Lord Ganapati, the most popular deity in the pantheon of Gods, has 32 forms, according to Hindu devotional literature. The first 16 are known as Shodasa Ganapati, and are popularly worshipped, especially the 13th form, Maha Ganapati.
Heramba Ganapati, the 11th form, holds out special significance for those seeking to boost the level of their self-confidence.
One Entity, Many Forms
Any form of God is only to facilitate the attention of the beholder to the Supreme power. The icons act as devices to concentrate the eyes and mind on God.
The Vedic saying, Ekam sat bahudha vadanti vipraha, signifies that while forms are many, reality is one. Wise persons meditate on some form, remembering, however, that the form is only a superimposition and not a reality, as declared in the Vishnu Samhita. “Truth is one, the wise call it by many names”.
It was also an ancient practice to emphasise a particular function or aspect of the immanent reality in any particular icon to generate mental association and cultivate a bhava of oneness and surrender to this universal force.
Heramba means ‘protector of the weak’. In this form, Ganesa appears with five faces and ten hands, the main right hand posture showing the abhaya mudra, bestowing fearlessness and blessing. Instead of the commonly depicted vahana, the mouse, Heramba Ganapati is seated on ‘the king of beasts’, the mighty lion, reminding one of the divine mother, Durga. In fact, some scholars seek to trace the origin of Heramba to Amba, the mother.
The word, Ganesa, is itself a conjoint form of Gana, which, in Sanskrit, means group or multitude, and Isa means master or lord. In this context the ganas are indicative of a troop of semi-divine beings that form part of the retinue of Lord Siva.
Puranic stories convey that Ganesa was created by the consort of Lord Siva out of the sandalwood paste used for her bath. As she breathed life into the figure, she asked him to stand guard while she was bathing. Ganesa implicitly obeyed this command and denied entry into the premises even to Siva. As the enraged Siva called out his ganas to teach the child a lesson on propriety, a virtual war broke out; Ganesa thrashed the ganas, and even Indra, the head of the force of devas, as he was imbued with the sakti empowered by the mother.
This led to Siva taking up the battle directly and severing the head of the child. Upon seeing the beheaded body, Parvati rose in awe-inspiring anger, and the celestial bodies fervently sought her pardon.
The assembled gods were then sent to bring the first seen head of any being to fix on the severed body, and the ganas brought the head of a baby elephant. Siva then proclaimed that as his son, the child would be called Ganesa, lord of the ganas, and would be offered the first worship in any event, ahead of any other deity, to ensure successful completion of any endeavour.
The legend of Ganesa thus demonstrates the power of compassion and the maternal love towards the child, as well as the steadfast power of dedication to duty.
Symbolism of Ganesa
On a philosophical note, Ganesa’s elephant-head is a symbol of might. The elephant’s foot, which is larger than that of any other animal, signifies the quality of a leader who shows the way forward for others, clearing obstacles in the process. As the elephant is known for its acute intelligence, Ganesa is revered as bestowing the medha sakti.
The tonal sense and the hearing abilities of elephants, with their large ears, are well known, pointing out the importance of careful listening in any situation. At the same time, an elephant’s disproportionately small-sized eyes symbolise the power of perception, which can be acquired by those worshipping Ganesa, provided it is accompanied by the quality of surrender and absence of pride.
The elephant’s trunk, which is constantly active, serves a dual function: to smell, to discriminate, and to strike with force. For humans this symbolises the mind, which, while remaining active, should cultivate the discrimination and at the same time be strong to complete any action that is initiated. The right and left tusks of the elephant stand for wisdom and emotion respectively, underlining the need for the right balance between the two.
Adults and children alike are often struck by the common mushika (mouse) on which Ganesa is seen riding: How can such a tiny creature carry a large body? In spiritual lore, mushika is interpreted as the darkness and the restlessness with which the ego commonly moves around. The mouse, which has a strong sense of smell, stands for tamo guna and endless desires. The Sanskrit word, mushaka (mouse), is derived from the root mush, which means stealing or robbing. Just like the mouse, humans also have a tendency to accumulate through fair and unfair means.
The Lord riding the mouse signifies that the indriyas can be disciplined with the mind reined in by the divine power. The Vinayaka principle in totality thus means that which removes all bad vasanas and inculcates good qualities and sattvic thoughts.
Popular in Nepal
Heramba Ganapati is popularly worshipped in Nepal. His five heads, which are coloured similar to the five faces of Sadasiva, along with the trunk, when seen from above, resemble a five-pointed star, or a pentagram.
There are sculptural representations of the 32 forms of Ganesa in Karnataka, notably in temples in the Mysore region. The Mudagala Purana describes the meditation verses (dhyana sloka) for every form, attributing distinctive qualities and powers to each. The late Maharaja of Mysore, Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1794-1868), an acknowledged patron of art and learning, has himself composed hymns in praise of all forms of Ganesa, including the Heramba Ganapati, hailed as the protector of the weak and powerless.
In 300 B.C., the Jataka Tales were written to impart knowledge and inculcate morality. Ever since, they have become popular story books that are both enjoyable and knowledgeable. Originally written in Pali language, these Jataka Buddhist tales have been translated into different languages around the world.