Saraswathi is a Hindu goddess, part of the trinity with Lakshmi and Parvati; she is a representation of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom, and learning. The three forms of the female goddess assist Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahman their partners while they sustain the universe . The goddess is revered by Jains and Buddhists as well as Hindus.
Saraswathi’s name is meaningful; Sara means essence, Sva means oneself so together they mean essence of oneself. It means to fill oneself with knowledge like with water and this goes further into her ancient mythological status as a divine river goddess, the best of river mother goddesses from the Rigveda.
Saraswathi is also meant to refer to a cleansing knowledge or knowledge that purifies the essence of a person, which can also refer to enactment of the arts such as music, dancing, language, and eloquence.
Saraswathi is usually depicted with four arms holding objects: a book (the vedas, a crystal mala or rosary (represents the power of meditation, inner reflection, and spirituality), a pot of water (the power of purification), and a musical instrument (typically a veena representing arts and sciences). Saraswathi is also associated with anuraga, the love for the rhythm of music which represents all feelings and emotions expressed through music. Saraswathi is associated with the swan which is often located at her feet and is said to discriminate between water and milk, drinking only milk as a sign of discernment. The swan is also a symbol of spiritual purity and perfection.
Saraswathi is also worshipped in the areas surrounding India and has influenced many of the following countries: Myanmar, Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia. She also has a festival in Bali that has a long history. She is also worshipped in various places in India.
Saraswathi is a popular god worshipped in modern times and especially in southern India can often be seen as revered deity in daily life.
The hindu god Ganesha is a powerful archetypal symbol. He represents the removal of obstacles, and transcends religion to be a sacred symbol to all of India, including the Hindus, Jains, Buddhists. His elephant head makes him easy to identify and he is also the patron god of the arts, intellect , and wisdom. As the son of Shiva, he is also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka and has survived for the last 1,600 years accumulating thousands of names and pseudonyms along the way.
Etymology of the word “Ganesha”
The name Ganesha is a compound sanskrit word where ‘gana’ (गण) means group, categorical system, or multitudes and ‘isha’ (ईश) means lord or master. Often ‘gana’ refers Shiva‘s retinue or followers, making Ganesha the master Shiva’s head follower. Some take this even further and refer to Ganesha as the master of the elements or lord of the systems of knowledge. Ganapati (गणपति) is a synonym for Ganesha and means lord of the group; ‘pati’ translates into ruler or lord. Ganesha is also commonly referred to as Vinayaka after which the eight buddhist temples in Maharashtra were named Ashtavinayak (ashta – eight, vinayak = Ganesha). The final noteworthy name for Ganesha is Vighneshvara (विघ्नेश्वर) meaning the remover of obstacles (vighna) which is Ganesha’s primary function as a part of the Hindu pantheon.
Stories of the Son of Shiva
Ganesha is very often portrayed as a child, where he functions as the
son of Shiva and protector of his mother, Parvatti. He is known for his mental agility and ability to learn quickly through the removal of obstacles; he is often invoked when starting a new business or buying a car or house. Ganesha is a clever god and is closely associated with the sanskrit term buddhi, meaning intelligence and wisdom. Over the years Ganesha has evolved to mean different things to different parts of the world; for example, he is commonly worshipped in Indian homes, invoked at meals and times of prayer; he is also worshipped by merchants in Bali, Indochina, Thailand, and Cambodia as the god of material success and prosperity. He is one of the most widespread gods of the eastern religions and has hundreds of different particularities of meaning to the different cultures that idolize him.
Symbolic Significance of Ganesh
Ganesha’s most famous attributes are his huge belly and elephant head, which one story depicts resulted from Shiva’s anger at finding a stranger guarding Parvatti, Shiva’s wife. He later learned that Parvatti had made Ganesha out of clay and that the boy that he had just beheaded was their son; he replaced the head with that of an enlightened white elephant and Ganesha was allowed to live. Ganesha typically has four arms, representing his divine omnipotence and is often depicted eating a sweet. He is most often depicted without a vahana, but is known to ride a mouse, a snake, a peacock, and a lion. Most often he is shown on a rat, which was known in India as a pest and killer of crops and is interpreted by many to be a negative symbol of desire and greed. Ganesha subdues the mouse and makes him his primary means of travel. Many historians agree that he has evolved from obstacle creator to remover over the past centuries, but both seem to be integral functionings of his character.
