Ganesha chaturthi, legends, and prayers

Table of Contents

  1. Ganesha in the Vedas
  2. Philosophical significance of Ganesha's form
  3. Ganesha legends
  4. The syamantaka jewel
  5. A Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana
  6. 108 names of Ganesha - Ganesha-ashhTottara naamaavalii
  7. Appendix

Ganesha in the Vedas

vakratuNDa mahAkAya sUryakoTisamaprabha
nirvighnaM kuru me deva sarvakAryeshhu sarvadA ||

O Ganapati, One with a curved trunk, a large body, and a brilliance equal to a crore (10 million) suns! O God, please make all my undertakings free from obstacles always.

Ganesha chaturthi occurs on September 16th, this year.

Ganesha or Ganapati is an extremely popular God in India. He is called Vighneshvara or Vighnahartaa, the Lord of and destroyer of obstacles. People mostly worship Him asking for siddhi, success in undertakings, and buddhi, intelligence. He is worshipped before any venture is started. He is also the God of education, knowledge and wisdom, literature, and the fine arts.

Ganesha is also one of the five Gods the worship of whom was popularized by Adi Shankaraacharya; the other four are Vishnu, Shiva, Devi and Surya. The worship of these five deities is called the panchAyatana pUjA. In some cases, a sixth God, Skanda is also worshipped.

The rule for determining the Ganesha chaturthi is as follows:

On any day, if bhAdrapada Shukla chaturthi prevails during the madhyAnha kAla, then Ganesha chaturthi is to be observed on that day. If bhAdrapada Shukla chaturthi prevails during two successive madhyAnha KAlas or if it does not extend over the MadhyAnha KAla of any day, then Ganesha chaturthi is to be observed on the day on which Tritiya ends.

The puja of Ganesha on the Ganesha chaturthi day, extolled in various religious works, is to be performed at noon. A clay image of the God, painted beautifully, is installed on a raised platform. After the usual preliminary rituals, the prANapratishhThA must be done with the appropriate mantras. This prANapratishhThA is done for the purpose of invoking the presence of Ganesha into the image. This is followed by the worship with sixteen modes of showing honor, known as shhoDashopachAra. Offering of dUrvA (grass) blades and modaka, a delicacy prepared from rice flour, jaggery, and coconut, is an important part of the pUjA. Usually, 21 dUrvA blades and 21 modakas are offered to the deity, where the number 21 carries a symbolic meaning. The five jnAnendriyas or organs of perception , the five karmendriyas or organs of action, the five prANas or vital airs, the five bhUtas or elements, and the mind, together comprise 21 parts. The offering of dUrvA blades and the modakas teaches us that we should offer with humility, represented by the dUrvA blades, all the good things in life, represented by the modakas, to God. Ganesha is also offered red flowers, and anointed with a red unguent (rakta chandana). The immersion of the image in a body of water is ceremonially performed at the end of the chaturthi vrata, which could be anywhere from a day upto 10 days (Anantachaturdashi) after the Bhaadrapada Shukla chaturthi, depending on the customs of the particular family.

I will try to describe the Vedic hymns commonly employed in the Ganesha puja.

Rg Veda contains the following verses (R^ich's) in praise of Ganapati. Ganapati is identified with Brahmanaspati or Brihaspati, and, sometimes with Indra or Maghavan, Agni and even Rudra.

gaNAnAn.h tvA gaNapatiM havAmahe kavim kavInAm- upamashravastamaM |
jyeshhTharAjaM brahmaNAn.h brahmaNaspata A naH shR^iNvannUtibhiH sIda sAdanaM || 

(Rg Veda 2.23.1)

We invoke You, O Ganapati of the ganas (troops), Who are Brahmanaspati of the brahmas (prayers), the wisest among the wise, Who abound in treasure beyond all measure, the most brilliant one. Do listen to our prayers, come with Your blessings and assurances of protection into our home, and be seated.

ni shhu sIda gaNapate gaNeshhu tvAmAhurvipratamaM kavInAM |
na R^ite tvat.h kriyate kinchanAre mahAmarkaM maghavan.h chitramarcha || 

(Rg Veda 10.112.9)

Sit down among the troops (or worshippers), O Ganapati, the best sage among the sages. Without You nothing can be done here or far. Accept with honor, O wealthy One, our great and variegated hymns of praise.

