Ganesha - a wholistic perspective

Ganesha is a divinity with many names, roles and appreciations who is loved and adored by all.
Divinities and concepts in India have always been an enigma for our rationale seeking minds.
To understand Ganesha therefore we need to look beyond the faith, rituals and festivals in a wholistic perspective. We have various leads to understand Ganesha and His significance and relevance from this wholistic perspective.
We find legends that talk about how Ganesha was born and goes through various activities and stages of life. Of these, the stories about his birth and his elephant head are very popular as well as very intriguing.

Ganesha’s birth –

Ganesha was created by Parvathi out of Her own tissues. There was no role or intervention of Siva in Ganesha's birth.

While this process of birth can be called a farfetched story and hence tagged as Mythology, today, various artificially induced techniques of procreation, even with a single parent, are being developed in modern research under the branch called Parthogenesis.
In the concept of single parental birth, Ganesha is not the unique example. There are many other examples such as Ganesha’s own brother Karthikeya, who was born out of Siva's seeds alone - Harabheeja. Similar is the birth concept of a Vasishtha or Agastya.
Ganesha’s elephant head–
Legend states that Siva beheaded Parvathi's son and later reinstated His head with that of an elephant. Hence He is called Gajanana - one with the face of an elephant. Head replacement certainly looks a very farfetched concept. This concept is not unique to Gajanana or Ganesha alone.
This sort of head change concept is again not limited to Ganesha alone. We have 2 other examples in the legends of Daksha, Parvathi's father - with a goat head and Hayagreeva - with a horse head.
We do find that, indications of the probable physical process for these are suggestively given in our Ayurvedic related texts.
From a geographical perspective too, the exact birthplace of Ganesha on earth is also mentioned and has been revered for generations.
The Indian concepts of divinities and life in general have to be understood from 3 levels:

  1. Gross
  2. Scientific
  3. Spiritual

These concepts are usually found intertwined with each other inextricably and it is a matter of enigma and intrigue that from all the 3 levels of understanding the concepts appear real, coherent and consistent with the other concepts and practices in their respective levels.
Ganesha and Mathematics
The primordial family of Siva, Sakthi, Ganesha and Skanda are associated with specific attributes or Tattva. Siva is associated with Atma Tattva, Sakthi is associated with Jagat Tattva or Universal nature, Skanda is associated with Jeeva Tattva and Ganesha is associated with Vak Tattva.
Vak here clearly indicates language, knowledge and its genre.
Ganesha as the name suggests is the master of numbers. Esha meaning master and Gana indicating multitude, hordes, numbers. A derivative of Gana is the Indian term for Mathematics - Ganitham or Ganana.
Gana is also said to mean Mantras and Ganesha or Ganapathi is also the Lord of Mantras. We all know that mathematics form a basis for Mantras. Thus again Ganesha is connected with Maths.
Thus Ganesha’s association with Vak Tattva and His association with Mathematics considered by our Vedic texts as the crest of knowledge seem to tally very well.
It is for this reason when Veda Vyasa needs a scribe to take down this knowledge in the written form. Ganesha is used as the scribe.
When we propitiate to Ganesha, the 2 physical acts we do are:

  1. Holding one’s earlobes and doing sit-ups
  2. Knocking on the temples with knuckles

In modern acupressure and Neuro-biology, both these acts are proven to enhance the capacity of the brain to assimilate knowledge better.

Since Ganesha is associated as the knowledge divinity, this physical activity when propriating to Ganesha to enhance the brain functioning tallies well with the concept of Ganesha and Ganitham is brain functionality related to knowledge.
While the popular sloka to invoke blessings of Ganesha, Vakra Thunda Mahakaaya is often understood by many as describing Ganesha’s physical form and features, it has a scientific meaning which is associated with knowledge, a meaning, that conveys the knowledge of universe and creation and its connection with mankind.

It is for the reason that Ganesha is a knowledge divinity that we propitiate to Ganesha before starting any knowledge related work.
Since better brain functioning and knowledge is what helps man identify the workarounds for obstacles, Ganesha is also said to be the remover of obstacles or Vigneshwara and is hence invoked before starting any work.
Most explanations for the various names of Ganesha can be connected with one or the other aspect of functioning of the brain.
The big elephant head for Ganesha is also symbolic of this association with a large storehouse of knowledge as Elephants are known for their strong memory.
Zoomorphic form of Ganesha
The concept of Gajanana - a man with an elephant face is Zoomorphic in nature.
Zoomorphic means half man and half animal.
The concept of Zoomorphism is not limited to Ganesha alone. Infact we have a whole range of Indian Divinities who are Zoomorphic, some of the prominent ones being Varaha, Narasimha, Hayagreeva .
The key point to note in this Zoomorphic concept is that, even though the Divinity has a head and brain of a said animal, the thinking process and the dharma of the Divinity is preserved and continues in this new form.
Hence it is not only Zoomorphic, but is also a psychological cross over and can also be termed as psycho-morphic.
This physical Zoomorphic concept can be seen at the gross level as Ganesha with an elephant head and a human body.
It seems to be a symbolic way, of ancient civilizations, of depicting a quality by using a mix of beings to show the blend and at the same time highlight the salient characteristic trait of each of those beings.
This universal concept of mankind being a mix of characteristics, with each taking focuses at various times depending on the role played is best exemplified in the Zoomorphic concepts of Indian legends.
The same concept can also be used to understand the unseen level of spirituality. Indian concept over thousands of years has held that the souls of all beings are alike and can transmigrate between man and animal. The Zoomorphic concept by showing a mix and movement across physical forms at a gross level also brings to fore the spiritual concept of the soul and its transmigration.

Ganesha World Over

All the above concepts of Ganesha have been understood by the native civilizations of the world over 1000s of years. This is clearly brought forth in the architectural remains and visuals of Ganesha in the different civilizations of the world right from Japan, to South East Asia, to India, to Persia, to Europe, to the Americas and to the Polynesian Islands.

We see that the concept of Ganesha is not limited to India or Hindu religion alone but is infact an appreciation world over, of the concept of knowledge, intelligence and wisdom, which help work around obstacles and accomplish tasks undertaken.
Thus if we look beyond the rituals and customs and try to understand them wholisitically from all the 3 perspectives, we will see Ganesha as a “Nature Scientific Cosmic Divinity” and this will explain the significance and relevance of why we celebrate, adore and believe in Ganesha today.