Category Archives: Ganesa

Ganesa Chaturthi (Ganesh Chaturthi)

Ganesa Chaturthi

Ganesa Chaturthi is an annual festival celebrating the birth of the god Ganesa. It is celebrated on the chaturthi, or the “fourth day” after the new moon, in August/September (Hinduism Today 196). Ganesa is an elephant headed, short, pot-bellied god who is the immortal son of Siva and Parvati [Also known as Shakti]. Ganesa is said to have only his right tusk, as his left one was chopped off. For this he is known as Ek Danta (one-toothed) (Verma 44). Ganesa is believed to be the destroyer of obstacles (Vighna Vinashaka); the harbinger of happiness and joy (Sukha Kartha); the absorber of sorrow and misfortune (Dukha Hartha); and one who makes wishes come true (Siddhi Vinayaka) (Bhalla 18).

Ganesa is usually seen sitting on a padma lotus flower. He has four arms, each holding a different weapon. He carries around an axe (parasu), lasso (pasa), hook (ankusa) and a lotus flower. On his left side sits his vahana (that which carries) a mouse (Musakavahana). This mouse is usually seen eating a modak (sweet dumpling). His trunk is usually curved to the left and he is wearing a dhoti (cloth wrapped into pants). His head represents atman and his corpulent body the things of the earth (Brockman 226). He is the supreme lord of dharma and we pray to him for guidance and direction of our lives.

There are two myths on how Ganesa was born. The most common one suggests that “ disliking Lord Siva’s surprise visits during her baths, Parvati formed a human figure out of clay and water into a man’s figure and gave it life” (Verma 43). This figure had come to be known as Ganesa. Ganesa’s mother, Parvati, then put Ganesa on guard as she went to go bathe. Oblivious he had a father, Ganesa, came upon an Aghori-like man holding a trident. This man was none other than his father, Siva. Upon Siva’s arrival from samadhi, he tried to enter the house to see Parvati, but Ganesa would not let him in. Siva enraged, takes his trident and cuts off Ganesa’s head. As Parvati returns from her bath she sees her son headless. She questions Siva as to what had happened and explains to him that Ganesa was their son.

To ease Parvati’s grief, Siva promised to cut off the head of the first living thing he would see and attach it to Ganesa’s body (Bhalla 18). The first thing Siva came upon was an elephant, therefore, Ganesa has an elephant’s head. Ganesa was thus restored to life and rewarded for his courage by being made lord of new beginnings and guardian of entrances (Bhalla 18).

The second myth is about Parvati and Siva having a son together. Every god had come to see this new born except one, Sani (Lord of Saturday). Sani desisted from it because he was under the curse that, whomsoever he had beheld will be burnt to ashes (Verma 44).  Parvati had thought that if everyone came to see Ganesa, then Sani should have to. Sani then agreed to see Ganesa, but as soon as he did, Ganesa’s head burnt and fell off. Parvati, being short-tempered, was starting to give Sani a shraap (curse). But Brahma interrupted and said that if they had found a head, it would not be to late to reattach it. So Visnu set forth on his Garuda [Vishnu’s mount who has the body of a bird and the head of a human] in search of it and the first creature he found was an elephant sleeping beside a river. He cut off its head and it was fixed on Ganesa’s body (Verma 44).

People who are starting a new beginning worship Ganesa, because he is known as the “Lord of new beginnings” and “Lord of Obstacles”. Ganesa Chaturthi is a festival that many people are engaged in before they start their new beginnings. Ganesa Chaturthi is a festival that lasts 10 days. Initially a private celebration, it was first turned into a public event by the Indian leader Lokmanya Tilak who used it as a means of uniting people in the freedom struggle against British rule (Bhalla 18).