(The translation of maghavAn into "wealthy One" (dhanavAn.h) is in accordance with sAyaNAchArya's commentary.)

Both these R^ik's (verses) are part of the Ganesha sukta that is commonly chanted during the puja. The contents of the Ganesha sukta, according to the panchAyatana pUjA manual from Sringeri, is as follows (in order):

Rg Veda Mandala 8, sukta 81, R^ik's 1-9,
Mandala 10 sukta 112 R^ik's 9-10,
and Mandala 2, sukta 23, R^ik 1.

Another sukta that is chanted is the Brahmanaspati sukta, a collection of 62 R^iks selected from different parts of the Rg Veda. This sukta consists of the following R^iks (in order):

Rg Veda Mandala 1 sukta 18 R^iks 1-5,
Mandala 1 sukta 40, R^iks 1-8,
Mandala 2 sukta 23, R^iks 1-19,
Mandala 2 sukta 24, R^iks 1-16,
Mandala 2 sukta 25, R^iks 1-5,
Mandala 2 sukta 26, R^iks 1-4,
Mandala 7 sukta 97, R^ik 3,
Mandala 7 sukta 97, R^ik 9,
Mandala 10 sukta 155, R^iks 2-3,
and Mandala 10 sukta 128, R^ik 11 (khila portion).

By far the most important hymn related to Ganesha upasana is the Ganapati Atharva Shirsha Upanishad. This remarkable upanishad seeks to equate Ganeshavidya with Brahmavidya. For example, it says:

namaste gaNapataye | tvameva pratyakshhaM tat.h tvaM asi |

Tr: Salutations to You Ganapati. You are indeed the perceptible representation of (the Vedic utterance) ``tat tvam asi".

Shri upanishhadbrahma yogin's commentary:

AUM laM oN^kaaralakshhyaturyaruupaM te tubhyaM gaNapataye
namo .astu, aavayoraikyamastvityarthaH | yadvaa laM iti
muulaadhaarabiijaM muulaadhaarasya gaNapatisadanatvaat.h |
yadoN^kaaraarthagaNapatitattvaM lakaaravaachyapaarthivaaMsha-
muulaadhaare vibhaati tasmai lakaaravaachyamuulaadhaarasadanaaya
gaNapataye namo .astviti | ... tvameva shrotraadi pratyakshhaM
pratikaraNaM tattadvishhayapravR^ittinivR^ittinimittatayaa
yachchaitanyaM vartate tattvamasi sarvaniyantaa .asiityarthaH|

AUM laM. I offer obeisances to You Ganapati who are of the form of the turiiya (fourth state), indicated by the Omkara syllable. May there be complete identity between You and me. Or, my obeisances to You who are the Ganapati-tattva, the meaning of the Omkara, who abide in the Muulaadhaara (chakra) as Your abode. This muulaadhaara is indicated by the laM, the seed-syllable of the elemental earth standing for the muulaadhaara. You guide the organs such as that of hearing, and control their respective activity and withdrawal from activity. You are the inner consciousness and the controller of all.


tvameva sarvaM khalvidaM brahmAsi |

Tr: You are the all pervading reality, the Brahman OR You are the representation of the Vedic utterance, "sarvam khalvidam brahma."

The upanishad was commented upon by Sri Upanishad Brahma Yogin, who is said to have been the only commentator on all the 108 upanishads. The GaNapati atharva shiirsha is the most widely recited Sanskrit text among devotees of Ganesha, atleast in Maharashtra. One can find the entire text of the upanishad on the doorway to the temple hall in the aShTavinAyaka temple in Rajangaon. Seven other centers of Ganesha worship in Maharashtra are Morgaon, Thevur, Mahad, Lehyadri, Ojhar, Siddha-tek, and Pali. Five of these 8 centers are located in the vicinity of Pune.

