Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ganesha : Janus of India

It so happened that I saw the moon on chavithi, and I thought I could do better than just reading the story and so I am writing this time about Ganesha.

Ganesha known as pillaiyar to tamilians, vinayaka to Andhrites and bhudhists, herambha to jains, maha rakhta to tibetans, phra phikanet to thai, kangiten to japanese or just plainly as Ganesha to cambodians and indonesians is the god of knowledge, an embodiment of wisdom, strength, grace and innocence. Though the cults of Ganesha's called ganapatya gained popularity around the 4th and 5th centuries CE of Guptha dynasty, he inherited precursors of vedic and prevedic traits. The two main literary works done by ganapatya's are mudgala purana and Genasha purana.


Parvati giving birth ganesha. Kangra miniature
18th century (Allahabad museum)

I am going to save you the routine spiel about his birth and will tell you a beautiful interpretation of it. Parvati represents the celebrative aspect of brahman (consciousness), the name meaning mountain (parvat), the earth it self rising up in celebration. One day when she was feeling dirty, meaning that the celebration has gone out of life giving rise to feeling sadness, so she decides to take a bath. But from the dirt that comes off, she makes an idol to safeguard her ego, so she has her space and no one can get in, the usual thing we do when we are depressed, isolating themselves. This is the significance of Parvati animating her ego and asking it not to let anyone disturb her because she is feeling dirty. Lord Shiva is the protector of Parvati. So when He sees her that way with her ego standing guard, keeping the Bliss of the Self out, He does what any protector would do... Kill it.. signified by chopping the head off!, now, when you have had your ego trampled upon, you are going to feel even more hurt and bewildered, which is where Parvati flares up... to appease her and teach her, Lord Shiva replaces the child's (ego) head with an elephant head. Elephant representing grace, strength and wisdom, it is interpreted that Lord Shiva replaced her ego (ignorance) with knowledge and innocence.. hence the name Ganesha the god of knowledge and wisdom.

Though Ganesha is popularly believed to be a brahmachari, in some cultures he has 2 consorts, budhi(intellect) and sidhi(spirituality) and supposed to have 2 sons laabha(profit) and shubha(auspicious). He is sometimes associated with goddess saravati (sarda) in maharashtra and with goddess lakshmi in bengal. In some santoshi ma cultures, she is assumed to be the daughter of ganesha. While it is very easy to see in to the contextual and symbolic meaning behind these practices, real references to these beliefs are unaccounted.

Vedic and epic literature (source: wiki)

Maha Ganapathi from Sritattvanidhi

The title "Leader of the group" (Sanskrit: gaṇapati) occurs twice in the Rig Veda, but in neither case does it refer to the modern Ganesha. The term appears in RV 2.23.1 as a title for Brahmanaspati, according to commentators. While this verse doubtless refers to Brahmanaspati, it was later adopted for worship of Ganesha and is still used today. In rejecting any claim that this passage is evidence of Ganesha in the Rig Veda, Ludo Rocher says that it "clearly refers to Bṛhaspati—who is the deity of the hymn—and Bṛhaspati only". Equally clearly, the second passage (RV 10.112.9) refers to Indra, who is given the epithet 'gaṇapati', translated "Lord of the companies (of the Maruts)." However, Rocher notes that the more recent Ganapatya literature often quotes the Rigvedic verses to give Vedic respectability to Ganesha . Two verses in texts belonging to Black Yajurveda, Maitrāyaṇīya Saṃhitā (2.9.1) and Taittirīya Āraṇyaka (10.1), appeal to a deity as "the tusked one" (Dantiḥ), "elephant-faced" (Hastimukha), and "with a curved trunk" (Vakratuņḍa). These names are suggestive of Ganesha, and the 14th century commentator Sayana explicitly establishes this identification. The description of Dantin, possessing a twisted trunk (vakratuṇḍa) and holding a corn-sheaf, a sugar cane, and a club, is so characteristic of the Puranic Ganapati that Heras says "we cannot resist to accept his full identification with this Vedic Dantin". However, Krishan considers these hymns to be post-Vedic additions. Thapan reports that these passages are "generally considered to have been interpolated". Dhavalikar says, "the references to the elephant-headed deity in the Maitrāyaṇī Saṃhitā have been proven to be very late interpolations, and thus are not very helpful for determining the early formation of the deity".

Ganesha does not appear in Indian epic literature that is dated to the Vedic period. A late interpolation to the epic poem Mahabharata says that the sage Vyasa (Vyāsa) asked Ganesha to serve as his scribe to transcribe the poem as he dictated it to him. Ganesha agreed but only on condition that Vyasa recite the poem uninterrupted, that is, without pausing. The sage agreed, but found that to get any rest he needed to recite very complex passages so Ganesha would have to ask for clarifications. The story is not accepted as part of the original text by the editors of the critical edition of the Mahabharata, in which the twenty-line story is relegated to a footnote in an appendix. The story of Ganesha acting as the scribe occurs in 37 of the 59 manuscripts consulted during preparation of the critical edition. Ganesha's association with mental agility and learning is one reason he is shown as scribe for Vyāsa's dictation of the Mahabharata in this interpolation. Richard L. Brown dates the story to the 8th century, and Moriz Winternitz concludes that it was known as early as c. 900, but it was not added to the Mahabharata some 150 years later. Winternitz also notes that a distinctive feature in South Indian manuscripts of the Mahabharata is their omission of this Ganesha legend.[173] The term vināyaka is found in some recensions of the Śāntiparva and Anuśāsanaparva that are regarded as interpolations. A reference to Vighnakartṛīṇām ("Creator of Obstacles") in Vanaparva is also believed to be an interpolation and does not appear in the critical edition.

