The Vedic deities all personify different aspects of the Self, which we all examine daily in our human experience. In Vedic philosophy, human life has a purpose addressed in four pursuits, Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha.
Dharma - refers to values and ethics that everyone should exhibit and includes wisdom, truth, forbearance, controlling the mind and senses, forgiveness, cleanliness, non-anger, and knowledge.
Artha - is the acquisition of wealth in the form of knowledge, health, contentment, and material to sustain yourself.
Kama - is the controlled fulfillment of desire. Desire is required to inspire, discover and give back in life. However, one should not be controlled by desire as that can lead to destruction.
Moksha - is achieved after one has attained Dharma, Artha and Kama, leading us to the Highest Self. This is the final objective in the human experience and ultimate goal. In this state, the soul is no longer driven by desire, but rather you can relax into being.
Lord Ganesh beautifully embodies these pursuits through specific imagery of his iconography.
Lord Ganesh is depicted with a large elephant head, symbolizing wisdom, intellect, and compassion that all must possess to attain harmony in life.
His large ears signify that to achieve satisfaction and knowledge in life, one must possess a great capacity to listen and assimilate ideas.
The eyes are small but sharp, seeing the spirit of the divine in all the universe. The eyes symbolize the importance of concentration and focus. By maintaining focus, we can gain proficiency in our activities, leading to success in life. The absence of focus will lead to distraction, which can lead to failure in one's endeavours. Between the eyes in what is known as the third eye is a Trishula, which is the weapon of Lord Shiva, representing the past, present and future.
The large trunk embodies high adaptability and efficiency. There is no linear path in life. Being flexible like the trunk allows us to adapt and redirect as we experience life.
The four arms of Lord Ganesh represent the mind, intellect, ego and conscience. Lord Ganesh is pure consciousness, known in the Upanishads and Vedas as the Atman, the Soul, which empowers these four attributes to function within us.
On the one hand, Lord Ganesh holds an axe symbolizing the cutting off the bonds of attachment. Detaching from materialism and outcomes allows one to be connected to the Self. The axe also represents striking down and deter obstacles in your way to inner peace and salvation.
Another hand embraces a rope and lotus flower. The rope symbolizes one's attempt to pull themselves towards attaining one's ultimate goal, and the lotus flower is the beauty of the realized Self.
The third hand is held facing the devotee, symbolizing blessings and protection—a sign of trust in a higher power.
The fourth hand holds modaka balls, which are sweets representing Moksha, ultimate liberation. This is considered the sweetest thing of all.
Lord Ganesh is depicted with a large belly, representing the universe and supported by Kundalini energy, which is understood as the cosmos' energy. The capacity to hold the universe in the belly translates into the human experience as being able to serenely digest all that life experience offers, whether positive or negative.
There is often a mouse alongside Lord Ganesh. Generally speaking, a mouse is symbolic of the ego and desire. If one allows these aspects of the Self to get out of control, it can result in havoc in one's life.
While Lord Ganesh is often connected to the Hindu religion, the lessons depicted through his iconography are universal, as they offer comfort and support as we each embark on our uniquely human experiences.
The Iconography of Lord Ganesh
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