliminate the child but Ganesh proves to be stronger than they. Furious and in an effort to rebalance power, Shiva lops off the boys head with Parvati's sword. Parvati returns, cleansed, and is devastated at the death of her child so Shiva promises to bring the child back to life. He does so and gives him the head of a newly killed elephant. He makes him leader of his Ganas, and claims that they all must be subservient to Ganesh.
So what might this mean to us as meditators and yogi(ni)s?
GANESH IS GATE KEEPER TO OUR SPIRITUAL EVOLUTION
Ganesh is, first of all, in the role of Guardian or Protector to his mother’s chambers. In the esoteric symbolism of the Tantric system, Parvati as the Divine Feminine, resides in the human body as the Kundalini Shakti, a psycho-spiritual energy, which when awoken, rises up the spinal column directing our spiritual unfolding. But just below the slumbering Kundalini Shakti is envisioned the Muladhara or root chakra: the abode of Ganesh. As such "he" serves as the gate keeper to the fullness of our spiritual evolution.
“What are you afraid of mommy” asked my daughter recently one evening during bedtime snuggles. “Um, sharks”, I responded. “Really?” “Yes.” “No. Really-afraid-of-for-real, mommy.” I hesitated a bit as most of my fears are focused on her but managed to respond that my fears were for my own personal safety and health and those of the people I loved. The feelings of fear and security are commonly thought to be governed by the flow of energy through the root chakra.
While the root chakra is also considered the beginning of human evolution, there are actually a series of subtle chakras below the root, corresponding to lesser evolved states of consciousness and intellect. Such chakras are related to sense awareness and animal instinct and are, according to the yogic tradition, no longer necessary in our evolution and have become latent. How interesting that Ganesh, seated at this threshold between our animal instincts and our human spiritual capacities, is a hybrid human-animal riding and reigning in the energies of a mouse!
I mention this because I found that while chanting Ganesh mantras there is a sense of integration extending below the root, involving the subtle aspects of the legs and feet. To invoke Ganesh is to integrate deep instinctual aspects of our being. To invoke Ganesh is to bring light into the very subterranean, foundational depths of our psyche. And hence the importance of stabilizing the root before embarking on intense spiritual practice which may awaken Kundalini. How much better to feel secure and centered than to be subverted by one's reactive defense mechanisms as we move upwards through the chakras!
GANESH IS PURE POTENTIAL
Empowered by his mother's Shakti, Ganesh is so powerful he overcomes Shiva’s army and can only be subdued by Shiva himself, the embodiment of Supreme Consciousness. He is beheaded by Shiva, symbolic of losing the small ego, and his head is replaced with an elephant’s head, symbolic of a more expanded sense of self. Through this re-birth, he becomes the creation of both Parvati and Shiva and, as such, is an embodiment of the Divine Child. He symbolizes divine potential: he is created from Pakriti (feminine matter) and Purusha (masculine consciousness). He is part animal, part human. He is alive yet has gone beyond death. He is the innocent child while embodying supreme knowledge. Again, to invoke Ganesh is to integrate such disparate aspects of our own being.
THE LEADER OF THE PACK!
Shiva makes his powerful son the leader of the Ganas, which are Shiva's retinue of followers. But Gana in Sanskrit can encompass a "flock, troop, multitude, number, tribe, series or class". It is commonly translated as "category" though. As Master of the Ganas, he is Master of Categories and embodies the very human capacity to categorize. He reigns over concepts and is thus the source of all knowledge. He also is our capacity to reorganize said concepts and typical patterns. It is through this power we can shift from prior conditioning into new patterning. He allows us to shift our mindset... and thus to shift our circumstances! No wonder he is typically invoked at the onset of any new endeavor and the beginning of important work.
Shiva's Ganas are typically portrayed as a frightful lot and represent the multiplicity of forms that Consciousness assumes. They are frightful, in part, because they are distortions of Unity. But Ganesh, as a primal embodiment of Awareness, knows Oneness and timelessness. As Master of Categories he can take us beyond all categories, ideas, and forms, all of which are essentially veils to Wholeness. He is our capacity to integrate all aspects of our being and Being-ness itself.
GANESH IS THE REMOVER OF OBSTACLES
One evening in mediation, while I was observing an inner still darkness, I suddenly felt as if there was a furiously spinning spear repelling a massive wall of energy away from me. It was as if something looming on the subtle horizon had been forcefully pushed away. Another name for Ganesh is "Vinayaka". Like most words in Sanskrit this has a number of associated meanings including vi meaning "apart" and ni from niyati meaning "to lead or take away, drive away, dispel, repel". This translates to "The Remover of Obstacles". Additionally, the mantric roots of the word are vi (air) and nayaka (lord) leading one to understand Ganesh is the Lord of the Air or the Breath, and by extension, of Yoga. Ganesh repels obstacles on our Dharmic path and contributes to how our karma may unfold. He is lauded for removing all obstacles to success and prosperity. To invoke Ganesh is to be showered with blessings.
And have I mentioned yet there are 32 forms of Ganesh? One of these forms, which has 5 heads, illustrates Ganesh's connection to the koshas or subtle sheaths within our human consciousness that veil our capacity to see reality as it truly is. As the Remover of Obstacles, he also has the capacity to lift these veils endowing us with the enhanced capacity to SEE. (Are you finally getting the sense that there isn't any thing that Ganesha IS NOT? !)
GANESH IS UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS
Another story about Ganesh's birth illustrates his connection to primordial sound. In brief, one day Shiva and his consort Parvati were strolling around Mount Kailash when they chanced upon a temple inscribed with mantric verses. Absorbed in the sounds, they both assumed the shape of Om and out of this dance manifested Ganesh: the earthly embodiment of OM itself. Ganesh embodies the vastness (hence the pot belly) and the vitality of the entire field of universal resonance. It is through OM, through primordial sound, that unmanifested forces emerge into manifestation in our world. This is symbolized by the conch in Ganesh's hand and his long trunk, extending from the OM symbol often painted on his forehead. To invoke Ganesh is to tap into the full potential of universal consciousness.
insecurity, and anger (the psychological jungle, as it were) we step into joy and freedom. Like Shiva Nataraj, Ganesh dances a Cosmic Dance. But Ganesh as the Divine Child of both Shiva and Parvati, dances a dance fueled by the joyous ecstasy of creation, the unbound playfulness of feminine Shakti.
The great thing about the mantric tradition is that it can meet us where we're at and provide us with what we need. We can connect to Consciousness in the form of, among other things, mother, father, baby, lover, Saviour. Elephant-headed, pot-bellied, human-bodied deity riding a mouse, anyone? And even within this elephantine form there are all those other forms of Ganesh cited in sacred texts ranging from a malevolent form to a female form to an infant with about everything in-between! I have just begun to scratch the surface in this blog. (We haven't even touched upon his capacity to create obstacles on the path or his connection to the Word and sacred revelation!)
To invoke Ganesh is to open up the possibility of going beyond our current conditioning and returning to a state of pure integrity.
Ganesh is the dance to Wholeness...
What will Ganesh unfold for you?
You can access a simple Ganesh mantra along with pronunciation and a bit more about Ganesh and the koshas in the Free Mantra Study section of my website. If you haven't already, just create a username and password after clicking on LOG IN/REGISTER in the upper menu.
Photo credit: Ganesh sitting on throne, Photographer Nate Powell, Wikimedia Commons
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.