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Origins of Ganesha worship

Ganesha or Ganapathi, undoubtedly, is the most popular among the Hindu gods. His popularity and worship extends also to Buddhism and Jainism. He is worshiped not merely in India but in other parts of the world too. He is an ancient god.  His origins are not certain. It is also not certain when the Ganesha worship began.

1. Vedic origin

1.1. The earliest reference to Ganapathi appears in the second book of the Rig Veda in the rik starting with Gananam tva Ganapati Gum Havamahe (RV 2.23.1). The Ganapathi invoked here, is the Chief of the Ganas, the leader of the group, a superb seer among seers, and the lord of the mantras. It is explained that Ganapathi in this rik refers to Brahmanaspati, a Vedic divinity of the highest order, the leader of the heavenly bands and a sage (kavi) among sages (Jyeshta Rajam Brahmanam, Brahmanaspata).

 Gaṇānāṃ tvā gaṇapatiṃ havāmahe kaviṃ kavīnām upamaśravastamam |  jyeṣṭharājam brahmaṇām brahmaṇas pata ā naḥ śṛṇvann ūtibhiḥ sīda sādanam ||RV_2,023.01||

1.2. In the Rig Veda, Brahmanaspati is the lord of all sacred prayers and lord of Satya mantra. He is the destroyer of enemies; and no sacrifice is complete without invoking him. Brahnanaspati was a partner with Brahma in creation. Brahmaņaspathi was also the middle term that once linked the Vedic Brahma and Brihaspathi’. They are the names “of a deity in whom the action of the worshipper upon the gods is personified”.

1.3. Brihaspathi is the personification of piety, purity and knowledge. He is called `the father of the gods,’ and a widely extended creative power is ascribed to him. He is also `the shining’, `the gold-colored,’ and `having the thunder for his voice.” Other epithets of Brihaspati are Jiva – the living, Didivis – the bright, Dhishana – the intelligent, and  for his eloquence, Gishpati– the lord of speech.

There are over one hundred riks in praise of these two deities, giving a picture of their powers and personalities.

1.4. The Gaņapathi in Rig-Veda is the lord of gaņas or hosts. In the Rig-Veda, the gaņās or hosts of Bŗihaspathi—Brahmaņaspathi are the chants, the riks and the stomas, the words of praise (RV. 4.50.5). They have little to do with the lower vital levels.

sa suṣṭubhā sa ṛkvatā gaṇena valaṃ ruroja phaligaṃ raveṇa | bṛhaspatir usriyā havyasūdaḥ kanikradad vāvaśatīr ud ājat ||RV_4,050.05 ||

1.5. The term Gana also denotes a host of angles (Devas). Indra is referred to as Ganapathi in the tenth book of the Rig Veda (RV. 10.112.9); Indra is the Lord of the companies (Maruts).

 ni ṣu sīda gaṇapate gaṇeṣu tvām āhur vipratamaṃ kavīnām | na ṛte tvat kriyate kiṃ canāre mahām arkam maghavañ citram arca ||RV_10,112.09||

1.6. The mantra ‘namo Ganebhyo ganapathibyasha vo namo’ (16-25) that occurs in Shukla Yajurveda samhita refers to ganas, in plural, and says: salutations to you, Ganas and to the Lord of the Ganas. This mantra appears also in the Rudra prasnam (4.1.5) and in the Maitrayani-Samhita (2,9.4). Gana  in these contexts signifies a group of people as also a collection of mantras. 

namo gaṇebhyo gaṇapatibhyaś ca vo namo namo vrātebhyo vrātapatibhyaś ca vo namo namaḥ kṛchrebhyaḥ kṛchrapatibhyaś ca vo namo namo virūpebhyo viśvarūpebhyaś ca vo namo namaḥ senābhyaḥ senānībhyaś ca vo namo namo rathibhyo varūthibhyaś ca vo namo namaḥ kṣattṛbhyaḥ saṃgrahītṛbhyaś ca vo namo namo bṛhadbhyo ‘rbhakebhyaś ca vo namo namo yuvabhya āśīnebhyaś ca vo namo namaḥ //MS_2,9.4//

1.7. The Taittiriya samhita interprets Ganas as pashus (the beasts of Shiva). They are the Ganas of Shiva — Rudrasya Ganapathyam .There were also Bhuta ganas, the weird and grotesque looking guards of Shiva. Thus, Shiva the Pashupathi; and Shiva the Bhoothnath was also a Ganapathi.