Two or three months before the Chaturthi, people start making idols of Lord Ganesa. These idols can range from three quarters of an inch up to 25 feet. They then bring the idol to their house and set it on an elevated platform. The murti (idol) is then placed facing east in the padma (lotus flower) with uncooked rice underneath. The priest then invokes life into the idol amidst the chanting of mantras. This ritual is called pranapratishhtha (Bhalla 18). Followers of Ganesa then decorate their house to make it appealing to the lord. Author of Loving Ganesa states, “we decorate the temple and home shrine with banana leaves, sugarcane and strings of mango leaves, making it look like a small forest” (Subramuniya 300). Pandit Arunachalam notes,

“In Karnatak, India, young people make a ritual of seeing 108 Vinayakas on this occasion, so they go about visiting their friends’ and relatives’ houses on this day…the worship of Ganesa on this day is supposed to confer advancement in learning to the young student and success in any enterprise undertaken” (Festivals of Tamil Nadu, p.110-121)

Right after the devotees bring food, fruits, and sweets to offer to Ganesa. Modak (sweet dumpling) is often offered to Ganesa, for it is Ganesa’s favorite thing to eat. During this time special pujas (prayers) are done. The idol is anointed with red unguent (rakta chandan). Throughout the ceremony, Vedic hymns from the Rig Veda and Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad, and Ganesa stotra from the Narada Purana are chanted (Bhallah 18). One popular chant is “Ganapati Bapa Moriya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya” (Oh father Ganesa, come again early next year). Devotees of Ganesa usually fast during this ten-day period if they have a wish to ask for.

The Ganesa Visarjana (a Sanskrit word meaning “departure”) takes place after the 10 days of the Ganesa Chaturthi. In some places, the Visarjana is done on the same day as the Chaturthi. The clay idol is taken from the house to the river and then it is submerged. In bigger cities, idols up to 25 feet are taken to the sea while chanting “Ganapati Bapa Moriya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya.” They then immerse the idol into the water. “We honor His departure with a grand parade, as we carry Him on a palanquin bedecked with flowers and accompanied by puja, music, dancing and celebration” (Subramuniya 301).

The Ganesa Chaturthi has started to become a global festival. In 1988 Ganesa broke new ground in his public relation when Visarjana was held in the United States. It was the first large scale interdenominational public Hindu festival held in US history (Subramuniya 303). In San Francisco, California almost 2000 people had come together on September 25 to celebrate Ganesa Chaturthi. The idols were submerged into the Pacific Ocean. Following this, places like Sydney, Australia had started celebrating as well.

The Ganesa Chaturthi is a very important festival in the Hindu religion. It signifies the birth of Lord Ganesa and it is not only celebrated in India, but it is celebrated worldwide. From the early ages up till now, the deity Ganesa has been known as the Lord of Obstacles. He is the one who is always worshiped at the beginning, and ending of a prayer. Ganesa Chaturthi is a very beautiful event that everyone should one day be a part of. It is very enjoyable and to sum it up into a sentence: It is a ceremony of fond farewell to a beloved god (Subramuniya 301).


Bhalla,  Kartar Singh   (2005)   Let’s Know Festivals of India.   New Delhi:   Star Publications.

Gupte,   B.A   (1994)   Hindu holidays and ceremonials. New Delhi:   Asian Educational Services.

Editors of Hinduism Today   (2007)   What Is Hinduism: Modern Adventures Into a Profound Global Faith. India: Himalayan Academy Publications.

Subramuniyaswami,   Satguru Sivaya   (2000)   Loving Ganesa: Hinduism’s Endearing Elephant-Faced God.   India: Himalayan Academy Publications.

Brockman,   Norbert C.   (2011)   Encyclopedia of Sacred Places.   USA: ABC-CLIO.

Verma,   Manish   (2007)   Fasts and Festivals of India.   Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.

