This week’s Travel Photo of the Week is a flower garland decorated Ganesha statue in Little India, Singapore. The elephant-headed deity is one of the most popular and easily recognizable of the plethora of Hindu gods. Renowned for his wisdom and ability to remove obstacles, offerings and prayers are offered up by the devout before any big venture, either financial or physical.
There are several variations as to the creation of Ganesha, but this is the one I like best. The Goddess Parvati annoyed at her lack of privacy from her husband Shiva (Lord of Destruction) created a son to guard her private chambers. She created the boy from sandalwood paste that she scraped from her body. After bring the child to life the Goddess posted him as guard before her next bath. When Shiva returned he was challenged by his son as he tried to once again interrupt his wife’s bath. Unaware that the child was his “son” the Lord of Destruction lived up to his name and in a fit of anger, chopped off the child’s head. The Goddess Parvati flew into a rage after finding her son headless, and threatened to destroy the heavens and the earth. Shiva ceased being the Lord of Destruction and became the lord of groveling, and rushed his servants out to bring him the head of the first living thing they could find. The first living thing they encountered was an unfortunate elephant, after placing the elephants head on the boys body they breathed live into the boy and to everyones relief, Parvati embraced her son and did not destroy heaven or earth.
The images of Ganesha are rich with symbolism, often shown with four or more arms the objects he hold represent different attributes, a sweet or modaka for the realized sweetness of ones inner self, the ankusha or elephant goad, typically utilized by a mahout to control an elephant is used to prod man to the path of righteousness and truth as well as to repel obstacles. An axe is wielded to remove the attachment to desire and worldly possessions. He is is also frequently depicted with a noose as a reminder of the pitfalls of attachments. Ganesha sports a pot belly to signify the bounty of nature and that he swallows the sorrows of the universe. In one hand he delicately holds his broken tusk. Once, he was asked to copy an epic story by the sage Vyasa. Overwhelmed by the responsibility, Ganesha determined the task would be inadequately preformed by an ordinary pen so he utilized his tusk for a pen, a symbol that there is no sacrifice too big in the pursuit of knowledge. A serpent ties him to nature and could represent the sacred thread of life. A mouse is an important part of the symbology, as Ganesha is frequently depicted riding a tiny mouse. The mouse is intellect and represents the power of knowledge and the need to tame our wandering minds.
The Elephant is the largest and most powerful animal in India, yet they can be gentle vegetarians who do not kill to eat. Elephants are very loyal and affectionate if exposed to kindness, but can destroy a whole forest with the strength of an army when provoked. These attributes can be associated with Ganesha’s disposition, kind and loving to his followers and a force of nature when battling evil. The combination of an elephant and man is a metaphor for man’s connection to nature.
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