The First god of Hindu Religion:
Lord Sri Vinayagar, popularly known by the names Ganesha, Pillayar, Ganapathi, Vigneswarar or Elephant God, is the most prominent god of the Hindu pantheon. Vinayagar characterizes knowledge and is regarded as the destroyer of obstacles. He is the eldest son of Lord Shiva (the Destroyer in the Hindu Holy Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer) and his consort Goddess Parvathi (Shakti). Lord Murugan is his younger brother, who is also known as Sri Thendayuthapani.
Hindus admire the features of Vinayagar with great affection. He has an elephant head, curved trunk and big ears. An elephant symbolizes extreme intelligence. Similarly, Vinayagar signifies wisdom and intelligence. He has four podgy hands joined to human pot-bellied body. There is a trident on his one hand, an ankush made from his own broken tooth on the second hand, a lotus on the third hand and his favourite sweet modak on the fourth. Sometimes, a tray of modak is seen in front of him.
The right tusk of Vinayagar is broken and there is a legend behind it. Being the personification of intelligence (Buddhi) and achievement (Siddhi), Vinayagar was approached by sage Vyasa with a request to write down the Mahabharata being composed by the sage. Vyasa recited the verses continuously without a pause and at the same time Vinayagar wrote down without stopping. However, in between, Vinayagar’s stylus broke but he immediately broke off his right tusk and continued writing without stopping.
Vinayagar rides on a Mooshigam Vahanam. Mooshigam literally means Mouse and Vahanam means a Vehicle that carries the god. The mouse represents human mind ruled by impulses and running in different directions. Since human being is capable of being wise, strong and hardworking like the elephant, his goal should be to remove the mouse qualities within him and become more like the elephant. The difference in size between the huge Elephant God and the tiny mouse also signifies that divine truth is the same in every being, irrespective of size, birth or race. There is also another meaning given to the mouse. The mouse moves everywhere undetected and destroys food. Similarly, there exists unnoticed egoism in our minds and silently destroys our lives. However, when controlled by divine wisdom, the ego can help us to lead towards progress.
Hindus invoke Vinayagar at the beginning of all ritualistic worship and he always offers his first prayer to Vinayagar. The recitation of sacred songs begins with a Vinayagar mantra or song. Vinayagar is worshipped before a family moves into a new house. There are a number of temples dedicated to Vinayagar. However, every Hindu temple dedicated to other deities, including Vaishnavite temple, has a statue of Vinayagar. Other than Hindus, Vinayagar is worshipped by many other religions and nations, such as the Buddhists and the Jains. Though he may be worshipped by different names, the figure is similar everywhere including the ideas he represent, viz., auspiciousness, prosperity, happiness and wisdom.
Vinayagar is revered as the Lord of obstacles as well as the Remover of obstacles. When we do evil things or we find that our time is not right, He keeps obstacles in our path. At the same time, when we follow the right path, He eradicates our troubles.
How Vinayagar got his Elephant Head:
There is a story which says how Sri Vinayagar got an elephant head. It is like this:
As per legend, Goddess Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva, modelled sandalwood dough and created a boy. She called him her son and breathed life into him. She gave him the task of standing as a guard at her bathroom door while she took her bath. Lord Shiva was not aware of it because he was not there at that time. However, Lord Shiva returned while Parvati was taking her bath. The boy guarding the door did not allow him to enter his house. Shiva became angry and he cut off the head of the boy. Parvathi broke down in deep sorrow and Shiva realized that he had slayed his own son. In order to calm her down, Shiva sent out his assistants to bring the head of any being that was facing the north. They found an elephant and brought back its detached head. Shiva attached the head of the elephant to the body of the boy and restored him to life. He made him the leader of his troops (Ganas) and called him the name ‘Ganapathi’. Shiva blessed him that his devotees would worship him before they initiate any venture. That is the reason why he is called the First God of Hindus. As such, in front of all Hindu temples there will be an idol of Sri Vinayagar. A sincere Hindu has to pray to him before entering the temple.
