You can explore our Ganpati paintings and Ganpati art here.
The Story of Ganesha
The story of Ganesha talks about the story of his birth, which revolves around a popular mythological story found in the Siva Purana.
Pattachitra Ganpati Painting by Apindra Swain
Pattachitra Ganpati Painting by Apindra Swain; Kalamkari painting by Harinath N.
Unfortunately, Shiva’s trishul was too powerful. All attempts to restore Ganesha’s life were in vain. As a last resort, Lord Shiva went to Brahman and asked for help. He was told to replace Ganesha’s head with the first living being that came his way which lay with its head facing north. Lord Shiva then sent his celestial armies Gana to find and take the head of whatever creature they happened to find asleep with its head facing north. They found an elephant which slept in this manner and took its head. Shiva attaching the elephant’s head to Ganesha’s body brought him back to life. From then on, he was referred to as “Ganapathi”, head of the celestial armies and was worshiped by everyone before beginning any activity. Now that we’ve understood the existence of Lord Ganesha, let’s dive into learning more about who Lord Ganesha is. We’ve all seen ganpati paintings and ganpati art depicting Lord Ganesha sitting and blessing his devotees. Each part of Lord Ganesha from his elephant to his vahana depicted holds meaning. But do we know what all of it means? Read on below, the “Iconography of Ganesha” to enrich your knowledge!
Iconography of Ganesha
The story of Lord Ganesha obtaining an elephant head is a well known story. The origins and details of the story change slightly in different regions of India. Perhaps, the most well-known version of the story originates from the Siva Purana, wherein we see that Maa Parvati wants to take bath and with attendants present to guard her, she creates the image of a boy from turmeric paste, uses divine magic and infuses life into it. Thus, Ganesh is born. She instructs him to not let anyone inside & Ganesh follows orders strictly. Upon the arrival of Shiva and unaware of the creation of Ganesha by Parvati, he is infuriated when is stopped by a mere boy from entering inside his home. A fierce battle ensues which causes Ganesha to be beheaded. On seeing this, Maa Parvati demands Shiva to restore Ganesha back to life. All attempts go in vain. As Shiva approached Brahma, he was advised to replace Ganesha’s head with the first living creature facing north. That is how Ganesh got his head.
Ganpati Kerala Mural by Adarsh
Symbolically, Ganesha’s large head is a depiction of wisdom and intellect. His eyes are small but penetrating, seeing the spirit of the divine in every living creature. In some of the Ganesh paintings images, the third eye is depicted like his father’s, representing the sun, moon and fire. In the Tanjore paintings that you can buy online, Ganesh is shown wearing the “Tripundra”, the sacred mark of Shiva. It also showcases Ganesha’s dominance over the three worlds- heaven, earth and the underworld. Along with that, it symbolises the three modes of being- satvik (purity), rajasik (passion) and tamasik (inertia), over which he has control.
The trunk which springs from his head represents the intellect, the faculty of discrimination which necessarily arises out of wisdom. An elephant’s trunk has a unique capacity of performing heavy and subtle tasks. This acts as a symbolism of Ganesha’s intellect penetrating into the realms of the material and spiritual worlds.
The positioning of the trunk is of extreme importance. In most cases, it is curved to the left, the side of the body associated with the “ida naadi”, one of the conduits of the subtle body, associated with the moon or feminine energy and is supposed to invoke relaxation and peace. When the trunk is placed on the right, the deity is called, ‘Siddhi Vinayaka” requiring special & structured worship. This is due to the “pingalaa naadi” on the right side of the body which is associated with the sun, representing masculine energy. The energy is hostile and powerful in this case.
The broken tusk which is imperfect, stands for the manifest world which appears to be imperfect because of the inherent incongruities. Ganesha is always depicted with his left tusk broken and is therefore called “Ekdanta”. The tusk that is whole stands for truth.
Kalamkari Ganpati Painting by Sudheer
Peacefully digesting all the good and bad in life, Ganesh’s belly symbolizes the ability to digest all that life has to offer- good, bad, ugly, evil, pain, suffering or happiness. Lord Ganesha’s stomach is a treasure of Vedic knowledge. He has large ears, to listen to the supplications of everyone but like the winnowing basket are capable of sifting what is good for the supplicant from what is not.
Normally, Ganesha is seen with four arms and each arm carries something of importance. So, what does he hold in each of his hands?
- Left Upper Hand- He holds a Pasa (noose). It symbolises raga or attachment. The rope is meant to “pull” the seeker out of his worldly entanglement and bind him to everlasting & enduring bliss of his own self.
- Right Upper Hand- He holds an Akunsa (goad), it stands for Krodha or anger.