Other relevant upanishads are the Ganeshapurvatapini, Ganeshottaratapini, and Heramba upanishads; these are generally not counted as belonging to the collection of 108 upanishads.

Just as there are Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shaktas, Sauras, and Skandas, attached to the worship of respective deities, there are Ganapatyas, who are ardent devotees of Ganesha. One can find them mainly in Maharashtra, which has long been associated with Ganesha worship.

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Philosophical significance of Ganesha's form

Ganesha's elephantine head and human body are explained as follows in the Mudgala Purana:

tvaMpadaM narashcha tatpadaM gajashcha etayorabhedAtmako
gaNeshadehaH pratyakshhabrahmAtmakatvAt.h ||

Ganesha's human body representing "tvam", His elephantine countenance representing "tat" and their joining together signifies the nondifference of "tvam" (You) and "tat" (Brahman). Thus, the body of Ganesha is the visible representation of the highest reality, Brahman, realized from "tat tvam  asi."

Another explanation has it that Ganesha's head signifies Atman the Highest Reality, while the body below the neck represents mAyA, the principle of phenomenal existence. The Atman's involvement with the world is characterized by the assumption of mind and speech.

Ganesha's ears, which appear like large winnowing baskets, have a philosophical significance too. Just as one uses a winnowing basket to separate grains from dirt, one must use discrimination (viveka) to separate the real (Brahman) from the unreal (mAyA) in life. Here the grains stand for Brahman and the dirt signifies mAyA. Or, Ganesha's ears indicate that such discrimination between Brahman and mAyA is to be gained by taking recourse to shravaNa or hearing. Listening to the scriptures from a Guru will lead to proper discrimination and Brahman realization.

GaNapati's vehicle is the rat, although a form called Heramba-GaNapati is depicted as riding a lion. There are also rare references to the peacock as the vehicle in some texts.

The significance of the rat (muushhaka) as the vehicle of Ganesha is explained by the Mudgala Purana.

IshvaraH sarvabhoktaa cha choravattatra saMsthitaH
sa eva muushhakaH prokto manujaanaaM prachaalakaH
maayayaa guuDharuupaH san.h bhogaan.h bhuN^kte hi choravat.h ||

The Lord (Ganesha) resides in all things and experiences everything. He is called muushhaka because He operates unseen like a thief, concealed by maayaa, and experiences all phenomena.

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Ganesha Legends

Perhaps the most popular story regarding Ganesha's origin is the one derived from the Shiva Purana. Mother Parvati once wanted to take a bath and created a boy from the dirt of Her own body, asking him to stand as a guard outside while She bathed. In the meantime Lord Shiva returned home to find a stranger at His door, preventing Him from entering. In anger, Shiva cut off the boy's head, upon which Parvati was stricken with great grief. In order to console Her, Shiva sent out His troops (gaNa) to fetch the head of anyone found sleeping with his head pointing to the north. They found an elephant sleeping thus and brought back its head. Shiva then attached the elephantine head to the body of the boy and revived him. He named the boy Ganapati or commander of His troops, and granted Him a boon that anyone would have to worship Him (Ganesha) before beginning any undertaking.

The Brahma vaivarta Purana narrates a different story regarding the origin of Ganapati. Shiva instructed Parvati, who wanted to have a son, to observe the puNyaka vrata for a year to propitiate Vishnu.

harer ArAdhanaM kR^itvA vrataM kuru varAngane |
vrataM cha puNyakam nAma varshhamekaM karishhyasi ||

O Beautiful Goddess! Perform the worship of Hari by observing the punyaka vrata for a year.

vratasyAsya prabhAveNa svayaM gopAnganeshvaraH |
IshvaraH sarvabhUtAnAM tava putro bhavishhyati ||

The Lord of Gopikas, the Lord of all beings, Krishna Himself will be born as your son, as a result of the vrata.

