The stories of the manifestations of Lord Ganesh appear in a number of Mahapuranas , but in greater detail in four of them, viz., Linga, Padma, Shiva and Brahmavaivarta Puranas, and also in two of the Upa-Puranas, namely the Ganesh and Mudgala Puranas. Contents of these stories vary from Purana to Purana. Yet all of them are valid and acceptable to devotees as well as to the contemplative minds because of the Truth that underlies each narration. Truth is at all times logical, though logic by itself may not always be able to reach out to It, or prove It through its frail framework. While reading the Puranic stories, therefore, we should not try to tally the construction of the stories with the logic familiar to us, but try to delve deep into the stories and grasp the Essence, and then discover the logic that runs down through the narrations. These stories from various Puranas and their esoteric imports are narrated below :
Stories from The Maha Puranas
1. Linga Purana
The gods were desperate in the heavens. The problem was that all the good works they wanted to do were consistently met with obstacles from all sides whereas whatever mean and unholy acts that the demons performed were always met with success. The gods gathered together and invoked the Almighty Shiva. Brihaspati, their preceptor, spoke to the Lord on behalf of the Devas : "0 Merciful One ! Thou art so kind and great that Thou bestoweth all the boons which the Asuras (demons) ask for; and the Devas are put to great trouble by the sinful acts of their evil-minded cousins, the demons So we entreat Thee to be merciful to us and create obstacles in all the evil schemes of the demons".
The Lord said : "Be it so!' and glanced at His divine consort, Uma, whereupon an effulgent form manifested in front of them, in the form of a child which had the face of an elephant, holding a trident in one hand and a rope in the other. As soon as the divine child manifested, the hearts of the Devas were filled with joy and serenity, and they prostrated at his feet Mother Uma bedecked Her son with lovely clothes and ornaments and Lord Shiva arranged for all the Jaata Karmas (ceremonies performed after the birth of a child). He then took the child on His lap, embraced him and said : 'You have incarnated to fulfil the desires of the Devas and to bring destruction to the evil-minded demons. Wherever you find that organisers of collective endeavour (Yagnas) do not properly reward the performers, please see to it that their efforts do not bear any fruit.
Those who wish to propitiate Me or My all powerful aspects tike Vishnu, Brahma or Indra to get their desires fulfilled, shall have to first invoke your grace by offering worship to you the very beginning. Those who worship other gods without first invoking your blessings, will meet with failure in their efforts." The divine child "Bala Ganapathy" thereafter created the 'Vighna Ganas", (hosts of obstacles in the form of Ganas) and together with them prostrated at the feet of the Lord and took His position by the side of the Father.
The Devas and Asuras exist in our own minds. When our pro-occupation is with the objective world which is perceived as separate from us- and which we want to exploit and rule over for our own pleasure and fulfillment of our baser desires, we procreate in our own dual-natured minds (Diti), the host of Asuras or demons. The 'duai-natuts’ refers to our belief that the world is on one side and we are on the other, and that the world is to be subjugated and kept under our feet so that we can draw our maximum benefit or pleasure from it. It does not matter what happens to the world, but we must get our share (for which there is no limit 1) of pleasure and satisfaction out of it- For fulfilling this, we are prepared to go to any extent, perform any act or propitiate any deity. This is typical of the Asuric nature.
On the other hand, when we develop the capacity to understand that we are a part of the world, and develop a sensitivity to feel for the pains and pleasures of others, to willingly sacrifice for the benefit of others, we procreate in our own non-dual minds (Aditi) the hosts of Devas, the angels of beauty and perfection, of tolerance and love.
The Devas and Asuras, the noble and ignoble tendencies, always exist in us, and they are ever at loggerheads with each other. Both of them derive their strength and vitality from our own selves, by the very weight age we give them during our transactions at the mental or physical levels. The path of the evil tendencies is like the icy slopes over which man can slide down with least effort. The pull of the divine tendencies is felt only at the beginning of the slide-down, but once the momentum is gained, such people of Asuric nature become totally insensitive to all the nobler promptings within them.
The path of the noble ones is, on the other hand, like the steep climbing over the icy ridges. At every step the pull of the demonic forces is felt and every moment they are to be alert and vigilant to avoid a slip and fall. They are extremely sensitive to their nobler nature and widely awake to their own devilish tendencies.