The sacred sound of AUM is also identified with Ganesha. He is said to see past, present, and future simultaneously and AUM represents Brahman, Vishnu, and Shiva all simultaneously their combined power of creation, which Ganesha invokes by removing obstacles. He is also the resident of the first chakra, the Muladhara. He guides all other chakras and is therefore the guardian of the wheels of life.
Skanda is Ganesha’s brother, although regions will differ in opinion as to who was born first. There are many stories of their conflicts as Ganesha rose to prominence in 600AD and Skanda fell in popularity; Skanda was referred to as elder in the north and may very well represent the conflicts between northern and southern India in ancient times. Ganesha may have been a Brahmacari, or celibate, but he is also depicted with one to three wives quite regularly. Buddhi, intellect, Siddhi, spiritual power, and Riddhi, prosperity, are often personified as Ganesha’s goddess wives. He is also associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of luck. He also has two sons, Ksema (prosperity) and Labha (profit) according to the Shiva Purana.
All Hindu denominations use Ganesha to invoke prayer; he is a powerful symbol of the moving of energy and instigator of change. He is also an elephant, which is extremely powerful and sacred in India and represents a higher level of consciousness to many.
I have used the primary energies of chanting Ganesha to fantastic benefits, there are many invocations that have positive psychological effects and pranayama exercises that have powerful physiological effects. The chant I’ve used often is “gam ganapataye namo namah” meaning “the devotee bows/ offers salutations to the lord of the world”. It is a powerful chant and after about 5-10 minutes, the mantra starts to seep into the unconscious mind. The energies of sanskrit are primary and very old; the internal energies evoked should not be underestimated, especially when the symbols and meaning of the mantra are understood.
Ganesha is a god that is unique across the various religious and spiritual practices. He is always shown with an elephant head and huge stomach, though variation will show different symbols and representations of his form.
This post is also significant because it is the first post on my newly hosted website; I am trying out a new hosting provider instead of the complimentary WordPress hosting. Please let me know what you think, I welcome all feedback openly!
What does Ganesha mean to you? How do you create new beginning in your own life or manifest change? What symbols in your own life are equivalent to the elephant god who rides a mouse?
Hanuman is a Varana, or a shapeshifting monkey-humanoid from the ancient Hindu epics the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas, and Jain texts (Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism). He is a steadfast devotee of the god Rama (the seventh incarnation of Vishnu) and is an intricate part of the war against the demon king Ravana. Some texts presume him as an incarnation of lord Shiva, but in many texts he is mentioned as a son of Vayu, god of the wind. The name Hanuman has a few possible origins: one where he was struck in the jaw by Indria, king of the deities where hanu means jaw and man means prominent or disfigured; a second where hanu means killed or destroyed and man means pride, meaning one whose pride was destroyed; and finally a theory that hanuman means male monkey.
Hanuman is an intriguing character in many ways. He is viewed as an ideal devotee or Bhakta to Rama. He was also a lifelong Brahmachari or celibate in his devotion, which is believed to be his source of strength, especially by Indian wrestlers. In one tradition (my favorite) he is said to be born to Vayu and Anjana through the ritual of Dasharatha to have children. The sacred pudding that he gave his wives led to the birth of Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna; however, by divine grace some of the pudding fell onto a kite and Vayu brought the kite on the wind to Anjana, in deep worship to Shiva in the forest who consumed the pudding. This led to the birth of Hanuman to Anjana; his mother was a spirit of the clouds and waters also known as an apsara.
