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Incensed by the refusal of her husband to respect her privacy, to the extent of entering her private chambers even while she was having her bath, Parvati decided to settle matters once and for all. Before going for her bath the next time, she rubbed off the sandalwood paste on her body and out of it created the figure of a young boy. She infused life into the figure and told him he was her son and should guard the entrance while she bathed.
Soon after, Shiva (Lord of destruction and husband of Parvati,) came to see Parvati but the young boy blocked his way and would not let him in. Shiva, unaware that this lad was his son, became furious and in great anger fought with this boy whose head got severed from his body in the ensuing battle. Parvati, returning from her bath, saw her headless son and threatened in her rage to destroy the heavens and the earth, so great was her sorrow.
Shiva pacified her and instructed his followers (known as ganas) to bring the head of the first living being they encounter. The first creature they encountered was an elephant. They thus cut off its head and placed it on the body of Parvati's son and breathed life into him. Thus overjoyed, Parvati embraced her son.
The son of Parvati was given the name Ganesha by Shiva. The word Ganesha is made up of gana (followers of Shiva) and isha (lord), thus Shiva appointed him the lord of his ganas.
According to the strict rules of Hindu iconography, Ganesha figures with only two hands are taboo. Hence, Ganesha figures are most commonly seen with four hands which signify their divinity.
His pot belly signifies the bounty of nature and also that Ganesha swallows the sorrows of the Universe and protects the world.
The most striking feature of Ganesha is his elephant head, symbolic of auspiciousness, strength and intellectual prowess. All the qualities of the elephant are contained in the form of Ganpati. The elephant is the largest and strongest of animals of the forest. Yet he is gentle and, amazingly, a vegetarian, so that he does not kill to eat. He is very affectionate and loyal to his keeper and is greatly swayed if love and kindness are extended to him. Ganesha, though a powerful deity, is similarly loving and forgiving and moved by the affection of his devotees. But at the same time the elephant can destroy a whole forest and is a one-man army when provoked. Ganesha is similarly most powerful and can be ruthless when containing evil.
Again, Ganesha's large head is symbolic of the wisdom of the elephant. His large ears, like the winnow, sift the bad from the good. Although they hear everything, they retain only that which is good; they are attentive to all requests made by the devotees, be they humble or powerful.
Ganesha's trunk is a symbol of his discrimination (viveka), a most important quality necessary for spiritual progress. The elephant uses its trunk to push down a massive tree, carry huge logs to the river and for other heavy tasks. The same huge trunk is used to pick up a few blades of grass, to break a small coconut, remove the hard nut and eat the soft kernel inside. The biggest and minutest of tasks are within the range of this trunk which is symbolic of Ganesha's intellect and his powers of discrimination.
Any attempt to penetrate the depths of the Ganesha phenomenon must note that he is born from Goddess Parvati alone without the intervention of her husband Shiva, and as such he shares a very unique and special relationship with his mother. The sensitive nature of his relationship with Parvati is made amply clear in the following tale:
As a child, Ganesha teased a cat by pulling its tail, rolling it over on the ground and causing it great pain, as naughty young boys are wont to do. After some time, tired of his game, he went to his mother Parvati. He found her in great pain and covered with scratches and dust all over. When he questioned her, she put the blame on him. She explained that she was the cat whom Ganesha had teased.
His total devotion towards his mother is the reason why in the South Indian tradition Ganesha is represented as single and celibate. It is said that he felt that his mother, Parvati, was the most beautiful and perfect woman in the universe. Bring me a woman as beautiful as she is and I shall marry her, he said. None could find an equal to the beautiful Uma (Parvati), and so the legend goes, the search is still on..
This sculpture is a temple carving from the state of Tamil Nadu.
Of Related Interest:
Comic Book: Ganesha
Jewelry: Ganesha Sandalwood Necklace
Dolls: Twelve inch high sitting Ganesha Doll
Textiles: Shri Ganeshai Namah Prayer Shawl