The Asuras never bother about obstacles; they dash against the obstacles that come on their way, and either smash them or get smashed by them. The Devas on the other hand are sensitive enough to realise their own worth and want to overcome the obstacles instead of getting crushed by them. And so they approach the Lord, who in turn provides them with an altar at which they can invoke the required strength and discrimination to overcome the obstacles. The elephant-head of Ganesh represents the limitless strength and potential of His intellectual prowess. The trident (Trishul) in His hands represents the power to overcome three gunas (Tamas, Rajas and Satwa) which envelope all beings in spiritual ignorance. The rope in the other hand represents His power to control the Asuric tendencies by casting a noose around the villainous forces which, if let loose, threaten to destroy alt good intentions and noble actions.
Thus, the Lord of Obstacles, Lord Ganesh was born, to bless all good undertakings and create hindrances in all sinful schemes.
2. Padma Puran
Padma Purana gives the following account of Lord Ganesh's birth:
After the marriage of Mother Parvati with Lord Shiva. they spent their days together, moving about in lovely gardens and lonely woods. Parvati's deep devotion for Shiva was reciprocated by the Lord's deep attachment for His divine consort.
One day, while absorbed in ecstatic Bliss, Mother Parvati anointed Her body with fragrant oil and powder. And with the perspiration that came off Her body. She created a male form with an elephant's head. She took this creation of Hers and playfully lowered it in the waters of the celestial river Ganga, the second divine consort of Lord Shiva. The moment it was immersed, the form became alive and grew into a big and powerful Being, extremely handsome and resplendant with spiritual glory. Mother Parvati addressed him as "My Son!". Ganga also called the new-born as Her son. The gods and Rishis paid their obeissance to the elephant-faced deity and addressed Him as "Gangeya". the son of Ganga. Lord Brahma the Greater bestowed on Him lordship over the Ganas (the vast group of attendants who always follow Shiva) and consecrated Him as "Ganapathy"* and he became worshipful by everyone in all the three worlds.
Mother Parvati is the embodiment of the Universal Mind. Parvati means Parva-vathy, one having the three Pirvas or aspects. The three Parvas are: Knowledge, Will and Action. She is the Universal Mother who has created all that are seen and experienced by us, meaning alt creations take place when the three factors of Knowledge, Will (or Desire) and Action combine together harmoniously.
These three factors, however, by themselves cannot mingle tOQether and create anything unless the fourth factor, namely Consciouness or Chit enlivens them. So Parvati is wedded to Lord Shiva, the Chit-Swaroopa. Thereafter She moves about with Her Lord, and soon She is lost in the divine Ecstatic Bliss of Consciousness, the Bliss of Meditation, when the finite is absorbed in the Infinite.
In the microcosmic level, Parvati represents our own minds, which finds total fulfillment in the consummate bliss of meditation. This is the state of Samadhi of the Yogis the state of supreme realization. After coming down from the absolute state of Samadhi, when the Yogi of self-realization moves about in the ecstatic mood of unbroken spiritual awareness, he is no more the limited man of the world, but a mass of Consciousness embodied in the limited form of a body. He is the "fragrance of the earth". Whatever he puts on himself gathers the fragrance of the spirit, and whatever emanates from him, is soaked with the bliss and wisdom of the spirit. And whatever he brings out, he will naturally mould it symbolically in the very image of his altar of adoration, the Supreme Purusha realized and experienced by him in his meditations.
Thus in Her ecstatic mood of Bliss, the very "perspiration" of spiritual exhilaration that rolls off the "body" of the Mother of the Universe is saturated with divinity, and in a playful mood She moulds it in the very image of the Lord of Her Heart in the form of the "Purusha", and gives it the "head" of an elephant which alone could satisfy Her concept of the Lord as having unlimited power and wisdom, and of auspicious appearance.
This form is dipped in the celestial river Ganga, and suddenly it grows in size and becomes fully alive and resplendent. Ganga represents dynamic divine knowledge. It is not a static mass of inert knowledge, useful only as a piece of decoration. It is not the passive lovable knowledge of goody-goody moralists, but the dynamic livable wisdom of the Rishis. The very word 'Ganga' speaks of the dynamism implied in it. Gam Gamiti Ganga. "Gam" means that which moves. Thus it is not only necessary that we form a symbolic image of the Lord realised in our deep meditations but also enliven and sanctify it by soaking it in the eternal flow of knowledge set in motion by the wise ancestors, which has not lost its way in the dreary desert of dry reason, but has majestically swept its course into the ever widening sea of thought and action, of spiritual wisdom and God realisation.
