This morning, I woke up wanting to tell you the story of Ganesh – he’s the Hindu god with the head of an elephant and he’s responsible for removing obstacles on our paths – but in order to tell you about Ganesh, I have to tell you about his parents.
Shiva is the original yogi and the God of Destruction, the Lord of the Dance. He represents what has to be done in order to create – the burning away of impurities in our bodies and minds. You can think of him as a volcano – when a volcano erupts, lava flows and destroys everything in its path and this brings about Primary Succession where new earth is formed and begins to grow new life.
Shiva is the divine masculine and after his first wife, Sati, the divine feminine, died, he retreated to the mountains to mourn and meditate – for thousands of years. His first wife reincarnated as Parvati and she recognized Shiva as her divine other but he was too involved in his inward experience to notice her. She prepared herself through tapas (burning away of impurities) for their divinely planned union and it was through this elevation of her consciousness that he finally heard her, awakened from his meditation, and sought her out.
So they married and Shiva taught Parvati yoga. In these 84 asanas, or poses, Parvati learned Raja Yoga – or the royal path – which is the way to identify yourself with who you truly are, instead of misidentifications with the ego and such. It is the way to relieve suffering. This is where the Yoga Sutras come from – Raja Yoga – and this is the 8-limbed path. It is through the practicing of the eight limbs that the practitioner relieves their own suffering. The third limb is the physical postures that we practice today – asanas. The release of suffering is called Samadhi and the practitioner realizes who they really are.
Shiva was eternally devoted to his love and yoga was his offering to her. Parvati saw how could benefit the world and wanted to share it with as many people as possible. Shiva, initially reluctant, finally agreed and the teaching lineage of yoga began.
Fast forward – Shiva was off meditating for years on some mountaintop, as he tends to do. Parvati decided she wanted a son so she created one from clay. As the son grew older and more responsible, she started training how to be a man. One day, Parvati asked her son to guard the entrance to her bathing chamber and not allow anyone in. Shiva came back from his meditations and demanded entry into his wife’s chamber. When the boy refused, Shiva chopped his head off – I guess you could say he had a bit of a temper, huh? As you can imagine, Parvati was not having that and she began to churn with her power to destroy the universe. The gods begged her to slow her roll and she agreed if two conditions were met: her son was brought back to life and accepted as a god. They agreed and the gods brought him back to life and replaced his head with the first living being they saw so now we have the elephant-headed god, Ganesh.
The symbolism of Ganesh is beautiful – his ears are large, thus representing our need to listen. His trunk is so strong that it can hold the weight of many tree trunks but so delicate and sensitive that it can hold a single blade of grass – we need to be sensitive within our strength. He is usually seen with one of his tusks removed because he is said to have broken it off to use it as a pen to transcribe the great Indian epic The Mahabharata (one piece of this is is the Bhagavad Gita, which you may have heard of – it tells the story of Arjuna and Krishna). What would that single tusk mean to you, symbolically? To me, it means we need to look at how we document, how we store our memories, and how we communicate what we’ve learned to benefit the world.
You do realize that YOU are the ONLY person who has your unique gifts, right? You do understand that you’re important and we need you to give us the wisdom you’ve learned, right? It’s not pressure to be something you’re not – this is a call to be exactly who you are.
We act as Ganesh in our own lives by listening, becoming sensitive within our strength, and communicating. Ganesh usually sits in an entry way to honor as a guard of your home and he removes obstacles on your path.
It is said that before worshipping any god, one must pray to Ganesh first – this is why he is the remover of obstacles.
Side note: I bought a big, HEAVY murti of Ganesh in the typical Shiva Lord of the Dance position, with the ring of fire around him, at a workshop I attended on the symbolism of Hindu deities. When I moved to NYC, I gifted it to one of my teachers who is now moving to Seattle. I found out the day after I taught this class that I get to go to Dallas to retrieve him. Road Trip!
This class is available on-demand.