The mythology of Hanuman’s childhood is also very interesting. He was quite mischievous during his childhood and would steal things from sages meditating in the forest and re-arrange their sacred artifacts. They placed a curse on him that he could only remember his abilities if he was reminded by another person. He also believed the sun to be a ripe mango and went to eat it, but clashed with Rahu and thrashed him, even though Rahu was supposed to be creating an eclipse. Indra was told of this by Rahu and struck Hanuman with a thunderbolt on the chin, causing him to fall to the earth unconscious. Vayu, upon seeing the attack, withdrew the air from the world. After seeing all of creation asphyxiate, Indra withdrew his thunderbolt and the devas bestowed multiple blessings of power upon Hanuman. In another story, Hanuman learned that Surya,the sun-god, was all-knowing and ascended to the sun to ask for his teaching. Surya told Hanuman that it would be impossible since his chariot was always moving, but Hanuman was undeterred and ended up being a most respected student of Surya.
Hanuman’s adventures occur in the Ramayana, more specifically in the 5th book called the Sundara Kanda. Hanuman meets Rama when Sita was kidnapped by Ravana and Rama’s brother Lakshmana and Rama are searching for her. He disguises himself to find their identities, but upon learning Rama’s identity prostrates himself. Rama then embraces him with warmth, beginning their epic friendship and Hanuman’s devotion to Rama.
Hanuman then begins his own search for Sita, which leads him to cross the sea. But Hanuman laments that his powers are not enough to cross with the other varanas, until Jambavantha reminds Hanuman of his virtues and he leaps across the sea to Lanka, where Ravana’s palace is. He finds Sita there, but she refuses to return with him saying that it would harm Rama’s honor. Hanuman then begins to wreak havoc on Lanka until he allows himself to be subdued and learns the size of Ravana’s armies. He then warns Ravana of Rama’s warning to return Sita to him and offers his forgiveness in return. Ravana becomes enraged and orders Hanuman to be killed until Ravana’s brother intervenes and reminds him that it is against the rules of engagement to kill a messenger. Ravana decides to light Hanuman’s tail on fire, but Hanuman enlarges himself and again wrecks havoc on Lanka, before returning to Rama.
Hanuman also saves his brother, Lakshamana, by delivering an entire mountain to him. Ravana tries several ways to stop him, even by expediting the rise of the sun, Surya. Hanuman grows in size to slow the sun’s rise and delivers the entire mountain to Lanka to save his brother. Rama embraces Hanuman to show that he is as dear to him as a brother and Hanuman releases his grip on Surya with apologies to his guru. Rama holds a celebration to honor his well-wishers and helpers and Hanuman enters without desiring a reward. As Hanuman comes to Rama, Rama is overwhelmed with emotion and embraces him with deep compassion for his work in the war against Ravana. Sita, knowing that Hanuman deserved more honor than any other, gave Hanuman the precious stones around her neck. When he receives it, Hanuman takes apart each stone saying that he won’t accept it unless Rama and Sita are inside. Many unbelieving witnesses watch and question Hanuman, saying he could not possibly be so devoted to Rama and Sita so Hanuman opens his heart to show them Rama and Sita inside.
Hanuman, after the war with Ravana, left to the Himalayas to record the Ramayana, including each detail of Rama’s deeds. Rama then departed for his supreme abode Vaikuntha. Hanuman requested to stay on earth as long as Rama’s name was worshipped. He is immortalized by his actions and is one of the most powerful and venerated gods in Hinduism. Hanuman is also on Arjuna’s flag in the Bhagavad Gita and stays with him during the entire battle, protecting his chariot from celestial weapons until at the end of the battle when Hanuman floats back into the sky, the chariot bursts into flames.
Hanuman is a god venerated by many traditions spread all over Asia, inferring that he is a very old deity and is intricate to the religious formations over the years. The biggest statue of Hanuman is in Murti and is 85 feet tall. Hanumanasana is the Sanskrit name for the splits in yoga, named that way for how Hanuman leapt over the ocean to rescue Sita.
Who are your favorite Hindu deities?
Hanuman is a fascinating character and worshipped for many of his devotional qualities; how do the stories speak to you about devotion in your life, in relationships, even your Dharma?