Related topics for further investigation











Article written by Ajay Parekh (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ekadanta: The Single Tusked One

Ganesa, the son of Lord Siva and the Goddess Parvati, is known to Hindus as the Remover of Obstacles. He is the much loved, elephant headed, pot bellied deity with a penchant for sweets. He is one of the gods propitiated by students seeking assistance with their studies. Ganesa is known by many other names: Ganapati (Lord of the Multitudes), Vinayaka (Remover of Obstacles), Ekadanta (Single-Tusked One) and Gajanana (Elephant-Headed One) (Grimes, 41) just to name a few. He was Vyasa’s scribe when Vyasa dictated the epic The Mahabharata. He is best known as the guardian of Parvati’s private chamber, where his duties resulted in his receiving his elephant head. It was in a similar situation that his tusk was broken too, while he was guarding the door to his parents’ private chamber.

While there are a few stories of how Ganesa’s tusk came to be broken or severed, the most common one says that Ganesa received his broken tusk during a fight with Parasurama (one of Visnu’s avataras), while he was guarding the door for both of his parents, who were inside making love (Courtright 74). Parasurama was a great warrior of Siva’s, and had just returned victorious from war, having fought successfully against the demons, using an axe bestowed upon him by Siva. Siva had given Parasurama the axe with the caveat that it not be used in vain. When his attempt to enter the palace and the bedroom of Siva and Parvati was rebuked by Ganesa, Parasurama grew angry and the two exchanged words. Parasurama’s words were angry, while the words of Ganesa, as set out in the Brahmanda Purana and the Brahmavairvarta Purana, were even toned and matter of fact. Ganesa simply informed Parasurama that his parents Siva and Parvati were inside engaging in intercourse and that the entry by anyone would be most improper. Parasurama, offended at being reminded of the applicable dharmic obligations of the situation, grew more and more angry, and attempted to push past Ganesa, dismissing him. Ganesa jumped in front of him, blocking his way.

Further argument ensued at this point, and Parasurama raised the axe as if to throw it at Ganesa. Ganesa, seeing this, seized Parasurama with his trunk, “lowering him down through the seven regions of the world and finally down to the ocean at the innermost part of the earth until Parasurama became so frightened he wanted to die” (Courtright 75). Ganesa then raised Parasurama back up and set him back down on the ground. Due to his very frightening experience, Parasurama mistakenly thought Ganesa had defeated him. When he realized that he was standing once again before Ganesa in front of Siva’s palace, he flew into a rage and threw Siva’s axe at Ganesa. Ganesa, not wanting the axe to be thrown in vain, took the blow of the axe blade in his left tusk, severing it and causing it to fall to the ground. When the severed tusk struck the ground “all the worlds shattered and trembled with fear” (Courtright 25). The God Skanda (Ganesa’s brother), who had been sitting guard along with Ganesa when Parasurama had approached, as well as others present during this altercation, had created such a commotion that their noise in addition to that of the falling of the tusk drew Siva and Parvati from their chamber. Parvati, protective of her son whom she noticed had been injured, provided Siva with an angry redress for not immediately jumping to Ganesa’s defence, accusing him of having a preference for Parasurama over that of his own son. She seethed at Siva that “virtuous people take better care of their slaves than you do of me” (Courtright 76). At this, Siva said nothing. Parvati then took her children and left, still angry that Siva has once again rejected his own child.

Ekadanta (Giant Ganesha image displaying his broken tusk, near Kolhapur, India)
Ekadanta (Giant Ganesha image displaying his broken tusk, near Kolhapur, India)

Parvati’s anger at Siva, and Siva’s quiet acceptance of that anger may provide some insight into the ideal that women are posses their own power in Hinduism. This would fall in line with other power-possessing Goddesses such as Kali, Tara or Sakti.

Another story of how Ganesa lost his tusk begins with Ganesa receiving many modakas (sweet, steamed coconut-poppy seed dumplings) from his devotees one evening. He ate so many of them that his belly grew very large and bloated. As Ganesa set off home, riding his mouse mount (musika), a snake slithered across his path. At the sight of the snake, Ganesa’s mount drew back in fear, causing Ganesa to fall to the ground where his sweet-filled belly broke open and all the sweets rolled out onto the ground. Ganesa got up, picked up his scattered sweets, and placed them back in his belly. He then killed the snake and used it to tie his belly closed.

