Who is Lord Ganesa?

Lord Ganesa, with his potbelly and jolly elephantlike face, is probably the most popular deity worshiped by Hindus today. The story of Lord Ganesa’s birth is told in different ways in various Puranas, some accounts being better known than others. The differences in detail are due to the cyclical Vedic time structure, which allows repetition of pastimes but with slight alterations.

 One of the prominent versions of Ganesa’s birth derives from the Vamana Purana. Therein it is said that from her perspiration Goddess Parvati created a four-armed figure that, upon being touched by perspiration and ash fallen from Lord Siva’s body, came to life and thus was known as Vinayaka, “one who is born not from a womb.”

 The following, from the Brahma-vaivarta Purana, Siva Purana, and Skanda Purana, is a more elaborate account of Lord Ganesa’s birth and is closely linked to the appearance of Lord Karttikeya: After the demigods had interrupted Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati during their attempt to conceive a child, whereupon Lord Siva’s semen fell to earth (the result of which would be the birth of Karttikeya), Goddess Parvati became very morose and pleaded to her husband, “In spite of achieving you, the lord of the three worlds, as my husband, still I have no son. It is said that the life of a woman who has no son is useless.”

 Therefore, to fulfill her desire Lord Siva advised, “O virtuous one! Perform a punyaka-vrata. By the power of that vrata, you will achieve both an influential son and immense devotion to the Lord. The main deity of the mantra of this vrata is Lord Krsna, who fulfills all the worshiper’s desires and redeems crores of generations of his ancestors and descendants. Whoever recites this mantra within the land of Bharata will be all-successful in his life, and thereafter will attain to Vaikuntha, where he will reside eternally in comfort while serving the Lord as a courtier.”

 For one full year, Parvati Devi observed the punyaka-vrata with great attention and devotion, meditating on Lord Krsna and offering Him varieties of delicious sweets, flowers, and tulasi leaves. In the meantime, Lord Siva himself approached the Supreme Lord for blessings so that Parvati’s vrata would be successful. Lord Krsna responded:

 “O merciful one, since you yourself are the lord of Vaisnavas (vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh), your son will be known in the three worlds by the name Ganesa, remembrance of whom will eradicate all obstacles in one’s life; thus he will also be called Vighnesvara. Moreover, because this punyaka-vrata requires that many eatable items be given in charity, all of which will be consumed by Ganesa, he will also be known as Lambodara, ‘big bellied one.’

 “Due to the glance of Sani, Lambodara’s head will be severed, whereupon an elephant’s head will be implanted upon his torso; thus he will also be called Gajanana, “elephant-faced one.” Later, when one of Gajanana’s tusks is cut off by Parasurama, he will consequently be known as Ekadanta, “the single-tusked one.” Because of My blessings, he will be adored as first and foremost by all gods and peoples throughout the universes. Those who worship him prior to worshiping other gods will be successful, or otherwise will meet with failure.”

As foretold by Lord Krsna, Lord Ganesa appeared as the son of Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati and became the most famous god throughout the land of Bharata. Upon the birth of Ganesa, Lord Siva blessed him: “O son, you are dearer to me than my life! May you perform charity as I do, be devoted to Hari, possess great intelligence, be meritorious and peaceful, and always subjugate your enemies.” Ganesa’s grandfather, the lord of the Himalayas, declared, “May you always remain devoted to Lord Krsna and achieve eternal devotion to Him!”

From this Puranic narration, we understand that Lord Ganesa is not the independent, supreme creator and origin of all. He appears due to the blessings of Lord Krsna and is empowered by Him to remove obstacles from the path of those who follow dharma, and also to impose obstacles upon those who stray from religion:

yat-pada-pallava-yugam vinidhaya kumbha  dvandve pranama-samaye sa ganadhirajah

vighnan vihantum alam asya jagat-trayasya  govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami

“I worship the primeval Lord, Govinda. Ganesa always holds His lotus feet upon the pair of tumuli protruding from his elephant head, in order to obtain power for his function of destroying all obstacles on the path of progress in the three worlds.” (Brahma-samhita 5.50)

 As stated in the Brahma-vaivarta Purana (4.6.117), Lord Ganesa remains eternally devoted to the Supreme Lord:

ganesah karttikeyas ca natva krsnam parat param

nanama sankaram dharmam anantam kamalodbhavam

 “Ganesa and Karttikeya first prostrated to Lord Krsna, who is greater than the greatest, and then to Siva, Yamaraja, Sesa, and Brahma.”

