This week marked the beginning of Ganesha Chaturthi, a 10-day festival celebrating one of the most ubiquitous deities in Hinduism, Lord Ganesh.
The timing seemed right to launch a new series of posts exploring the history and mythology behind the Hindu Pantheon, i.e. those multi-armed gods and goddesses whose images or icons might be in your yoga studio, printed on your mat or screened on to your leggings.
Lord Ganesh is considered the god of new beginnings. He’s often invoked at the start of projects or ventures, so he’s an appropriate kick-off subject; plus, the riotous festival taking place in his name this week (pictured above) celebrates his birthday, so we had to give him a little love.
Ganesh’s origins are appropriately incredible. Here’s one of his many creation myths:
Longing for a son, the Goddess Parvati created Ganesh from clay that she moulded into the shape of a boy. Shortly after creating him, Parvati enlisted Ganesh to guard the door to her bathhouse while she bathed. When Shiva, Parvati’s husband, returned and demanded access to his wife, Ganesh denied him entry. Enraged at his impudence, Shiva cut off his head. Hearing all the commotion, Parvati emerged from her bathhouse and furiously reproached her husband for killing their son. Shiva ordered that a new head be found for the boy and promised to bring him back to life. The first available animal was an elephant, so that was the head Ganesh received. A deity was born.
Given his start in the world it’s not surprising that Ganesh is known as the remover of obstacles. There are no yoga poses named after him, but his perseverance and calmness in the face of challenge is applicable on the mat and off. And Ganesh’s unusual elephant head is a lesson about the ego: Without his original head Ganesh represents not the individual self but the larger, universal Self. He is able to see beyond his own experience, another benefit of a regular yoga practice that extends beyond asana.
Stay tuned for more history lessons on other Hindu gods and goddesses, some of the original yogis.