While all this was going on, the moon was watching, amused. When Ganesa’s belly split open and the sweets rolled out all over the place, the moon laughed out loud at Ganesa’s predicament. Ganesa, one must remember, is often viewed as a child deity. Therefore, given his childlike status, it should come as no surprise that Ganesa grew angry, throwing a temper-tantrum at being the subject of the moon’s laughter, so angry in fact, that he plucked out his tusk and speared the moon through, causing darkness across all the land. It was not until the gods pleaded with Ganesa to restore the light of the moon that he did so, however, “only on the condition that the moon gain and lose its light by waxing and waning each month” (Courtright 81).

Ganesa’s removal of his own tusk is not restricted to just the story of his anger with the moon, he also removed it in his occupation as scribe to Vyasa. While he was transcribing the Mahabharata for Vyasa, his writing instrument broke, and without hesitation, he broke off one of his tusks and continued writing in accordance with the deal between the two that Ganesa would be Vyasa’s scribe so long as he would write without ceasing, and that Vyasa would dictate continuously (Grimes 76).

There has been some speculation by anthropologists and others, which suggests that Ganesa’s tusk is possibly representative of a lingam, especially so due to Ganesa’s paternity from Siva, who’s virility is embodied in his phallic emblem (Courtright 111). Further, it has also been suggested that it was an agent of Siva (or even Siva himself), who removed Ganesa’s tusk for the purposes of quasi-castration in order to jealously prevent Ganesa from approaching Parvati in an incestuous fashion, the quasi-castration having left Ganesa sexually ambiguous (Courtright 117). This would not be entirely unreasonable given the theme of Ganesa and Parvati’s close relationship throughout the myths. If it were the case then, that Siva was attempting to prevent Ganesa getting too close to Parvati by making him asexual, it would serve to further support the apparent continual denial of Ganesa by Siva which is evident throughout a great deal of the Ganesa myths. Siva is seen to act in either indifference or violence toward Ganesa, for example, by cutting off his head at the entrance to Parvati’s chamber, demanding, “don’t you know who I am?” or seemingly taking Parasurama’s side when he cuts off Ganesa’s tusk with the axe Siva had bestowed upon him.

One cannot help but feel sorry for Ganesa while reading his stories as he always seems to be on the receiving end of one misfortune or another, such as being beheaded by his father, having his belly split open and all his sweets falling out, or losing his tusk to a great warrior who is favoured by his father over him. However, given the necessity of balance in Hinduism, Ganesa likely must experience his obstacles before he can remove them.

Scholar and author John Grimes eloquently summed up Ganesa when he said: “Ganapati is a child, a god, an elephant, a siddha, four armed, and an enigma. He does exactly as he pleases. He is free. He is seen, but he is the seer. He sees what cannot be seen. He can be known, but he is the knower. He knows, but he knows nothing. His secret is that he is himself. His secret is that he is you. His secret is tat tvam asi” (Grimes 63).

References and Recommended Readings:

Brown, Robert L (1991) Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God. Albany: State University of New York

Courtright, Paul B. (1985) Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. New York: Oxford University Press

Grimes, John A. (1995) Ganapati: Song of the Self. Albany: State University of New York Press

Krishan, Yuvraj (1999) Ganesa: Unravelling an Enigma. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited

Michael, S.M. (1983) The Origin of the Ganapati Cult. Asian Folklore Studies, 42 no 1 1983, p 91-116

Seth, Kailash Nath. (19–) God & Goddess of India. New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books Pvt. Ltd.