Lord Ganesa should always be respected and worshiped by those who do not yet realize that the Supreme Lord is Krsna (Visnu) and that pure devotion to Him is the success of life. The Adi-varaha

Purana (211.85) states:

janmantara-sahasresu samaradhya vrsadhvajam

vaisnavatvam labhet kascit sarva-papaksaye sati

 “If one worships Ganesa for thousands of births and is freed from all sins, it is then possible to achieve the platform of Vaisnavism.”

At that time, when one is becoming a devotee of the Supreme Lord, his bhakti is one-pointed (mam ekam saranam vraja) toward his beloved Lord Krsna, and to no one else:

ananya-sarano bhakto nama-mantresu diksitah

kadacin narcayed devan ganesadims tu vaisnavah

 “The devotee who is interested in pure devotion to the Lord, and is initiated with a Vaisnava mantra, should never worship Ganesa and other devatas.” (Padma Purana)

 Questions and Answers

 Q. What is wrong if a devotee worships Ganesa to remove obstacles from his life, so that the devotee can more easily surrender to Lord Krsna?

 A. If one’s motivation is to attain pure devotion to the Supreme Lord Krsna, then it is all right to worship Ganesa. Unfortunately, although many people say that they pray to Ganesa only for pure devotion, if any material expectation is mixed in with their worship, their devotion will become contaminated—misra-bhakti, devotional service mixed with material desires—and pure love for Krsna will not arise in their heart.

Since worship includes prayers, meditation, and ultimately devotion, the pure devotee never wants to give his heart, mind, or soul to anyone besides his loving Lord Krsna. Just as a chaste wife is attached only to her husband, fully depending on him for everything, the devotees of the Lord worship only Krsna and, with great faith and devotion, serve Him unconditionally, in all circumstances, even if their path is full of obstacles.

Moreover, in the prayers to Lord Krsna offered by Queen Kunti, we find that a pure devotee does not want to worship Ganesa to remove obstacles; rather, she prays, “I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” (Bhagavatam 1.8.25)

In his purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada explains that the best way to remove all obstacles is to take shelter of Lord Krsna: “One who has taken shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord, which are accepted as the most suitable boat for crossing the ocean of nescience, can achieve liberation as easily as one leaps over the holes made by the hoofs of a calf. Such persons are meant to reside in the abode of the Lord, and they have nothing to do with a place where there is danger in every step.”

“Seeking shelter of a demigod instead of worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead is compared to trying to cross the ocean by grasping the tail of a dog.* A dog can swim, but that does not mean that one can cross the ocean by grasping a dog’s tail.” (Bhagavatam 6.9, chapter summary)

To obtain pure love for Krsna, devotees pray to and worship advanced devotees, who have pure love of Krsna within their heart and therefore can give it to others. They can guide one on the path to Krsna and remove all obstacles to one’s progress. In his Sat-kriya-sara-dipika, Gopala Bhatta Gosvami cites an alternative for the Vaisnava, as per the Padma Purana:

yatra yatra surah pujya ganesadyas tu karminam

visnv-arcane tatra tatra vaisnavanam hi vaisnavah

 “Wherever materialists prescribe worship of Ganesa and the devatas, the Vaisnava should instead worship the pure devotees of Lord Visnu.”

 visvaksenam sasanakam sanatanam atah param

sanandam sanat-kumaram pancaitan pujayet tatah

yasmin navagraha archyas tatra kavyadayo nava

“Therefore, instead of worshiping Ganesa to remove material obstacles, the devotee should worship Visvaksena (the commander in chief of Visnu’s army in Vaikuntha) and the four Kumaras to remove obstacles on the spiritual path. Whereas materialists worship the nava-grahas (the nine demigods presiding over the nine planets), devotees will worship Kavya Muni and the other nava-yogendras.

 yatra yajanti vidhina dik-paladims tu karminah

tatra prapujayed etan vidhim bhagavatam sukam

sada-sivam vainateyam naradam kapilam balim

tato bhagavatam bhismam prahladam anjana-sutam

ambarisams ca janakam maha-bhagavatam yamam

manum svayambhuvam vyasadikan ca vaisnavottamam

yuge yuge ca vikhyatan aparan vaisnavan api

 “Whereas nondevotees worship the deities of the directions (dikpalas), the devotees should worship Brahma, the great devotee Sukadeva, Sadasiva, Garuòa, Narada, Kapila, Bali, the great Bhisma, Prahlada, Hanuman, Ambarisa, the great Yama, Svayambhuva Manu, and the great Vaisnava Vyasa. Such worship of Lord Visnu and the Vaisnavas is well known and has been performed age after age.”

Footnote *

vinopasarpaty aparam hi balisah

sva-langulenatititarti sindhum

The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the only shelter of everyone. Anyone desiring to be protected by others is certainly a great fool who desires to cross the sea by holding the tail of a dog. (Bhagavatam 6.9.22)

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