1.8. At a much later period, when the Puranas came to be compiled, the virtues and powers of all the Ganapathis of the past were transferred to the Ganapathi as we are familiar with; that is to our Ganapathi. He became the Lord of Ganas in every sense of the term. Not only that, he became much larger than the sum of the parts.

1.9. It is not significant what shades of meanings the term carried in the past; but it is very important for us that our Ganapathi, the Lord of Ganas, whom we worship with love and adoration, is the embodiment of all the grace, virtues and powers that we admire in any god. He is the inheritor of the combined wisdom and glory of all the gods; and is much more than the sum. He is Maha Ganapathi.  That is what really matters.

2. Elephant god

2.1. It is not certain how the Ganapathi-elephant association came into being. The earliest reference in that regard is in the Atharva Veda which alludes elephantine countenance (hasthi –varchas) to the Vedic god Brihaspati who was one of the forerunners of our Ganapathi. Our Ganapathi seems to have inherited his features from the descriptions of Brihaspati.

2.2. The other early references are in Maitrayani samhita (2.9.1) and Taittiriya Aranyaka (10.1.5) which appeal to an elephant faced (hasthi-mukha) , single-tusked (dantin) deity with a curved trunk (vakra tunda).He is also described as holding a corn-sheaf, a sugarcane and a club. Those features became the characteristics of our Ganapathi, the Ganesha.

tat karāṭāya vidmahe hastimukhāya dhīmahi /  tan no dantī pracodayāt //MS.2.91//

2.3. Amarakosha the Sanskrit lexicon (say 4th century AD), lists eight synonyms of Ganesha : Vinayaka, Vighnaraja, Dvaimtura (one who has two mothers), Gaṇadhipa (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). It seems by then the Ganapathi and his half- elephant form were quite well established.

vināyako vighnarāja dvaimātura gaṇādhipāḥ / apy ekadanta heramba lambodara gajānanāḥ ( 1.1.93 -94)

Ganesha Lambodara

2.4. Vishnudharmottara, a text dated around 5-6th century, while detailing how to make images of various deities, describes, among others, how the image of Vinayaka should be made (Part Three; Ch 71; verses 1-18). Sage Markandeya explains: Vinayaka should have the face of an elephant and four hands .He should have a big belly; stiff pair of ears; wearing a tiger skin around his waist and a sacred-thread across his left shoulder down his belly. He should have snake as belt.  a trident and rosary should be placed in right hands; an axe and a pot full of sweets in the left ones. The sweet-pot should be placed near the tip of his trunk. His left tusk should be left un-represented. Vinayaka should be provided a foot-stool; and his one foot should be placed on it.

2.5. Before I end this segment let me add, the Tamil language, one of the oldest languages in the world, fondly addresses Ganapathi as Pille or Pilleyar, meaning the little darling or a small child. Some scholars say that term pille also meant, in old Tamil, a young elephant. Incidentally, the Pali word pillaka also means a young elephant. The association of a sweet looking child with the innocent countenance of a young elephant could also have had its origins in tribal lore.

3. Destroyer of obstacles

Ganesh

3.1. Brahmanaspati of the Rig Veda was the divine being who led the aspirant along the path of wisdom and facilitated his progress by removing the obstacles in his path. It is said, this aspect of Brahmanaspati was later expanded in to the role of  Ganapathi as Vinayaka, the destroyer of obstacles. But Ganapathi is also the lord of obstacles (Vighnaraja).But, why would a benevolent god cause obstacles? It is explained that Ganapathi does not cause obstacles but controls obstacles. It is therefore prudent to pray to him before launching on any venture – big or small.

Ganesha Vignaraja

3.2. He intercedes with gods on behalf of humankind and protects them from the wicked influences.

Thus, Ganapathi as the destroyer of obstacles had taken root by about first century AD.

4. God of learning and wisdom

4.1. Ganapathi is also associated with mental agility and learning. He is akin to Brihaspathi of Rig Veda, the personification of piety, purity and knowledge. He is known for his intelligence, and for his eloquence. He is Gispati – the lord of speech- bṛhaspatiḥ surācāryo gīṣpati rdhiṣaṇo guruḥ (1.3.223)

4.2. Siddham was in the distant past one of the names given to the collection of Sanskrit alphabets. Patanjali explained the term as “that which is established” (pūrvatrāsiddham). The beginners would commence their learning of the alphabets with the chant: ”Om namo Siddham”. Even the scribes of the epigraphs would etch an inscription starting with the words “siddham or Swasthi”. Since Ganapathi evolved also into the god of wisdom and learning the terms Siddham and Swasthi too came to be associated with him.