Vinayagar is worshipped today as the most auspicious God of new beginnings. He is worshipped during every festival and also before people undertakes journeys or start new ventures. He guards entrances to temples and homes and happily showers his blessing during marriages and other auspicious occasions.
The Significance of Vinayagar worship:
What is the inner significance of worshipping the elephant-faced deity?
Elephant signifies strength and magnitude. Elephant’s foot is bigger than that of any other animal and it can make its way through the deepest forest. These features signify the qualities of a leader who paves the way for others. Elephant is a highly intelligent animal, who is also known for its loyalty and gratitude. It will not forget its master under any situation. Even in the last moments of its life, an elephant can recognize the voice of its master, and will open its eyes and look for him. It is so loyal that it will be ready to sacrifice its life for its master. Man should learn these lessons from the elephant. There is no value for intelligence without gratitude. Every person should be grateful to others who have helped him.
One should be aware of some inner secrets in the worship of Vinayagar. Hindus prepare modakam as an offering to Vinayagar. It is a sweet dish made completely by using steam. Rice flour, jaggery and dhal are mixed and rolled into balls, which are then steamed. As per Ayurveda, modakam has high curative properties. The jaggery (or raw sugar) used is a cure for various ailments and it also good for improving the vision. The inner meaning behind these offerings to Vinayagar is that they have health giving properties. It may also be noted that food items cooked in steam are easy to digest.
Thus, the worship of Vinayagar symbolizes health, wisdom, bliss, peace and prosperity.
A special way is suggested to worship Sri Vinayagar. One should hold his ears with crossed arms and kneel down three times, followed by patting of the cheek three times. The purpose of doing this is to beg to almighty to forgive for all the sins and mistakes one has committed. Finally, lying down prostrate in front of the sanctum, and then sitting in silence for a minute, will complete the prayer.
A common prayer to Ganapati beseeches him thus:
(You have the twisted trunk and the massive body with the brilliance and light of millions of suns. Lead me on a path that has neither obstacles nor hindrances, clearing the way in everything I do, ever, and always).
It is believed that by reciting Vinayagar Stotras, mantras and sacred songs, we create spiritual energy, which stimulates divine faculties in our consciousness. This helps to remove obstacles that hinder our physical and spiritual progress. We need patience and perseverance. Besides, when we concentrate on Lord Vinayagar and sing His praises, we are awakening the divine potential in us. Reciting the following mantra is believed to bring auspiciousness:
Aum Sri Ganesaya Namah
Aum Sri Ganesaya Namah
Aum Sri Maha Ganapathiyae Namah
Aum Sri Gam Ganapathiyae Namah
It is usually believed that there are 32 different forms of Vinayagar. Among them, the important forms are: Bala Ganapati, Taruna Ganapati, Bhakti Ganapati, Veera Ganapati, Dvaja Ganapati, Sakti Ganapati, Uchista Ganapati, Ekatanta Ganapati, Vighneswara, Siddhi Vinayagar, Shristi Vinayagar, Thundi Vinayagar, Yoga Vinayagar, Vighnaraja, Kshipra Ganapati, and Heramba Ganapathi.
Every year, during the Vinayagar Chaturthi festival, devotees worship Lord Vinayagar with respect and recite prayers.
Vinayagar Chaturthi festival is celebrated as the birth anniversary of Lord Vinayagar. It is celebrated on ‘Chaturthi’ day of the Tamil month ‘Avani’, the fourth day after the new moon, which usually falls between August to September. This festival is celebrated all over India and several parts of the world for a period of ten days with full of passion and splendour. During this festival, large Vinayagar statues are made using plaster of Paris, clay and other eco-friendly materials. These statues are kept in home or public venues for few days of worship and after a specific period, the Vinayagar Statues are immersed in the sea.