List of Related Terms:

Brahmanda Purana

Brahmavairvarta Purana


Ganesa Gita

The Mahabharata





Siva Purana



Noteworthy websites related to the topic:

Written by Stacy Hill (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ganesa (Myths on his Elephant Head)

Ganesa, also known as Ganapati, is the infamous elephant headed deity that is worshipped throughout the Hindu religion. The worship of Ganesa extends from outside of the temple into the household, where he is a substantial figure (see Chennakesavan 94). Along with his one tusked elephant head is his short, chubby, childlike body with four arms, which all add to his distinct and popular appearance. His life and character are established within the Puranas and are dated back as far as 300 C.E (Brown 2). Ganesa’s head is his most well known feature, with numerous stories on how it came to be, and what it represents. It is noted that Ganesa’s head represents atman and his body represents maya which signifies the existence of human beings (Canadian Press).There are Puranic stories that declare he was born with his elephant head.However, that would defeat the purpose of the many myths explaining how he obtained his head.Along with those myths are others on why an elephant head was chosen.It is the numerous possibilities that add to Ganesa’s maturing cult.The most famous stories of where his head came from deal with: birth, doorstep guarding, battle, laughter and gloating.

The most well known myth is a story from the Siva Purana.It begins with Parvati wanting a son, but Siva not wanting to have one with her because of his asceticism.So Parvati created herself a son by rubbing scented oil mixed with powder all over her body. Then Ganesa appeared.Once Ganesa was born, Parvati used him as a doorkeeper while she was bathing and instructed him not to let anyone in the house.When her husband Siva came home and saw a mysterious little boy guarding his house refusing to let him, he engaged Ganesa in a fight and decapitated him.When Parvati came outside after her bath and saw her son lying on the ground headless, she was furious with Siva. She then informed Siva that he was their son.After Siva had realized what he had done, he promised Parvati he would find a new head for Ganesa from the first thing that came by – which so happened to be an elephant.He then decapitated the elephant and attached the head to the lifeless body of their son and brought him back to life (Brown 76-77).The myth where Ganesa is decapitated by Siva is the most widely-told version of how he came to acquire his unique elephant head (Brown 3).

There are many myths of why an elephant head was chosen over many other possibilities. There is also speculation of which elephant head it was that was given to Siva and Parvati’s son. Some speculate that the head is from Indra’s elephant, Airavata. In other versions there was an elephant that had just finished copulating as well as an elephant that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (Brown 77).The elephant is viewed as a wise animal with a remarkable memory.They are also known to have loyal and trustworthy attributes (Chennakesavan 95).It is believed that by choosing the elephant head for Ganesa, he would be associated with such dignified traits. These qualities would add to his popularity.

Another myth closely related to the first one outlined, is Siva decapitating Ganesa in a battle.The difference in this myth from the previous one is that this time Ganesa is not guarding his mother’s doorstep.Instead, he is riding around on his elephant.After Siva has decapitated Ganesa and his elephant in a gruelling battle, Parvati comes outside and notices what just took place.She informs him that he has killed her son, and asks Siva to bring Ganesa back to life.Siva does so by placing the head of Ganesa’s elephant on his body (see Brown 77).Like the previous myth Siva is unaware that Ganesa is Parvati’s son because he was created without a husband – vinayaka (see Brown 75).

Contrary to Siva’s asceticism in the previous myths, Siva and Parvati found themselves making love to try to conceive a child of their own.Parvati wanted to have a son who would be the spitting image of Krsna.While the two were in the middle of intercourse, Visnu appears as a beggar, interrupts their moment and then vanishes.It is at this moment Siva spills his semen all over the bed, and it does not go inside Parvati.Then Visnu reappears and mixes himself amidst Siva’s sperm. He then becomes a baby boy – who turns out to be Ganesa (Brown 76).Ganesa was born with the head of a human, and although it is not stated in this myth how his head came to be, there are many more stories on how he may have obtained it.For instance, after Ganesa was born, Parvati may have taken him to other Gods to show him off.A God like Sani.

The most interesting myth is the story of Parvati wanting to show off her son to Sani.Parvati was unaware that Sani was cursed with a medusa-like stare.She insisted that he should take a look at her beautiful new baby boy.Sani’s curse consisted of reducing anything to ashes that he lays his eyes upon. Since he knew what would happen he tried to resist looking at Ganesa in order to protect the beautiful baby.After much encouragement from Parvati to look at the child, Sani did so timidly with one eye open in hopes of not harming the baby.Ganesa’s head was then reduced to ashes.As Parvati stood there in awe, Visnu flew off to the northwest mountains and found two elephants that had just finished copulating.He cut off the head of one of the elephants and brought it back to Parvati where it was placed it on Ganesa’s body (Grimes 70).