On completion of the vrata by Parvati, it was announced that Krishna would incarnate Himself as Her son in every kalpa. Accordingly, Krishna was born as a charming infant, delighting Parvati who celebrated the event with great enthusiasm. All the Gods arrived to have a look at the baby. But Shani, the son of Surya, did not look at him and stared at the ground instead. Upon Parvati's questioning regarding his behavior, Shani said that his look would harm the baby. Parvati, however, insisted that he should look at the baby. In deference to Her wish Shani cast his eyes on the baby. Due to his malevolent glance, the baby's head was severed and flew to Goloka, the abode of Krishna. Parvati and all the Gods assembled there, including Shiva, were grief-stricken. Thereupon, Vishnu mounted Garuda and rushed to the banks of the Pushpa-bhadra river and brought back the head of a young elephant. The head of the elephant was joined with the headless body of Parvati's son, reviving him. All the Gods blessed Ganesha and wished Him power and prosperity.

Vishnu blessed Ganesha thus:

sarvAgre tava pUjA cha mayA dattA surottama |
sarvapUjyagashcha yogIndro bhava vatsetyuvAcha taM ||

O Excellent God! O dear one! May Your pUjA be performed before that of any other God. May You be situated in all venerable beings and may You be the best among Yogis. This is My boon to You.

Shiva made Ganesha the leader of his troops (gaNa), and also gave Him the following boon.

gaNeshapUjane vighnaM nirmUlaM jagatAM bhavet.h |
nirvyAdhiH sUryapUjAyAM shuciH shrIvishhNupUjane ||

All obstacles, whatever they may be, will be rooted out by worshipping Ganesha, even as diseases are cured by the worship of Surya and purity results when Vishnu is worshiped.

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The syamantaka jewel

It is said that anyone who looks at the moon on the night of the Ganesh Chaturthi will be falsely charged with theft or a similar crime. If someone inadvertently sees the moon on this night, he/she may remedy the situation by listening to (or reciting) the story of the syamantaka jewel. This story may be found in the Puranas such as the Bhagavata and the Vishnu. Briefly, Satrajit, who secured a jewel syamantaka from Surya, did not part with it even when Krishna the Lord of Dvaraka, asked for it saying it would be safe with Him. Prasena, the brother of Satrajit went out hunting wearing the jewel but was killed by a lion. Jambavan of Ramayana fame killed the lion and gave it to his son to play with. When Prasena did not return, Satrajit falsely accused Krishna of killing Prasena for the sake of the jewel. Krishna, in order to remove the stain on His reputation, set out in search of the jewel and found it in Jambavan's cave, with his child. Jambavan attacked Krishna thinking Him to be an intruder who had come to take away the jewel. They fought each other for 28 days, when Jambavan, his whole body terribly weakened from the hammering of Krishna's fists, finally recognized Him as Rama. 

jAne tvAM sarvabhUtAnAM prANa ojah saho balaM |
vishhNuM purANapurushhaM prabhavishhNumadhIshvaraM ||

I now know You. You are the life in all creatures, virility, grit and strength. You are Vishnu, the Primeval Lord, All-prevailing, the Supreme Lord (of the worlds). (Bhagavata 10.56.26) and,

setuH kR^itaH svayasha ujjvalitA cha lankA rakshhaH shirAMsi bhuvi peturishhukshhatAni ||

He Who built a bridge (across the ocean) that is a standing monument to His fame, set Lanka ablaze, and with His arrows severed the heads of Rakshasas, which fell to the ground.

As repentance for his having fought Krishna, Jambavan gave Krishna the jewel and also his daughter Jambavati in marriage. Krishna returned to Dvaraka with Jambavati and the jewel, and returned it Satrajit, who in turn repented for his false accusation. He promptly offered to give Krishna the jewel and his daughter Satyabhama in marriage. Krishna accepted Satyabhama as His wife but did not accept the jewel. 

