Ganesa, a Hindu demigod, is pretty easy to identify - he has the head of an elephant, and a human body with a big potbelly. He is missing one tusk, a piece of which may sometimes be seen in one of his four hands. His other three hands may hold a hatchet (for cutting away illusions and false teachings), a goad like the ones used by elephant trainers (symbolizing his insistence on proper spiritual training), a noose for restraining wild animals (for the restraint of passion and lustful desires), or a plate of sweets (which he likes a lot, hence his belly). He rides upon a rat - not the most powerful of creatures, but ubiquitous.

Ganesa is the son of Siva and Parvati, though he was not born in the usual way:

  • According to one legend, Siva emits a handsome son from his body, who goes forth to become a great seducer of women. His mom, Parvati, is greatly offended by her son's exploits, and curses him to have an elephant head and a big belly, her theory being that his ugliness will doom him to a life of celibacy. However, he finds TWO wives who can see beyond his physical appearance - Buddhi (the representation of wisdom) and Siddhi (success).

  • The more popular version of his birth has Parvati growing tired of the passionate advances of her husband. She creates a son out of her perspiration and appoints him guardian of her bathing-chamber, so she can be naked in peace for once. Siva comes looking for his wife, and this fierce little boy tells him he can't go in. Siva gets mad and chops off Ganesa's head.

    Parvati, furious and heartbroken, sends forth all the demigods to find a new head for her son. They are to go north and take the head of the first living being they find. What they find is an elephant. Everyone expects Parvati to be upset about her elephant-headed son, but she is thrilled.

Ganesa is a popular hero in India, and his image is often seen painted on the walls of shops, homes, and temples. He is seen as both the creator and remover of obstacles. He stands guard at entrances, as a spiritually potent figure who can avert all evil influences. In popular Hindu lore he is thus the god to be worshiped first, before all other religious ceremonies, public and private.

He is also the lord of external wealth, and as such, his worship must be executed in a cautious manner, and for the right reasons; namely, devotees should pray to Ganesa to remove worldly obstacles which may block the path to a higher consciousness.

Sometimes spelled Ganesha.

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