We are all familiar with the story on how Ganesha became the elephant-headed God. Shiva and Parvati had been celebrating and Parvati becomes dirty. When she realizes this, she removes the dirt from her body, creates a boy out of it and asks him to keep guard while she bathed.
When Shiva returned, the boy could not recognize him and obstructed his passage. So Shiva chopped off the boy’s head and entered. Parvati was shocked. She explained that the boy was their son and pleaded with Shiva to save him at all costs. Shiva then instructed his helpers to go and get the head of someone who was sleeping with the head pointing to the north. The helpers then got the head of an elephant, which Shiva affixed to the boy’s torso and Ganesha was born!Does this story sound strange?
Why should Parvati have dirt on her body? Didn’t the all-knowing Shiva recognize His own son? Was Shiva, the epitome of peace, so short-tempered that he cut off the head of his own son? And why an elephant head on Ganesha?
There is a deeper meaning to all these. Parvati is symbolic of festive energy. Her becoming dirty signifies that celebration can easily become Rajasik or feverish and can take you away from your center. Dirt is symbolic of ignorance and Shiva is symbolic of the Supreme Innocence, Peace and Knowledge. So when Ganesha obstructs the path of Shiva, this means that ignorance, which is an attribute of the head, does not recognize knowledge. Then knowledge has to overcome ignorance. This is the symbolism behind Shiva chopping off the boy’s head.And why the elephant head?
Elephant represents both gyan shakti and karma shakti. The principle qualities of the elephant are wisdom and effortlessness. The enormous head of the elephant signifies Wisdom and Knowledge. Elephants don’t walk around obstacles, neither do they stop at them. They just remove them and keep walking straight on – signifying effortlessness. So, when we worship Lord Ganesha these elephant qualities within us are kindled and we take on these qualities.Ganesha’s big belly represents generosity and total acceptance. Ganesha’s upraised hand, depicting protection, means, “Fear not – I am with you,” and his lowered hand, palm facing outwards means – unending giving as well as an invitation to bow down – symbolic of the fact that we will all dissolve into earth one day. Ganesha also has a single tusk which signifies one-pointedness.
Even the implements Ganesha wields are symbolic. He carries in his hands, the ‘Ankusa’ (signifies awakening) and the ‘Paasa’ (signifies control). With awakening, a lot of energy is released, which without proper control, can go haywire.And why does Ganesha, the elephant-headed God travel on something as small as a mouse? Isn’t that so incongruous? Again there is symbolism that runs deeps.
The mouse snips and nibbles away at ropes that bind. The mouse, which gradually nibbles away, is like the mantra which can cut through sheaths and sheaths of ignorance, leading to the ultimate knowledge represented by Ganesha.Our ancient Rishis were so deeply intelligent that they chose to express Divinity in terms of symbols rather than words, since words change over time, but symbols remain unchanged. Let us keep these deep symbolisms in mind as we experience the omnipresent in the form of the elephant God, yet be fully aware that Ganesha is very much within us. This is the wisdom we should carry as we celebrate Ganesh Chaturti.
– Sri Sri Ravi Shankar