ॐLord Ganesha is a popular Hindu god. He considered to be the destroyer of obstacles. Ganesha is worshipped at the launch of any enterprise, from weddings to the opening of a new business. He is believed to remove distractions and protect one from evil. He has many Avatars and forms. I would like to present these in this article.
ॐAvatars of Ganesha Ganesha Purana and Mudgal Purana, two Upapuranas on Ganesha and the main scriptures of the Ganapati sect, speak of four and eight Avatars (incarnations) of Ganesha, respectively.
ॐThe four Avatars (incarnations) of Ganesha mentioned in Ganesha Purana were revealed in Satya, Treta, Dwapar and Kali Yuga. These are – Mahotkat Vinayak – He is ten-handed and his colour is purple. Information obtained from various sources shows that his vehicle is either an elephant or a lion. He was born as a son of Kashyapa and Aditi in the Satya Yuga and for that reason he became known as Kashyapaya. Mayureshwar – He is six-handed and white coloured. His vehicle is a peacock. He was born as the son of Shiva and Parvati in the Treta Yuga. Mayureshwar killed a monster named Sindhu. At the end of the story of this Avatar, he donated his peacock to his brother Kartikeya. Gajanan – He is four-handed and purple. His vehicle is a rat. He was born in the Dwapara Yuga as the son of Shiva and Parvati. As per mythology, he killed a giant named Sindur. He revealed the Ganesha Gita to King Barenya. Dhumraketu – He is two or four handed and smoky coloured. The vehicle of Dhumraketu is a blue horse. It is believed that he will descend at the end of the Kali Yuga and kill many demons. This Avatar (incarnation) is imagined following Kalki, the last incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
ॐThe Mudgal Purana describes eight Avatars (incarnations) of Ganesha. These are – Vakratunda (twisting trunk)- He is first in this series. He is considered to be a part and parcel of Brahma. His vehicle is a lion. The purpose of this incarnation is to kill Matsaryasura (envy or jealousy). Ekadanta (single tusk) – He represents the combination of all individual souls and an embodiment of Paramabrahma. His vehicle is a mouse. The purpose of this incarnation is to kill Madasura (ego). Mahodara (big belly)- This is the combined form of Vakratunda and Ekadanta. He symbolizes Brahma’s wisdom. The purpose of this incarnation is to kill Mohasura (doubt). His vehicle is a mouse. Gajabaktra or Gajanan (elephant face) – He is another form of Mahodara. The purpose of this incarnation is to kill the demon Lobhāsura (greed). His vehicle is a mouse. Lambodara (pendulous belly)- He is a symbol of the power of Brahma. His vehicle is a mouse. The purpose of this incarnation is to kill Krodhasura (anger). Vikata (unusual) – He is the symbol of Surya (Sun). He is the manifestation of radiant Brahma. The purpose of this incarnation is to kill Kamasura (lust). His vehicle is a peacock. Vighnaraja (king of obstacles)- He is the symbol of Vishnu. He is also the manifestation of the existence of Brahma. This incarnation is intended to kill Mamasura (arrogance). Dhumravarna (grey colour)- He is the symbol of Shiva. He is also the manifestation of the destructive power of Brahma. His vehicle is a horse. This incarnation is intended to kill Abhimanasura (pride).
ॐForms of Ganesha Many variations of the common form of Ganesha are seen in various archeological finds in India, outside India and in various scriptures. According to the idols of all these forms, meditation and worship of Ganesha are different. For example, some of the Ganesha idols found in the Gupta period are eight handed to ten handed; in Tantrasara (a book on Tantra), Kashmir, Nepal and in some cases in Afghanistan, Ganesha’s vehicle is the lion and Lakshmi Ganesha embraces goddess Lakshmi. Thus different forms of Ganesha are found in different places and scriptures of this planet. Mahaganapati – Mahaganapati is a Tantric form of Ganesha. Shakti exists with him and they touch each other’s side. This idol is primitive like Shaktiganapati or Viriganapati. Heramba Ganapati – The word ‘Heramba’ means poor shepherd. Heramba Ganapati is a five-headed iconographical form of Lord Ganesha. The middle head of Heramba Ganapati is facing the sky. He holds a pasha (noose), danta (his broken tusk), akshamala (rosary), a parashu (battle-axe), a three-headed mudgara (mallet) and the sweet modak. Two other arms are held in Varadamudra (the boon-giving gesture) and Abhayamudra (a gesture denoting protection of the devotee). Other descriptions add a garland and a fruit to the attributes in his hand. He may be depicted in sculpture holding an ankusha (an elephant goad) in one of his hands. Sometimes, a consort may be depicted seated on his lap and one of Heramba’s arms cuddles her. Heramba rides his vehicle a mighty lion. However, in Nepal, the vehicle of Heramba-Ganapati is a rat. Heramba Ganapati form of Ganesha is mentioned in Tantrasar. Nrityaganesha – Nrityaganesha is dancing with eight hands. He has no weapons. He is showing dance posture. Vinayak Ganesha – Vinayak Ganesha is mentioned in the Agnipurana. There are five prominent forms of this Ganesha – Chintamani Vinayak, Kapardi Vinayak, Asha Vinayak, Gajavinayak and Siddhivinayak. Although according to Yajnavalkya Smriti Vinayak is one, and he is Ambikaputra. Buddhist Ganesha – The Ganesha of Buddhism is quite different from the Ganesha that Hindus are familiar with. He is the only Hindu God regarded as a Bodhisattva a (Buddha-to-be). Ganesha is an ambivalent figure in Tibetan Buddhism. He is also shown being trampled upon by a Buddhist deity, Mahakala. In Japan, Ganesha is a minor deity called Kangiten.
