Deities of the World: Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god

Represented with the head of an elephant and a human body, Ganesha is one of the main Hindu deities.

One of the main gods in the Hindi tradition is Ganesha or Ganesh Chaturthi, the god of wisdom and intelligence. He is venerated in the name of good beginnings and overcoming obstacles. He is represented as an elephant-headed being with a human body, and it’s one of the Hindu gods with his own annual celebration. For ten days Hindus gather to pay tribute to the elephant god and place images of him in public spaces, temples, and homes.

Who is Ganesha?

The cornerstone of the Hindu pantheon is represented by the sacred trinity (Trimurti), composed of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. And it is precisely from this last god that Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, is derived. His name means ‘lord of the Ganas,’ which is a group of semi-divine beings forming the retinue of his father Shiva.


[Credits: thejasp]

Ganesha is seen with a wide variety of divine gifts and is therefore known by different names. He has also been given the title Ganapati (ruler of the Ganas), Vighnesa (lord who removes obstacles), and Vināyaka (lord who removes).

There are different versions about the birth of Ganesha; however, it is the narratives of the ancient Puranas texts that explain in greater detail the emergence of the god of Hindu wisdom.


According to the Puranas, Ganesha’s head was cut off by his father shortly after his birth. His mother, Parvati, was disconsolate before the act of Shiva, who promised to replace the head of her descendant with that of the first being who crossed in front of her. There are other versions of the story that say that Shiva took the head of the first living being that was not in his mother’s lap; however, the first version is the most accepted.

What does the god Ganesha look like?

The greatest peculiarity of the god Ganesha is precisely his elephant head, but he has other characteristics that give him his appearance. He has a corpulent man’s body with a large belly and two pairs of arms, each of which holds an attribute.


He appears holding a rope that leads his devotees to the spiritual path, an axe to free his faithful, a laddu which is a sweet made with chickpea flour to reward the faith of his believers, and a rosary.

Other depictions include a variety of other objects that Ganesha carries in his four hands. He has been seen with a piece of broken tusk that is said to be for writing the Mahabharata, one of India’s most important epics. And he is also sometimes depicted with an outstretched hand in the form of an Abhaya mudra, as a blessing.


The celebration of Ganesha Chaturthi

Every year Hindus gather for one of the most important annual celebrations, that of Ganesha Chaturthi. It is celebrated for 10 days in India and other countries such as Nepal, Spain, Canada, and the United States. The festival involves the placement of clay representations of the elephant god that are placed in public spaces and temporary temples called mandapas.

During the 10 days, traditional cultural activities such as theatrical performances, and choral and orchestral concerts with Hindu instruments take place. At the end of the celebration is the Ganesha Visarjan, in which the images are carried in procession with chants and dances, to an important water source, lake, or pond to then perform a sacred immersion ceremony where the clay representations are dissolved in the water. In this way, they say goodbye to Ganesha, who takes with him the bad fortunes until the next festival.


Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera

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