In the event that one is not even able to listen to or read the story, the following mantra may be recited holding some water in the palm of the right hand. The water is then to be sipped.

siMhaH prasenamavadhIt.h siMho jAmbavatA hataH |
sukumAraka mA rodIH tava hyeshha syamantakaH ||

A lion killed Prasena; the lion was killed by Jambavan. Don't cry, O dear child! This syamantaka jewel is yours.

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A Ganesha stotra from the Narada Purana

nArada uvAca:

Narada said:

praNamya shirasA devaM gaurIputraM vinAyakaM |
bhaktAvaasaM smaren.h nityaM AyuH kAmArthasiddhaye || 1 ||

One should bow the head and offer obeisance before the son of Gauri, Vinayaka, whose abode is the devotees, and remember Him always for the purpose of obtaining longevity, and desired objects (prosperity).

prathamaM vakratuNDaM cha ekadantaM dvitIyakaM |
tR^itIyaM kR^ishhNapi.ngAkshhaM gajavaktraM chaturthakaM || 2 ||

(Now the twelve names of Ganesha are mentioned. One must utter) first the name Vakratunda, One with a curved trunk, second ekadanta, the single-tusked One, third Krishnapingaksha, the black and red-eyed One, fourth gajavaktra, the God with the face of an elephant,

lambodaraM panchamaM cha shhashhThaM vikaTameva cha |
saptamaM vighnarAjaM cha dhUmravarNaM tathAshhTamaM || 3 ||

fifth lambodara, the God with a large belly, sixth vikata, the gigantic One, seventh vighnaraja, the Lord (and destroyer) of obstacles, dhumravarna, the smoky-colored God,

navamaM bhAlachandraM cha dashamaM tu vinAyakaM |
ekAdashaM gaNapatiM dvAdashaM tu gajAnanaM || 4 ||

ninth bhalachandra, One whose forehead is adorned by the moon, tenth, vinayaka, the great leader (of Shiva's army), eleventh, ganapati, the lord of (Shiva's) gaNas, and twelfth gajanana, the elephant-faced One.

dvAdashaitAni nAmAni trisandhyaM yaH paThen.h naraH |
na cha vighnabhayaM tasya sarvasiddhikaraM prabho || 5 ||

Anyone who chants these twelve names during the three sandhyas (morning twilight, noon, evening twilight), will not experience any obstacles, and will achieve all successes, O Lord (Ganesha)!

vidyArthI labhate vidyAM dhanArthI labhate dhanaM |
putrArthI labhate putrAn.h mokshhArthI labhate gatiM || 6 ||

One who desires knowledge (vidyA) gets it; one who desires wealth gets it; one who desires sons will have sons; one who desires moksha attains it.

japed.h gaNapatistotraM shhaDbhir.h mAsaiH phalaM labhet.h |
saMvatsareNa siddhiM cha labhate nAtra saMshayaH || 7 ||

One gets desired results if this Ganapati stotra is chanted everyday for six months; a complete success is assured undoubtedly, within a year.

ashhTabhyo brAhmaNebhyashcha likhitvA yaH samarpayet.h |
tasya vidyA bhavet.h sarvA gaNeshasya prasAdataH || 8 ||

Anyone who writes this stotra and presents it to eight Brahmins, will obtain all kinds of knowledge, by the grace of Lord Ganesha.

iti nAradapurANe sankaTanAshanagaNeshastotram sampUrNaM ||

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108 names of Ganesha - Ganesha-ashhTottara naamaavalii

The recitation of each name is to be preceded by the AUM syllable,
and to be followed by namaH. For example, AUM vinaayakaaya namaH.

