Elephants were the most powerful, unstoppable animals known to the ancient Indians so its no surprise that Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is one of the most worshiped deities of the Hindu pantheon. What is quite surprising is the genius with which the deity was conceived. While I do not possess a complete grasp of the epistemology, I’ll attempt to deconstruct several salient aspects of Lord Ganesh.
All Hindu deities are rich in mythology, philosophy, and symbolism. The mythology is most accessible to the masses, and conveys moralistic ideas meant to encourage behaviors for a stable and happy society. In the case of Lord Ganesh, one key moral conveyed through the mythology is respect for one’s parents. The lesson comes through a story where Ganesh triumphs over his younger brother, Kartikeya (aka Skanda aka Murugan, the god of war) in a ‘race around the world’ by circumambulating his parents and conveying that his parents are his world while Kartikeya tries to circumnavigate the globe.
The philosophy of the deities is accessible to the educated and intellectual class, and conveys psychological ideas or concepts meant to be contemplated or meditated upon to reveal the nature of the mind, mind-body complex, or beyond mind-body construct. Exploration of this dimension often necessitates navigating between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ experience, into and out of the uniquely personal and rational.
In yoga philosophy, Lord Ganesh is the ruler of the muladhara chakra at the base the cerebrospinal axis, and is the remover of obstacles in life and the spiritual path. To validate or appreciate this idea beyond blind acceptance as a (bizarre or unusual) religious belief requires submission to a specialized and specific discipline of internal investigation, usually through meditation.
The symbolism of a deity conveys wisdom, and relates to the processes the wise engage in to eradicate personal and collective suffering, and move towards liberation or enlightenment. These aspects of a deity are often the most subtle, and while the intellectual classes may be able to decode or interpret the symbolism, only those who have walked the path have the subjective experience of the truth or natural law being conveyed. One symbolic aspect of Lord Ganesh is his vehicle: a mouse. The whisper of wisdom behind this symbol hints that the largest, most powerful things depend on the smallest, most seemingly trivial things.
Put in another way, Ganesh is the juggernaut of a revolutionary event or phenomenon in black swan theory, while his mouse is all the little things we overlooked that brought us to toward the unexpected inevitability. The elephant power of Ganesh is the emergent properties arising from the interaction and interference of tiny things.
The wisdom of Ganesh is about the power of small as one of the most significant and overlooked forces for personal and collective evolution (or destruction). His mouse is a reminder to subdue the ego which seeks the grand and personal, and recognize that the unstoppable co-creation manifesting in small ways from moment to moment is a process for which no individual, no matter how brilliant or powerful (or diabolical), can take full credit. Simultaneously, this wisdom says that if you want this unstoppable ‘elephant power’ behind you, then the small and humble processes of the mouse are its vehicle.
There are many other symbols, philosophies, and mythologies concerning Ganesh and the degree to which even one deity can be explored is utterly staggering, further speaking to the genius of their conception. As with all Hindu deities, they are rich with microcosmic depth which reveals macrocosmic reality and open to a wide range of subjective and objective interpretation, so any exploration of the wisdom of Ganesh must necessarily be only the tip of the iceberg.