In another version, Siva creates his son Ganesa by his own uncontrollable laughter. After a while Siva becomes jealous of his son and is afraid that he might woo all the ladies. Siva is also worried that he might win Parvati’s heart as well. Once he sees that Parvati is falling in love with Ganesa, he places a curse on him (Grimes 70). Siva’s curse ensures that Ganesa would be unattractive to women, making it easier for Siva not to be jealous, and for Parvati’s heart to remain only to him. Ganesa then becomes elephant headed, grows a chubby belly and has to wear a necklace of disgusting serpents from his neck. It was not for long that Siva was able to prevent Ganesa from being near the ladies. When Ganesa grew older, he wound up marrying Prajapati’s daughters – Buddhi/Rddhi and Siddhi (see Brown 115-119).

Ganesa Statue (7-8th century), Cham Museum of Sculpture, Danang, Vietnam

Within the Skanda Purana there is a very unusual story on how Ganesa’s head was obtained. It begins by Ganesa’s embodiment of a headless child who is speaking with a sage, Narada. This conversation is from the book Ganapati: Song of the Self by John Grimes; it can be found on page seventy.

Narada begins by telling Ganesa “If you have taken this incarnation in order to reveal righteousness, then quickly reveal to all the head that destroys sorrow; and bring joy to the hearts of all Gods.” Ganesa replies to the sage by reminding him of a blessing that he had given to King Mahesa ‘Your liberation will come through birth in the womb of an elephant, accomplished by Siva’s hand’. Ganesa then goes on to say “all this has now come to pass and this one in the womb has a lovely head, honoured by Siva. And he is the one whose head will complete my incarnation”.

After this conversation had taken place, Ganesa informed Narada of how he became headless.He began by explaining when he was in Parvati’s womb the demon Sindura changed to the form of a breeze, entered her womb, and cut off his head.This event happened in the eight month of his natal life.Ganesa then carries on telling Narada that Mahesa has an elephant head and that he is going to kill him.It was when Mahesa was killed that Ganesa acquired his elephant head (see Grimes 70).

There are many stories on how Ganesa was born, how he lost his head and then where his new head came from.There is also much speculation on why an elephant was chosen over many other things in the world, including the head of another person. The uncertainty of one profound myth being the reason for his head adds to Ganesa’s character.It is these exciting stories that make Ganesa so popular with the Hindus.Ganesa will remain one of the most loved and worshipped household deities within the Hindu religion.


Brown, Robert L (1991) Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God. Albany: State University of New York

Bühnemann, A (2003) The Worship of Mahaganapati. Kant Publications

Canadian Press Newswire (2004) Hindus around the world are getting ready to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of the god of success. Canadian Press Toronto

<> ID# 701269181>

Chennakesavan, S (1980) A Critical Study of Hinduism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

Courtright, Paul (1985) Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. New York: Oxford University Press

Dhavalikar, MK (1991) Ganesa: Myth and Reality. Albany: State University of New York Press

Getty Alice (1936) Ganesa: A Monograph on the Elephant-Faced God. Oxford: Clarendon Press

Getty, Alice (1988) The Gods of Northern Buddhism: Their History and Iconography. Dover Publications

Grimes, John (1995) Ganapati: Song of the Self. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Krishan, Yuvrai (1996) Is the Fight Between Siva and Ganesa an Episode of Oedipal Conflict? Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan

Pathak, A (1998) Ganesa Birth Story: Pain Led on Orissan Doors. New Delhi: Ramanand Vidva Rhawan

Related Topics















Siva Purana

Skanda Purana




Related Websites to this Topic

Written by Jessica Thiedemann (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.