4.3 Ganapathi is the patron god of wisdom and all branches of learning; not merely spiritual or of art or music or literature but of all human endeavours.

5. Ganapathi worship

belief-04-boxed

5.1. I reckon the Ganapathi worship has a history of about two thousand years. The ancient Grihya sutras and Dharma sutras do not mention about praying to Ganapathi at the commencement of a worship-ritual. Natyasastra, dated around second century BCE, too, does not refer to Ganapathi.

5.2. Perhaps the first reference to Ganapathi worship occurs in the Gobhila Grhya Sutra, which belongs Sama Veda. It recommends   praying to Ganapathi and to Matrikas at the commencement of a ritual, seeking blessings and support for a smooth and successful completion of the ritual process. Gobhila Grhya Sutra is dated around first century AD. From then Ganapathi has carried on famously.

5.3. Baudhayana Grihya Sutra which described Ganapathi as Vigneshwara, Bhootha-natha and Gajamukha, too recommended similar worship of Ganapathi. It also prescribed offering apupa and Modakas to propitiate him. The date of this text is disputed; it could perhaps be around the same time as the other Sutras.

5.4. Another text of first century, Gatha-saptha-shati, sings the praise of Ganadhipathi. The Puranas, which came about around that period too carry detailed references to Ganapathi  and to his worship (e.g. Varaha PuranaVamana Purana and Brahmaiva-vartha purana).

5.6. The Yajnavalkya Smriti (dated around third century AD) mentions Vinayaka as the Lord of the Ganas, appointed by Brahmna and Rudra. Here he is described as one who causes obstacles as well as one who removes them. Yajnavalkya gives four names of Vinayaka the son of Ambika as: Mita, Sammita, Salakantaka and Kusumandarjaputra .Vinayaka here is worshiped as a Tantric deity.

6. Emergence of Ganesha

6.1. Ganesha appeared in his classic form as a clearly-recognizable deity with well-defined iconographic attributes in the early 4th to 5th centuries. Ganesha images thereafter became prevalent in all parts of India and in many parts of the world.

6.2. Ganesha emerged as a distinct deity in clearly recognizable form in the fourth and the fifth centuries during the Gupta period. His popularity rose quickly. The son of Shiva and Parvati; Ganesha with an elephantine countenance, a curved trunk, pair of big ears and a pot-bellied body of a human is now the Lord of success; and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. Ganesha also became one of the five prime Hindu deities (Surya, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga being the other four) worshiped in the panchayatana puja. A new tradition called Ganapathya thereafter came into existence.

 heramba-ganapati

 

Perhaps no other god , either in Hindu or any other religion, been depicted in as many varieties of forms as Ganesha has been. He has been depicted in every conceivable form.

 Ganesha riding elephant Cambodia, 10th century6.3. With the spread of Indian trade to the Far- East, by around the tenth century, Ganesha a favorite with the traders and merchants reached the shores of Bali, Java, Cambodia, Malaya, Thailand, Vietnam and other islands. In Indo-china, where Hinduism and Buddhism were practiced side by side and influenced each other, Ganesha was the God acceptable and dear to all. Even to today, the people in Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand worship Ganesha as the destroyer of obstacles and as the god of success.

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According to Wikepedia

In Thailand, Ganesha is called Phra Phikanet or Phra Phikanesuan and is worshiped as the deity of fortune and success, and the remover of obstacles. He is associated with arts, education and trade. Ganesha appears in the emblem of the Department of Fine Arts in Thailand. As lord of business and diplomacy, he sits on a high pedestal outside Bangkok’s Central World (formerly World Trade Center), where people offer flowers, incense and a reverential sawasdee Thai Cuisine.

With regards to Indonesia, Ganesha is called the ‘Indonesian God of Wisdom’. Bandung boasts a Ganesha Street. A Ganesha statue from the 1st century AD was found on the summit of Mount Raksa in Panaitan Island, the Ujung Kulon National Park, West Java. While there are not temples dedicated specifically to Ganesha, he is found in every Shiva shrine throughout the islands. An 11th-century CE Ganesha statue was found in eastern Java, Kediri is placed in The Museum of Indian Art (Museum fur Indische Kunst), Berlin-Dahlem. The 9th century statue of Ganesha resides in western cella (room) of Prambanan Hindu temple.