Thus Ganesh is born, the very replica of the Lord of the Universal Mother's Heart. He is naturally the most auspicious representation of the Supreme, at once a symbol of immaculate spiritual experience and an altar of perfection to be invoked for all success.
3. Shiva Purana
The origin of Lord Ganesh is described in Shiva Purana, in more or less the same manner as in Padma Purana, but imaginatively enlarged to include some more aspects which provide an absorbing story both to the layman as well as to the contemplative ones. It also implies a caution that if our "Creations' stem from the promptings of ego-centredness (instead of from the inspiration of divine bliss as in the previous story), the imperfections of such creations would have to be removed with "ruthless mercy". The story goes thus :
Jaya and Vijaya, the two divinely beautiful maidens attending on Mother Parvati, once approached her and told : 'Generally, all the Ganas are more loyal to Lord Shiva than to you. Though they do not neglect us, we feel that we should have a very powerful Gana for ourselves, who will be implicitly loyal to you.'' Sri Parvati heard them but kept silent. Now, Kailas, the abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati, is a place of pilgrimage for all devas, rishis, ganas and others. They reach in their hordes there, to worship and to sing praises of the Lord and to obtain fulfilment of their desires. They spread all over the place, setting their camps in the vast open spaces in Kailas.
One day. Mother Parvati wanted to refresh Herself by taking a cool bath in the large bathing pool in Kailas. She summoned Nandi, the Chief of the Ganas and told him to guard the entrance of the bathing pool, so that no one would wander into that area and disturb Her. So, Nandi stood guard, and the Mother entered the pond and began Her bath. A little while after. Lord Shiva Himself came there. Nandi told Him in all reverence about the Mother's instructions, but the Lord brushed it aside as silly and went straight to the pool. Parvati was abashed to see the Lord in front of Her. She recollected the promptings of her attendants Jaya and Vijaya, and decided to create a Gana who would be absolutely loyal to her.
On a later occasion, when Parvati wanted to have a bath, she rolled out of Her body some dust and out of it created a handsome and powerful male form, and enlivened it with Her spiritual power. "You are My son," she said to him, "and extremely dear to Me ! Please stand guard for Me at the entrance of this bathing pond and allow none whomsoever to come in without My permission." She gave him a stout stick and endowed him with Her powers.
After some time. Lord Shiva came that way. The guard stopped Him and refused permission to go in. The Lord said : "What a fool are you ? I am the Lord of Mother Parvati and
this is My own house and bathing pool. Who are you to refuse permission to Me to enter My own place!" The guard said : "You may be anybody. But I have instructions to allow none to enter here. “The Lord was amused and he retreated a few steps and stood there. He asked His Ganas to find out who the new guard was. They went and asked him : "Who are you ? Wherefrom are you and what are your intentions 7" The guard replied : "I am the attendant of Mother Parvati, and I am here on Her instructions to guard the entrance to the pond. You have come here on your lord's instructions to remove me and make way for him. But please note that you will not succeed in your plan." A confrontation, therefore, became inevitable. And in the battle that followed. Lord Shiva cut the head of the guard with His trident. Mother Parvati came out only to see Her dear son lying headless.
Overcome by anger and sorrow, she went about destroying everything that came on Her path. The gods and rishis shuddered with fear and confusion. They assembled together and started praising the Mother with divine hymns. She calmed down a bit, but told them that She would be happy only when Her son was restored to life. It was not possible to stitch back the head smashed by Lord Shiva's trident. So Shiva sent out His Ganas with an instruction that they should cut out and bring the head of the first living being which is seen lying with its head pointing towards the North. During their search, they first found an elephant sleeping with its head towards the North, cut it out and brought it with post haste to Kailasa. Lord Shiva joined the head of the elephant with the truncated body of the guard and imparted life to it. The form immediately became a very handsome divine child. Mother Parvati was extremely pleased and took Her son in Her lap and blessed him. Thus was Ganesh, the elephant-headed god born.
