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Forms of Ganesh (2)







Chapter summary (part 2)

The Ganesh posture
 
 
 
The mouse mount
 
 
 
The snake
Sitting posture
Standing posture
 
Lying posture
History
Symbolism
Esoteric meaning
Other vehicles
 
 
Static postures
Dynamic postures
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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The posture

The Ganesh postures seem to be unadorned, but this feeling is misleading. In fact, the Ganesh postures show, in the details as well as on the whole, a lot of differences which express the craftman capacity to innovate, within the frame of the traditional iconographic rules.

Sitting posture

The sitting postures represent Ganesh on a generally tall seat (pîtha), a kind of throne, or on a pedestal of lotus.

So, mural Shekavatî paintings in Rajasthan display Ganesh sitting on a kind of low square-shaped table (33 ko), sometimes six or eight-sided (22 ko); in other cases, Ganesh may be sitting on the ground. These famous paintings, which decorate the walls of the haveli built during the 18th and 19th centuries, represent frequently Ganesh (look at the Rajasthan pictures ).

A similar beautiful painting, although more ancient (1639), decorate the front wall of the main gateway in the royal palace of the Rajpût kings in Amber (near Jaïpur, Rajasthan); for that reason, this gateway has been named Ganesh Pol (Ganesh doorway, 34 ko).

The most commun posture is called "ease posture" (lalitasana) : Ganesh (20 ko) is sitting on a throne, more or less high; His left leg is bent back, while the right leg remains hanging or resting on the ground (reverse posture is also known).

The leg on the ground indicates one aspect of the god's character (His is concerned by the worldly affairs), while the other leg, bent back in a semi meditation attitude, reminds the perfect concentration on the Supreme Reality. Although living in the world, He is totally concentrated on the Atman The Ultimate Reality at the individual level present within Him. This idea is symbolized by this very commun Ganesh posture.

Another similar form is called "royal ease posture" (râjalîlâsana ou ardhaparyankasana , 30 ko). Ganesh is sitting on a lotus (sometimes on His mouse), with the left leg bent back to the groin; the other leg is partially bent back, with the right leg resting on the border of the throne.

We will remark that the specialists do not necessarily agree upon the signification to give to these postures. Moreover, different variants are known.

In other cases, both knees repose on the ground, on both sides of the body, and the sole feet are near but not joining (picture , 22 ko).

A variant displays the same posture but both sole feet are joined and squeezed one to the other. This posture can be seen on 8th centuried Ganesh statues from the Dieng plateau (19 ko), in Java (Indonesia). It has been found in Malaysia too. This posture is supposed to perfectly fit with the god's obesity, on a morphological point of view.

Sometimes, Ganesh is sitting in a meditation posture (24 ko), the legs crossed in the semi-lotus position, the right leg on the left thigh, or in lotus (padmasana ).

Finally, in other cases, Ganesh is crouching, in several styles, rarely in a bowman posture (16 ko).

We know also Ganesh sitting in side-saddle (27 ko) on His mount (vâhana ). Then, the rat becomes very big. Exceptionally, Ganesh rides His mount like a horseman, the feet touching the soil.

Standing posture

Static postures

The standing postures display, in some cases, a rigid attitude (picture , 21 ko) like Vishnu or also the Tîrthankara The 24 prophets of Jain religion. They are thus known as abhanga (which means no-bent body), or samapâda or samabhanga.

More often, the body nicely displays a graceful double-bend (dvibhanga), and even a triple-bend (tribhanga). These multiple bends of a pot-bellied god give a particular feeling (picture , 24 ko)

It's not surprising that the usual feeling of westerners about art could misunderstand and give wrong interpretations to these Indian gods' representations. Indeed, a preliminary training about what is Indian art is requested... As a matter of fact, the hip movements (bhanga) observed in the indian religious sculpture art, particularly on gods and celestial beings representations, are inspired by the dancing art.

These different expressions of the Indian dancing art (whatever is its tradition, Bhârata-Natyam , Orissi, etc.) have a lot of meanings. The dancer do not achieve these very complex and very precise postures, hard and maybe painful for the body, for the pleasure to be twisted. Traditionally, one describes 108 postures in the Bhârata-Natyam (these postures are sometimes displayed on friezes and bas-reliefs of the temples, like in Hampî, Karnataka). It's an art of divine origin and its purpose is to pay honor to gods. And the many nymphs and apsarâ Graceful celestial beings of Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh), for exemple, dance on the temple walls to remind us that they are the playmates and consorts of the gods.

The hipped postures of Ganesh must be considered one the same level of things which are not human ones.

When He is standing, Ganesh may also have only one foot on the ground, the second one being laid on His mount, the rat, often very big (picture , 15 ko).

Dynamic postures (dancing)

Many Ganesh statues represent Him dancing. The Linga-Purâna reports indeed that Ganesh, just after He was created to fight the devils, immediately started to dance in front of the assembly of gods.

One tells also that the Gana Shiva's servants, of whom Ganesh is the Master , are creatures who enjoy to play music and to dance; so, He does the same. But Ganesh dances too, and chiefly, to copy His father Shiva Nâtarâja . On a relief of the cave 1 in Badami, Karnataka (end of the 6th century), one can see Ganesh, both feet well fixed on the ground, starting His first dance. Other very ancient Ganesh representations are similarly associated with Shiva Nâtarâja (Aïhole, Elephanta), or to the Saptamâtrikâ The seven Divine-Mothers, forms of the 
Shakti.