- Left Lower Hand- He holds a sweet modaka representing the rewards of spiritual seeking. Ganesha’s fondness for sweets can be traced down to his childhood. Myths describe Parvati telling her children how the gods distributed sweets as the sweets are said to represent mahabhuddi (great intelligence) and amrita (ambrosia).
- Right Lower Hand- He holds the broken tusk with which he wrote down the Mahabharata dictated by sage Vyasa. The tusk is also considered to represent the ascetic’s stag, the yoga danan given to him by Shiva.
Tanjore Ganpati Painting by Sanjay Tandekar
He is always seated in Padmasana (lotus posture). As the belly does not permit this, the right leg is shown bent and resting on the foot-rest. Ganesha sits with one leg folded up and the other resting on the ground. The leg indicates that one aspect of his personality is dealing with the world (materialistic world) while the other is rooted in the single pointed concentration upon the supreme reality (spiritual world). A mouse is the vahana of Ganesha. The word, “Musaka”- mouse comes from the root “mus” meaning “to steal”. Just as a mouse enters things and destroys them, so egoism enters our minds and quietly destroys all our undertaking. The mouse being near or under Ganesha’s feet means that he has power of this egoism and keeps it under control.
Lord Ganesha, one of the most revered gods in the whole of India, has taken on numerous manifestations to destroy evils of various kinds. Out of this, 8 incarnations in the Mudgala Purana- a text dedicated to Lord Ganesha, stand out as the most important ones.
Phad Ganpati Painting by Kalyan Joshi
- Vakratunda (twisting trunk)- the ganesh painting here is personification of the embodiment of Brahman. The ganpati art here depicts the defeat of Matsaryasure, the demon of envy & jealousy. His mount (vāhana) is a lion, as seen in the painting online.
- Ekadanta ("single tusk")- the ganesh painting here depicts the entirety of all individual souls i.e., the embodiment of the essential essence of Brahmann. The ganpati art here depicts the defeat of Madasure, the demon of arrogance & conceit. His mount is a mouse, as seen in the painting online.
- Mahodara ("big belly") the ganesh painting here is an amalgamation of both Vakratuṇḍa and Ekadanta & showcases the wisdom of Brahman. The ganpati art here depicts the overcoming & defeating the demon of delusion & confusion Mohāsura. His mount (vāhana) is a mouse as seen in the painting online.
- Gajavaktra (or Gajānana) ("elephant face") the ganesh painting here is a parallel to Mahodara. The ganpati art here depicts the overcoming & defeating the demon of greed, Lobhāsura. His mount (vāhana) is a mouse, as seen in the painting online.
- Lambodara ("pendulous belly") the ganesh painting here overcomes and defeats the Krodhāsura, the demon of anger. His mount (vāhana) is a mouse, as seen in the painting online.
- Vikata (Vikaṭa) ("unusual form", "misshapen")- the ganesh painting here depicts the illuminating nature of Brahman. The ganpati art here showcases the overcoming & defeating the demon of lust, Kāmāsura. His mount is a peacock, as seen in the painting online.
- Vighnaraja (Vighnarāja) ("king of obstacles"), the ganesh painting here depicts embodiment of the preserving nature of Brahman. The ganpati art here showcases the defeat of Mamasura, the demon god of possessiveness. His mount (vāhana) is the celestial serpent Shesha.
- Dhumravarna (Dhūmravarṇa) ("grey color")- the ganesh painting here showcases the embodiment of the destructive nature of Brahman. The ganpati art showcases overcoming the demon of pride & attachment, Abhimanasure. His mount (vāhana) is a mouse.
Another topic worth talking about is Lord Ganesha and his consorts namely, Riddhi, Siddhi and Buddhi. Buddhi is closely associated with Lord Ganesha. "Buddhi" is considered to be the female noun translating to wisdom and intellect. Many consider, "Buddhipriya' another name for Ganesha's wife.
The Story of Lord Ganesha’s Marriage
There have been various interpretations of Lord Ganesh’s marital status. In many Ganpati portraits in southern India, Lord Ganesha is seen as a “brahmachari” or unmarried. But in other parts of India, predominantly northern India, many Ganpati paintings showcase Lord Ganesha with his two consorts, Riddhi and Siddhi. Esoterically, there is a deep understanding that none of the Gods have a wife.There are no husbands or wives in the vast super conscious realms of the Third World or Sivolka. Their consorts are not to be considered as separate from them but as aspects of their being, as their “shakti '' or paintings. The handmade ganpati paintings created masterfully by our artisans showcase this important union. Riddhi & Siddhi in these online handmade paintings are shown as the two shaktis- prosperity & success – of Lord Ganesha, standing next to him at all times.
Phad Ganpati Painting by Kritika Josh