Kailasa is the serene world of our own bosom, and Mother Parvati is our creative mind, ever in communion with Lord
Shiva, the auspicious flame of Consciousness in us. The mind which gets clogged and fatigued with endless engagements and consequent agitations when turned outward is refreshed when turned inward, by the cool bath of contemplation and meditation. At that time we strip ourselves of all the countenances that we had put on in the course of our various engagements in the outer world in various capacities, and abide by ourselves in our true nature* At this time, it is but natural that we do not want any agitations to disturb us, and so we keep a part of our own mind as a trusted attendant to keep guard at the entrance of our mental pool, so that the hordes of desires, anxieties, ambitions and so on are denied entry to it.
Normally a contemplative mind would know intuitively the approach of the Master who walks in freely to caress the mind and freshen it up by His gentle touch. But when the mind is dull due to extroverted ness, it is natural at such times that its own self resolution keeping guard at the entrance of the mental pool, will, out of sheer short sightedness or adamancy, deny entry to, or even pick up a squabble with, the ennobling and divinizing thought currents which breeze in to ventilate and freshen up our bosom. In the ease of a really sincere seeker, the Lord of the Heart removes the adamancy of such imperfect mental resolution (represented in the story by the head of the guard), and replaces it with one that points to the "North"—the direction of positive progress and enlightenment.
Thus Lord creates Gajanana, the Deity with a strong body fixed with a refined intellect, positively good and divinely glorious. He has no more delusions and is ever calm and vigilant. He is the darling of Parvati, the Goddess of the finite and the dear son of the all-pervading Lord of Auspiciousness, Shiva, and therefore h-le combines in Him both worldly prosperity and heavenly perfection.
4. Brahmavaivarta Purana
In Brahmavaivarta Purana, the story of the origin of Ganesh is narrated in a more fascinating manner. Briefly, the story goes thus :
After Her marriage with Lord Shiva, Mother Parvati spent a long long time in joyful ecstasy in the company of the Lord. One day, the divine Mother told the Lord : "I wish to have a noble son." The Lord thought for a while and said : "Well, your wish is indeed a sacred one. But for begetting a truly noble son, you will have to observe a vow named ‘Punyaka' for one full year." He then instructed in detail the manner in which the vow was to be observed. An auspicious day was fixed for the commencement of the vow. Hearing the glad news that the Universal Mother is going to undertake a Vrata for begetting a noble son, the gods and goddesses, rishis and other denizens of the heavens made a bee-line to Kailas, the abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati, and offered their good wishes for its success. Lord Vishnu also reached Kailas with His entourage and blessed Parvati. The celestial sage Sanatkumara offered his services as the presiding priest for the year-long function. The vow started at the auspicious moment.
In due course, the period of one year was over and Parvati was happy that everything went well. The time for offering Dakshina (reward) to the presiding priest came, after which the Vrata could be ceremoniously concluded. Sanatkumara made an unexpected demand: he wanted Lord Shiva Himself to be given away in Dakshina, Parvati was aghast at this impossible demand. She tried her best to please him by offering numberless valuable articles, but Sanatkumara was adamant. "Either give me your Lord, or be prepared to conclude the Vrata without offering Dakshina which would mean that the effect of the year-long austerity stands nullified," he said. When the Mother was at Her wit's end to know what to do. Lord Vishnu counselled Her to give away Lord Shiva at first, and then take Him back by offering him one lakh of cows.
Heeding the advice. Mother Uma gave away Her Lord in Dakshina and concluded the Vrata ceremoniously. Thereafter She offered him one lakh of cows in exchange for Her Lord. "What do we want a lakh of cows for?" he said, and refused to part with Lord Shiva.
The situation became very bad. Mother Uma fainted at the thought of losing Her Lord for ever, without Whom it was impossible for Her even to live, much less to bring out any progeny. She prepared to give up life and said Her last prayers to Lord Krishna, Her favourite deity. At that time Lord Krishna appeared in the heavens above and at His very sight alt Her sorrows disappeared, and all Her desires were fulfilled. Seeing the divine form of Krishna and Mother Parvati's power of penance, the gods approached Sanatkumara and persuaded him to hand over Lord Shiva back to Parvati. This was done without any resistance by him.