ॐThe earliest art form of Ganesha is the one with the Gajmunda and Radh statues, which were found in Mihintal, Sri Lanka, dating from the first century BC to the first century AD. A two-sided Ganesha statue(built in 4th century AD) found in the Farrukhbad district of Uttar Pradesh, India, shows the god holding a Modakbhanda (a vessel full of modak) in his left hand and eating modak with a trunk. The Udayagiri cave in Madhya Pradesh, built in the 5th century AD, and the terracotta plaques found in the Bhumara and Vitargaon temples in Uttar Pradesh show Ganesha idols eating modak. These statues are of three types – sitting, dancing and standing. The number of seated idols is the highest. The dancing idol shows Ganesha dancing on a vehicle. Here he is elephant headed , three eyed, short, Lambodara (pendulous belly), four handed or six handed or eight handed or ten handed. Two handed statues are few in number. Buddhists and Jains are also known to worship these idols of Ganesha.
ॐThe earliest Ganesha idols are two-armed and seated. Axe and and modak are seen in his hand. He is Gajanan, Ekdant and Lambodara. Ganesha with four arms can also be seen in some idols. According to the Brihatsanghita, Ganesha has two hands and here he has also mulak in his hands. This Mulak has been mentioned as elephant food. Ganesha is Ekdant in the Amarkosh text. In the texts like Anshumatvedagam, Kalikagam and Vishnudharmottar etc., Ganesha is four-armed and in his hand his own teeth, modak, side-ankush, naga, akshasutra, padma etc. can be seen. Subsequent editions of all these texts show Ganesha’s vehicles as Musik (rat) and his wife Bharati (Saraswati), Sri (Lakshmi), Bighneshwari, Buddhi and Kubuddhi. There are also some other features of Ganesha in these texts. Such as – he is three-eyed, he wears tiger skin and nagayajnopabita. His idol is Abhang or Samabhang.
ॐVarious idols of Ganesha were also used as idols in the temples. Not all of these statues were built in the post-Gupta era. The Belemati (sandy soil)Ganapati found in Mathura in the early Gupta period and the terracotta Ganapati found in a brick temple in Vitargaon bear important witness to the evolution of the Ganesha idol. It is notable that the presence of rats is not seen in the idols of Ganesha in Mathura and even in Vitargaon, Ganesha is not depicted in the form of a deity, where he is flying. The Ganesha idol found in the Bhumara Shiva temple in the 6th century AD is the last example of Ganesha evolution. The statues of the first period are naked and standing. They do not look like gods. Also not less important is the carved image of Ganesha found in the Chandragupta cave of Vilsa Udayagiri in the early part of the Gupta period. According to this idol, Ganesha is sitting on the altar, his modakbhanda and rat are missing in his left hand. The seated Ganesha idols spread all over India during the first and last Gupta period. Another type of Ganesha idol was found in Orissa. He is Nrityaganesha, with eight arms, front right hand gajahastha, dance posture clearly visible on the body.
ॐLater, the idea of Ganesha became especially associated with Tantricism and Shakti worship. The presence of Shakti can be noticed in various Tantric Ganesha idols. Such as – Shaktiganesha, Lakshmiganesha (Lakshmi of Lakshmiganesha is not the goddess of prosperity), Uchhishtaganesha etc. Several statues of Ganesha have been found in the Deccan. These are worshiped in Bamachar. An idol of a goddess with a gazmund has also been found near Jabbalpur. Probably this is Ganeshani, the wife of Ganesha.
ॐGanesha idols and images are also found in different countries (Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Fiji, Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago) out of India. An eleventh-century Ganesha statue discovered in Bara, Java, sits on an altar associated with a narakpal (the skull of a dead person). He wears also a narakpal in the matted hair of his head. In Java, Ganesha is four-armed. The influence of Tantra is evident in this idol. Seated idols of Ganesha have been found elsewhere in Indonesia. However, the most beautiful statue is discovered in Khiching. The statue was built in the early Middle Ages. This statue has four arms. His vehicle is rat.
ॐThe Ganapatya sect imagines Ganesha in 32 forms. The names of those 32 forms are –