Ganesha_statue_at_Sanggar_Agung_Temple,_Surabaya-Indonesia

Ganesha statue at Sanggar Agung Temple, Surabaya-Indonesia, worshiped by the Chinese, Hindus, Buddhist and even the Kejawen

As regards Thailand, William Jones and Ruchi Agarwal write in ‘ Ganesa and his cult in contemporary Thailand’

Ganesa has long been familiar to the people of Thailand but increasingly evident are the Ganesa cults flourishing in Bangkok. In the process, the deity appears to be acquiring new roles and functions. Ganesa now serves in a number of capacities for some; he is a “fixer,” a deity of last resort that can help devotees to over come obstacles in their lives. Not surprisingly, the growing popularity of the deity is reflected in a rapidly expanding trade in Ganesa images and icons, displayed in shopping mall exhibitions in a variety of forms, colours, shapes and sizes. Readily available at most of Bangkok’s major retail outlets, Ganesa icons are traded online via social media. This phenomenon, both by shifting belief practices associated with Ganesa locally and by evolving trade in Ganesa iconography, is indeed growing . Considering both together, one can say that Ganesa cult is presently the focal point for a number of people, each with its own unique approach to the deity, powers and representation.
Ganesha temple Thailand

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Bhutan Ganesha                                                          Tibet Ganesha

Sakya Ganesha Tibet                                         Tantric Ganesha Tibet

6.4. Ganesha appears in Jainism too. A fifteenth century Jain text provides procedures for the installation of Ganapathi images. Images of Ganesha appear in the Jain temples of Rajasthan and Gujarat; the earliest of which is dated around eighth century.

Ganesha in Jainism

7.5. In Buddhism, Ganesha appears not only in the form of the Buddhist god Vināyaka, but also as a Hindu demon form with the same name (Vināyaka). As the Buddhist god Vināyaka, he is the dancing Nritta Ganapathi. Worship of Ganesha is popular also in Tibet.

Buddhist Ganeshas of Mangolia

According to another version, Ganesha as siddhidata (bestower of success) is Buddha himself revealing Ganesha’s powers to his disciple.

7.6. Ganesha traveled to other countries along with Buddhism. In northern China, the earliest known stone statue carries an inscription dated to 531AD.In Japan the Ganesha cult was first mentioned in 806 AD; and is still flourishing. Here, Buddha and ganesha are worshiped together.

ganesha_japan

[Scholars say, artifacts from excavations in Luristan and Harappa and an old Indo-Greek coin from Hermaeus, present images that remarkably resemble Ganesha”. (“Robert Brown in his Book “Ganesha: Studies of an Asian God”: State University of New York Albany).]

Baby Ganesha in the Lap of Mother Parvati

8. Whatever might have been his origins, The Ganapathi -Ganesha that we know and adore represents the combination and culmination of the virtues and powers of all the Ganapathis  that preceded him. He is the sum and substance of all the preceding Ganapathis .He is the embodiment of all their grace and wisdom .He is adored by one and all; by all segments of the society and of all ages.

Children, particularly, love Ganesha as a playful mate and as the best friend. The little Ganesha is a darling.

Amazing Facts of Ganesha

There are 250 temples of Ganesha in Japan.
In Japan, Ganesha is known as ‘Kangiten’, the God of fortune and the harbinger of happiness, prosperity and good. Young Japanese worship Ganesha to win in love whereas the old worship the deity to get success in business.

East India Company issued a Ganesha coin in 1839

The British East India Company in 1839 issued a copper ½ Anna coin measuring 32mm with reeded edge and weighing 12.81 grams. The coin carried the Ganesha image on the obverse.

Another bronze coin weighing 3.4 grams and measuring 16.4 x 15.5mm; the obverse depicts Ganesha seated facing, while the reverse has a lattice design that is rather common to certain areas of India.  But,  I am unable to say  to which state  or era the coin belongs.

 

Kurundwad –court Fee stamp with Ganesha motif .

Kurundwad (Senior Branch) in Kolhapur District the erstwhile British Bombay Presidency issued a Court Fee paper of Rupees Forty featuring Ganesha at its centre.

stamp paper

Indonesia Currency notes

One of the Indonesian currency notes carries the picture of Ganesha.

Silicon Valley in USA selects Ganesha as the presiding Deity of cyberspace technology
“Ganesha is the God of knowledge and Ganesha’s vehicle is the mouse .Hence the computer industry association selected Ganesha as the presiding Deity of Silicon Valley.

Source :  Colin Bruce

References:

Ganesha : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesha

Historical development of Ganesha: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_development_of_Ganesha

Posted by Colin : Ganesha, Hinduism€™s favorite representation of God
Origins of worship of Ganesha  http://www.hindunet.com/forum/showflat.php?Cat=15,44&Number=4892&Main=4892

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Rigveda, Temple worship

 

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