Just about everybody loves Ganesh. I came across one person online once in the comments section of a news site who made a snide comment about people worshipping “an elephant-headed god” but that guy sticks out in my memory because most people have real affection for the One Tusked One. I even know a few Christians who have little Ganesh statues because he seems so friendly and likeable.
I started working with Ganesh in 2002, and even though I was working out of a book that had most of its facts wrong, using a ritual that was nothing like the pujas he’s accustomed to, he helped me then and he’s helped me ever since. There has never been an issue over the last decade that Ganesh couldn’t help with, and what’s best is that when I can’t see any possible solutions, he can. It’s his job.
Here’s a minor guide to understanding the symbols of Ganesh. Things have more than one meaning and covering everything would take a book (written by a saint) rather than a blog post (written by just me). This tip of the iceberg is the part that I understand:
- Ganesh is “always worshipped first.” What does that mean? It doesn’t, as I first thought, mean you have to do an entire Ganesh puja before you start any other kind of puja. One way of understanding is by looking to Voudoun and Papa Legba. You start a ritual with an offering to Papa Legba and then ask him for the person you want to talk to. Ganesh is like that. My husband asked if it was like bribing the doorman. With Ganesh, it’s more like a doorman you really like, for whom you have real affection, and you enjoy talking to him for a few minutes before you move on to stating your business. A second way of understanding is by realizing that Ganesh is strongly associated with the OM, which to ancient rishis in a meditative state, sorta looks like him. Most (not all, but the vast majority) of mantras start with OM. So even if you’re just saying a mantra and not doing any kind of ritual, Ganesh is worshipped first.
- Elephants rock. Seriously, there is no one else you want on your side when push comes to shove. Because elephants can push and they can shove and they can fight to the death and they love fiercely. Need a path cleared? Ask an elephant to walk ahead of you. Need an obstacle removed? Elephants can rip a tree out of the ground, roots and all. Feeling stuck? Watch these female elephants rescuing a baby elephant. They’ll keep working until there’s a solution and if the mud is too deep for you, they’ll dig out a walking path.
- Ganesh rides a mouse. Every Hindu deity is associated with an animal “mount” (vahana). Why is his a mouse? Mice are detail-oriented. They can get into tiny places and they care about the smallest things. They, too, can also remove obstacles: they’ll chew right through a wall. Some deities are concerned only with Big Problems and don’t like to be bothered with small stuff. Some deities can help with small stuff but have limited power over big stuff. Ganesh can do both. He has the elephant power of the cosmic deities and is in fact God Himself. He also has the personal intimate concern for your tiniest issues that an ancestor or local deity would have. He is the macrocosm and the microcosm.
- Ganesh has huge ears but you don’t see his mouth. He loves sitting and listening but doesn’t do a lot of talking. In fact, in all the years he’s helped me in various situations, I don’t remember ever sensing a verbal answer. He has a calm presence and in a little while a solution presents itself. He’s quiet the whole time.
I could go on forever, but this is already getting long. He likes sweets. He loves music and art and writing and books. He was created by Durga and her face lights up in a smile when he charges through obstacles. Some deities are fierce and powerful. Others are gentle and loving. Ganesh is both: he’s immensely powerful and a total sweetie. My life has changed unimaginably since 2002. I don’t know what I would have done all these years without Ganesh by my side.