The ultimate truth in this existing world is that it is nothing but a collection of molecules. This is called as ‘Gana’ (collective form). Our own body is a ‘Gana’. It is made up of flesh, blood and bone marrow. Thus the Lord of all ‘Ganas’ is ‘GANESHA’.
Ganesha is ‘Achintya’, ‘Avyakta’ and ‘Ananta’. That is beyond thought, beyond expression and is eternal. Thus no other is as beautiful as Him and He is omnipresent.
Now the question arises that why this one-consciousness and one supreme power is depicted in the form of an elephant? The elephant is endowed with peculiar qualities, like its fearless and royal walk. It proudly destroys any obstacle on its path. An elephant is also a symbol of authority, endurance, strength and courage. We are thus, able to imbibe all these qualities into our consciousness.
The long trunk of the elephant symbolizes that true enlightenment is a good balance between ‘knowledge’ and its implementation (in action). Ganesha has only one tooth that stands for ‘one consciousness’.
We are often struck by the question that why does a big Ganesha sit on a small mouse? This is because the mouse is ‘Logic’ and the ‘Knowledge of self’ and over it sits the symbol of ‘supreme knowledge’ Ganesha.
The ‘Modak’ in Ganesha’s hand is the attainment of ‘Ultimate Bliss’. Also his one hand showers blessings on those who have faith and have surrendered to him. In one hand, Ganesha holds a ‘Pash’ or a string that is to tie down oneself in discipline. The other hand of Ganesha holds an ‘Ankush’ or a spear, showing self-control.
Always, the belly of Ganesha is enormous with a snake around it. This stands for acceptance with awareness. Also we surrender all our dreams of woe and distress to Ganesha in the form of ‘Durva’ grass.
We are aware of the story of Ganesha’s birth. Ganesha was born out of the collection of dirt from Parvati’s body. ‘Parvati’ is the high energy of a celebration or festival, and there always is some aspect of negativity in this high energy. This is symbolized by the dirt. When this body of dirt encountered the ‘Shiva element’, the ‘Advait Tatva’ its head, that is ego, fell apart and was then replaced by the head of an elephant. Ganesha was blessed by Lord Shiva himself that he would be worshipped at the out start of any auspicious occasion or puja.
Science has discovered that within a single human DNA strand there can also be found the DNA of every other species on the planet. Therefore, we also carry the quality of every animal in us, in fact this has been known since the ancient days.
The principal qualities of the elephant are wisdom and effortlessness. Elephants don’t walk around obstacles, neither do they stop at them – they just remove them and keep walking straight on. For instance, if there are trees in their path, they will just uproot those trees and proceed. So, when we worship Lord Ganesha, these elephant qualities within us, are kindled and we take on those qualities. The reason being that whatever you keep your attention on, you take on those qualities. So if you meditate on Ganesha, who has the head of an elephant, you will get the qualities of an elephant. You will overcome all obstacles.
The 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. For instance, in any language, a skull and two cross bones indicate danger. Similarly, Ganesha signifies ‘Shubti’ (auspiciousness) and ‘Laabha’ (prosperity).
The elephant has special qualities. It has an enormous head, which signifies Knowledge and Wisdom, it has large ears that fan, small eyes which convey that it is wiser to follow that which you hear and understand rather than to follow appearances. So what you see must be co-related with what you hear. Also the elephant used its trunk for dual functions – it smells and acts through its trunk. Likewise in wisdom we smell and then act. With the merest hint of something (like smelling smoke, of course!), a wise person will take immediate action, that is the wise act as soon as they smell something. The elephant also possesses tusks that are visible for all to see while its teeth for grinding purposes are not as they are in its mouth.
So what is the significance of Ganesha? - Shiva and Parvati (this is where the word ‘Power’ comes from; (Parvati represents power) had been celebrating with great enthusiasm and Parvati had become dirty – signifying that celebration can easily become Rajasic or feverish and take you away from your centre, so she removed all the dirt (symbolic of ignorance) from her body and created a boy – doll from this. She gave the doll life and asked him to keep guard at the door while she bathed. When Shiva (representative of Supreme Innocence, Peace and Knowledge) returned to Kailasha the boy could not recognize him and so obstructed his passage preventing him from entering. This signifies that Ignorance (dirt) does not recognize wisdom or innocence, however, truth can be stopped by ignorance and so Shiva chopped off the boy’s head – the head of ignorance and entered. But when Parvati realized what had happened she explained to Shiva that the boy was their son and Shiva had to save him. So he instructed his helpers to go and find someone with his head pointing to the North, someone in tune with the natural flow of energy and to bring back his head. They searched far and wide and were only able to find an elephant in such a state. So they brought back the head of the elephant and this became Ganesha.
Now Ganesha is always depicted with a big stomach, his big belly represents generosity and total acceptance. The story goes that one day Ganesha drank so much milk that his belly burst, so he grabbed a Cobra and tied it around his stomach. This signifies that the acceptance of people and situations (big belly) without deep awareness is of no great value (akin to accepting people when we are sleeping! That is easy!) However, when there is awareness – the Cobra is symbolic of great alertness, and then there is ….or that is true acceptance and love. Ganesha’s upraised hand (in ‘Abhaya’ mudra, depicting protection) means ‘fear not – I am with you’ and his lowered hand, palm facing outwards (in ‘Varada’ mudra, symbolic of giving boons) means – unending giving as well as an invitation to bow down. (Bowing down signifies merging with the earth again, recognising the truth that we will return to the earth. In the womb our position is one where our heads are bowed, our body is in a circle. Even at birth we come into the world head down. It is our nature to bow down). Ganesha also has a single tusk which implies single-pointedness.
One also sees very often, the pasteurization of the moon laughing at Ganesha as he tries to do the ‘Saastanga Danda Pranaam’ to his parents. Here the moon signifies the mind – the mind laughs at wisdom.
Ganesha is mostly seen sitting on a lotus, now an elephant supporting on a lotus is kind of odd! This signifies that he is very sensitive; also Ganesha is always seen riding on a mouse. This is the most unexpected mode of travel, imaginable –an elephant on a mouse! However, the significance runs deeper, the mouse snips nibbling away at ropes that bind. The mouse who gradually nibbles through things is like mantra which can cut through sheets and sheets of ignorance and carry even an elephant. There can be nothing but absolute darkness and all that is required is a single tiny ray of ray that can illuminate us – free us from our ignorance. Not much is required at all – just this tiny persistent awareness. Even the implements Ganesha wields are symbolic, He carries in His hands ‘the Ankusha’ (the goad/stick that is used to prod an elephant awake; this signifies ‘awakening’) and the ‘Paasa’ (the noose which signifies control) now with awakening a lot of energy is released which without proper guidance can go haywire.