The Mother was extremely happy and rewarded lavishly all those who came to attend the ceremony. At that time an old tottering figure of a Brahmin appeared there and he cried out in anguish: “Give me food, please. I am extremely hungry." Lord Shiva and Parvati rushed to the old man and addressed him thus : "0 resplendent Brahmin, we are blessed to have you with us. Please tell us what you want.' The Brahmin said : "Feed me with all the varieties of delicious food you have prepared here. Feed me to such an extent that I shall become pot-bellied. Clothe me with all the rare silks you have gathered here. Place me on the golden throne that you have made for me. Adorn me with all ornaments. Initiate me into the sacred mantras of Lord Hari so that I will develop unflinching devotion to Him. 0 Mother! what is there which a mother cannot give her son ?' so saying the old Brahmin disappeared from their view. Mother Parvati wanted to serve and entertain the old Brahmin, but before She could utter anything he had disappeared. She was very upset. At that time, a heavenly voice was heard: "Mother of the Universe, please go and look into your bed.
Your son is already born." Hearing this the Mother rushed to Her room and found a divinely beautiful son lying in the bed, kicking up his little hands and legs in the air.
There was no limit to Mother Parvati's joy. The whole Kailas resounded with the sounds of divine instruments and music. One by one all the gods and goddesses came to have a look at the new born son,' resplendent like the rising sun, the reward of Mother Parvati's penance. They all praised the child and the parents.
Among those who came to pay their obeissance was Saturn, the son of Sun deity, who is generally regarded as the lord of miseries. After paying his respects, he stood with his face turned away from Parvati who was seated on a throne with Her divine son in the lap. The Mother was a little intrigued by the manner in which Saturn was standing before Her, and she said : i, y blessings to you. But why are you standing there like that, with your eyes turned away from Me ? Why don't you look at Me and My son?" Saturn said, "0 Mother, I can't. I am really in a predicament. I wish to obey Thee and look at the divine child on Thy lap, but by doing so, I shall cause misery to You.
I have a curse on me that whomever I look upon will have his head cut-off by the mere look. I was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna from my very childhood and was not interested in mundane life. But my father married me to the beautiful daughter of the king of angels, Chitraradha. One day, after a bath, she came and stood by my side meticulously dressed and adorned with all ornaments. I was at that time lost in contemplation on Sri Krishna and was totally unaware of my surroundings, and so did not notice her presence. She was upset and thought that I was deliberately ignoring her. Overcome by despair, she cursed me that whomever I look upon, shall have his or her head cut-off. I woke up from my meditation and realised the severity of the curse and tried to console her. She became repentant for her action; but was unable to withdraw the curse. Since then, I have avoided looking at any living being directly for fear of causing its destruction.'
Mother Parvati heard Saturn's account patiently and said : "Well, the whole world moves according to the will of the Lord. Don't you worry. Please look at Me and My son."
Saturn had to obey the Mother's command. He, therefore. avoided Sri Parvati from his sight and by the corner of his left eye looked at the divine child. Immediately the child's head was cut-off and it fell far away. Saturn was overcome by remorse and stood silently with his head cast down.
Mother Parvati fainted with sorrow, and there was a big commotion in Kailas. Lord Hari reached there post-haste on His vehicle, the celestial eagle, quickly sized up the situation and rushed in the northerly direction. He saw a family of elephants sleeping on the banks of river Pushpabhadra, with the head of the herd lying with its head pointed to the north. The Lord cut its head and brought it to Kailas and joined it with the truncated body of Sri Parvati's son, and enlivened it pronouncing : "Hum". He then turned to Sri Parvati and consoled Her with His words of wisdom. He performed all the rituals and ceremonies for the new born child and made it extremely attractive and powerful. He adorned the child with garlands and ornaments. All the gods and goddesses also presented valuable articles to adorn the elephant-faced son of Parvati.
Seeing the Saturn deity standing with his head cast down, the Mother thought that he should better remain in a disembodied state to avoid recurrence of such disasters in the world, and so turning to him. She pronounced a curse : "May you remain hereafter in a disembodied state."
Soon after. Lord Hari gathered all the gods, rishis and other denizens of the heavens and offered a ceremonial worship to the divine Child and gave Him eight names : Vighnesa, Ganesh, Heramba, Lambodar, Ekdanta, Soorparkarna and Vinayaka and said: “You have been first worshipped by Me, and hence You deserve to be offered the first worship by everybody in all rituals and ceremonies.”