Ganesh – the elephant headed God

With an elephant head, Ganesh is one of the easiest Hindu gods to identify. While yoga is not a religion, it is closely aligned to Hinduism. In fact, it is said that Ganesh’s father, Lord Shiva, was the first yogi and his mother, Parvati, was the first student.

Ganesh is popularly worshipped for his ability to remove obstacles and bring good fortune, although traditionally he also places obstacles in the path of those who need to be checked.

Ganesh is often associated with the destruction of vanity, selfishness and pride. So perhaps acceptance of the somewhat strange-looking elephant man encourages us to see beyond outer appearances. Certainly the rat which appears near Ganesh’s feet represents his mastery of desire and selfishness.

But did you ever wonder why Ganesh has an elephant head and the body of a human? The story goes that one day while bathing, Parvati created a boy (Ganesh) out of the dirt of her body and assigned him the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom. When her husband, Shiva, returned, he was surprised to find a stranger denying him  access and struck off the boy’s head in rage. Parvati broke down in utter grief and to soothe her, Shiva sent out his hordes to fetch the head of any sleeping being who was facing the north. They found a sleeping elephant and brought back its severed head, which was then attached to the body of the boy which Shiva restored to life.

Last month, Hindus around the world paid their respects to Ganesh during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. In Mumbai alone, more than 150,000 statues were displayed around the city and an incalculable number of devotees paid their respects at the Siddhivinayak temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh. On the last day of the celebrations, the statues are paraded through the streets, accompanied by singing and dancing, and then immersed in the ocean. Many of the statues are also destroyed, as a reminder that the universe is in a constant state of change, and that form eventually gives way to formlessness.

So the next time you practice, use Ganesh’s story to remind yourself that everything – including the pride you feel in accomplishing a pose – is temporary!

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About theaspiringyogi

I am passionate about yoga - reading, writing, practising and teaching.
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