1. vinaayakaaya 2. vighnaraajaaya 3. gauriiputraaya 4. gaNeshvaraaya
5. skandaagrajaaya 6. avyayaaya 7. puutaaya 8. dakshhaadhyakshhaaya
9. dvijapriyaaya 10. agnigarvachhide 11. indrashriipradaaya
12. vaaNiibalapradaaya 13. sarvasiddhipradaaya 14. sharvatanayaaya
15. sharvariipriyaaya 16. sarvaatmakaaya 17. sR^ishhTikartre
18. devaaniikaarchitaaya 19. shivaaya 20. shuddhaaya 21. buddhipriyaaya
22. shaantaaya 23. brahmachaariNe 24. gajaananaaya 25. dvaimaaturaaya
26. munistutyaaya 27. bhaktavighnavinaashanaaya 28. ekadantaaya
29. chaturbaahave 30. shaktisamyutaaya 31. chaturaaya 32. lambodaraaya
33. shuurpakarNaaya 34. herambaaya 35. brahmavittamaaya 36. kaalaaya
37. grahapataye 38. kaamine 39. somasuuryaagnilochanaaya
40. paashaaN^kushadharaaya 41. chaNDaaya 42. guNaatiitaaya
43. niraJNjanaaya 44. akalmashaaya 45. svayaMsiddhaarchitapadaaya
46. biijapuurakaaya 47. avyaktaaya 48. gadine 49. varadaaya
50. shaashvataaya 51. kR^itine 52. vidvatpriyaaya 53. viitabhayaaya
54. chakriNe 55. ikshhuchaapadhR^ite 56. abjotpalakaraaya
57. shriishaaya 58. shriipataye 59. stutiharshhitaaya
60. kalaadribhR^ite 61. jaTine 62. chandrachuuDaaya 63. amareshvaraaya
64. naagayajnopaviitine 65. shriikaNThaaya 66. raamaarchitapaadaaya
67. vratine 68. sthuulakaNThaaya 69. trayiikartre 70. saamaghoshhapriyaaya
71. purushhottamaaya 72. sthuulatuNDaaya 73. agragaNyaaya
74. graamaNye 75. gaNapaaya 76. sthiraaya 77. vR^iddhidaaya
78. subhagaaya 79. shuuraaya 80. vaagiishaaya 81. siddhidaayakaaya
82. duurvaabilvapriyaaya 83. kaantaaya 84. paapahaariNe 85. kR^itaagamaaya
86. samaahitaaya 87. vakratuNDaaya 88. shriipradaaya 89. saumyaaya
90. bhaktakaaN^kshhitadaaya 91. achyutaaya 92. kevalaaya 93. siddhaaya
94. sachchidaanandavigrahaaya 95. jnaanine 96. maayaayuktaaya
97. daantaaya 98. brahmishhThaaya 99. bhayavarjitaaya
100. pramattadaityabhayadaaya 101. vyaktamuurtaye 102. amuurtaaya
103. paarvatiisha.nkarotsaN^gakhelanotsavalaalanaaya
104. samastajagadaadhaaraaya 105. muushhakavaahanaaya
106. hR^ishhTastutaaya 107. prasannaatmane
108. sarvasiddhipradaayakaaya

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After Lord Ganesha has been duly worshipped according to Vedic methods, an Arati or waving of lights is performed. Sometimes the song sung during this ceremony is in the regional language. It is customary to sing the following Sanskrit verses after the song:

kAyena vAchA manasendriyairvA buddhyAtmnA vA prakR^iteH svabhAvAt.h |
karomi yadyat.h sakalaM parasmai nArAyaNAyeti samarpayAmi ||

achyutaM keshavaM rAmanArAyaNaM
kR^ishhNadAmodaraM vAsudevaM hariM |
shriidharaM mAdhavaM gopikAvallabhaM
jAnakInAyakaM rAmachandraM bhaje ||

hare rAma hare rAma rAma rAma hare hare |
hare kR^ishhNa hare kR^ishhNa kR^ishhNa kR^ishhNa hare hare ||

This is then followed by the mantrapushhpaM.

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|| shrI kR^ishhNArpaNamastu ||
Revised: October 22, 2001 .