Incarnations of Ganesha

Mudgala purana talks about 8 incarnatinos of ganesha namely vakratunda, ekadanta, mahodara, gajavakra, lambodara, vikata, vighnaraja and dhumravarna. Ganesha purana talks about the following 4.

1) Mahotkata Vinayaka (Mahotkaţa Vināyaka), who has ten arms and a red complexion. Different sources list his mount (vāhana) as either an elephant or lion. He was born to Kashyapa (Kaśyapa) and Aditi in the Krita yuga. The name Kāśyapaḥ (descendant of Kaśyapa) for Ganesha refers to this incarnation.[12] This incarnation killed the demon brothers Narantaka (Narāntaka) and Devantaka (Devāntaka), as well as the demon Dhumraksha (Dhūṃrākşa).

2)Mayuresvara (Mayūreśvara), who has six arms and a white complexion. His mount is a peacock. He was born to Shiva and Parvati in the Treta yuga. He incarnates for the purpose of killing the demon Sindhu. At the end of this incarnation he gives his peacock mount to his younger brother Skanda, with whom the peacock mount is generally associated.
3)Gajanana (Gajānana), who has four arms and was born with a red complexion. He has a mouse as his mount. He is born to Shiva and Parvati in the Dvapara yuga. He incarnates for the purpose of killing the demon Sindura (Sindūra), who was so-named due to his reddish-pink complexion (see: Sindoor). It is during this incarnation that Ganesha gives the discourse known as the Ganesha Gita to King Varenya.

4)Dhumraketu (Dhūmraketu) is grey in colour, like ash or smoke (dhūmra). He has either two or four arms.[13] He has a blue horse as his mount. He will come to end the decline of the Kali yuga. During this incarnation he kills numerous demons. Grimes notes that there is a parallel between this incarnation of Ganesha and the tenth and final incarnation of Vishnu, where he will ride upon the white horse Kalki. The other difference is, lord Gajanana tells Varenya that the whole universe and all the gods are created by Gajanana and ultimately everything will come back to him including the Gods like Bramha, Vishnu and Mahesha.

Ganesha in other world religions

Jaina : Ganesha was referred to as herambha and ganavignesha around 12th centuary jainic works. In swetambhara traditions he was believed to be prayed even by the gods to get desirable things. In jaina tradition he is attributed some of the characteristics of Kubera. You can find the idols of ganesha in udayagiri and khandagiri caves of orissa, believed to be from the digambara jaina tradition. The earliest known Jaina Ganesha statue at Mathura with Jaina Yakshi Ambika(the Jaina name for Gauri) dates to about the 9th Century CE. Images of Ganesha appear in the Jaina temples of Rajasthan and Gujarat. In the tenth century Mahavir at Ghanerav and eleventh century temple in Osian, Rajasthan; Ganesha images are found.

Budhism: In budhism, ganesha is worshipped as an incarnation of budha. It is not very surprising as Gupta period saw a wide spread of budhism in india, and it is also the time when ganesha gathered popularity. Ganapati, Maha Rakta (Tibetan: tsog gi dag po, mar chen. English: The Great Red Lord of Hosts or Ganas) is a Tantric Buddhist form of Ganapati (Ganesha) related to the Chakrasamvara Cycle of Tantras. This form of Ganapati is regarded as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara.

Ganapathi, Maha raktha
"...beside a lapis lazuli rock mountain is a red lotus with eight petals, in the middle a blue rat expelling various jewels, [above] Shri Ganapati with a body red in colour, having an elephant face with sharp white tusks and possessing three eyes, black hair tied in a topknot with a wishing-gem and a red silk ribbon [all] in a bundle on the crown of the head. With twelve hands, the six right hold an axe, arrow, hook, vajra, sword and spear. The six left [hold] a pestle, bow, khatvanga, skullcup filled with blood, skullcup filled with human flesh and a shield together with a spear and banner. The peaceful right and left hands are signified by the vajra and skullcup filled with blood held to the heart. The remaining hands are displayed in a threatening manner. Wearing various silks as a lower garment and adorned with a variety of jewel ornaments, the left foot is extended in a dancing manner, standing in the middle of the bright rays of red flickering light." (Ngorchen Konchog Lhundrup, 1497–1557).

In Japan, Ganesha is considered a minor deity in the Buddhist pantheon, where he is known as Shōten (聖天), Daishokangi-ten (大聖歓喜天), Kangiten (歓喜天), Ganabachi (Ganapati), Binayaka-ten ("Vinayaka") (毘那夜迦天).[19]
Ganesha worship was brought to Japan by early Buddhists through China.[20] In Japan the Ganesha cult was first mentioned in 806 CE.[21] Scholars commonly date the presence of Ganesha in Japan with the age of Kukai (774- 834), the founder of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. The centrality of the worship of Ganesha or Vinayaka or Kangiten, as he is popularly called in Japan, is a distinguishing feature of this cult. The doctrines, rituals and beliefs of the sect have a number of parallels with the cult of Ganapatya.

Dancing Ganapathi of tibet.
Ganesha can also be seen in Thailand, indonesia and cambodia in the same authority over knowledge and wisdom, though under different names but in the same form.In 1806 Sir William Jones drew a close comparison between a particular form of Ganesha, known as Ganesha-Jayanti, and Janus, the two-headed Roman god. Jones felt the resemblance between Ganesha-Jayanti and Janus was so strong that he referred to Ganesha as the "Janus of India." The Ganesha-Jayanti form is a very unusual depiction in which Ganesha is shown with the head of an elephant looking toward his right and a human head at his left. It was possessed of four arms.