It's only after the 8th century that Ganesh is represented dancing alone, rarely escorted by devotees bringing offerings, or musicians and drum players. This form, called Nritya-Ganapati or Nritya-Ganesha, will further develop progressively its particular iconography. One of the arms displays a characteristic position (gently stretched to suggest an elephant trunk), called dolahasta (29 ko).

The Ganesh dancing movement is more ou less dynamic; one can discriminate the following figures :

 The right leg is raised, the left leg, laid on the ground, is bent, but the dance seems to be interrupted; this is probably the most usual form. It's similar to the Shiva's ûrdhvajanu dance, found in the northern Ganesh : the right foot is resting on the ground, leg bent, while the left leg is raised and folded, foot stretched to the ground. The reverse posture is also known. (picture , 16 ko).

 Sometimes, in the same posture, Ganesh is standing on His mount. An unusual explanation of the mouse's rôle, states that it represents the power of the life breath. Placing His left leg on His mount, Ganesh exerts His mastery on Ida Nadi One of the energy flows in the body.

 The movement is dynamic at the utmost (picture , 19 ko), and even violent (Nepal). In some cases Ganesh, crowned with a halo of flames, one leg stretched in the Ardhapradilasan posture (32 ko), looks similar to the angry deities of the Mahâyâna Main bouddhist branch practised in the 
northern countries.

 In some tantric Ganesh images , the god put His left foot on the mouse and the right foot on the lion, a symbol of Pingala Nadi One of the flows of energy in the body and also the vehicle of His mother, under the form of Durgâ . One may understand this representation as the balanced state of the Nadi, a process in the Pranayama Whole set of techniques to control breath yogic practice.

Very popular, the dancing Ganesh image seems to have been very usual even during the medieval period, all over India; Some famous places like Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh) or Halebîd (Karnataka) offer wonderful representations of the god. From the 10th century, Nritya-Ganapati is quoted in texts of the poetic and narrative literature. Thus, in the famous Kathâsaritsâgara, a collection of tales attributed to Somadeva, brief invocations to this form of the divinity testify to the devotees' fervour :

"Homage to the Lord of obstacles ! When He dances at night, stars who looked to be born from His forehead, weave a garland around His knees"

or another

"We bow to Ganesha, because when He is dancing, mountains themselves seem to bow to His feet and earth to bend under the weight of Nishumbha".

This form of Nritya-Ganapati is considered as one of the 16 (or 32) meditation forms (dhyâna) admittable in the cult and presented to the devotees' worship.

Some dancing Ganesh images look similar to the Krishna dance, perched on the Kâliya Huge four-headed serpent, king of the Nâga serpent that He has just vanquished. Furthermore, we will remember that one of the legends related to the Ganesh parents, reported by the Brahmavaivarta-Purâna, states that the god is really a Krishna incarnation.

The Ganesha-Gîtâ and the Ganesha-Purâna are also two texts inspired by the same concepts as the Bhagavad-Gîtâ and the Bhâgavata-Purâna (Book nb.10), devoted to Lord Krishna. Certain Ganesh representations are even more evocative of the Great Avatar and directly inspired by the Krishna iconography, like Ganesh playing flute (34 ko) or Ganesh as a child (26 ko), named Bâla-Ganapati (Bala = child).

But, generally speaking, the Ganesh dance is like the Shiva danse. In both cases, this dance provides an eternal movement to the Universe, and also the uninterrupted rythm of the Prana Energy of the vital breath flows (Ida and Pingala). The world appears and disappears in the span of two dance steps, just as the breath interruption foreshadows the Non-Manifested.

Lying posture

Modern representations in bronze, painted wood, etc. of Ganesh lying on a sofa are well known. He looks gently leaning against a big round cushion (picture , 33 ko). A rather unusual image (picture , 22 ko) displays Ganesh lying and sleeping like Vishnu Shesheya, on the Serpent Ananta who is protecting Him with his seven-hooded heads.

The mouse mount

Many gods are associated with particular animals which are called animal-vehicles or mounts (vâhana ); thus, sculptures or drawings show gods either escorted by their vâhana, either riding him.

The Ganesh mount is a rat or a mouse. Most often, it's a rather small animal, standing near the left or the right foot of His Master. He looks at Him in a worshipping, or fervent care, attitude (picture , 28 ko).

Sometimes, Ganesh put His foot on the subdued mouse. But the mouse may also get a huge size, as big as Ganesh, or even bigger. This happens when Ganesh is riding (Vijaya Ganapati, Ekâkshara Ganapati, Shrishti Ganapati), side-saddle or astride. Sometimes, several rats are loitering near the Ganesh feet, gleaning some rest of the worshipper offerings; they may also stand stationned at the four throne corners.

In the Mahârâshtra, Madhya Pradesh and Nepal Ganesh temples, the rat is represented alone (picture , 17 ko), standing in front of the temple doorway like Nandi Animal-vehicle of (vâhana) Shiva does at the main entrance of the Shiva temples.

History

In very ancient times Ganesh was a god of harvest, mainly for the sugar-planters of the Dekkan and South India. The strongest ennemies of the farmers are the rodents and, in that time, people could not use pesticides; the elephant only seemed to be able to destroy rats by the bulk, thanks to his large feet stamping them. The elephant worship by farmers can be symbolized in these images where a huge Ganesh is sitting, in an unseemly manner, on a tiny mouse. The striking contrast is obviously wilful. There a superhuman creature, a god, shows His power on the noxious animal, like Shiva is dancing the Tandava on a vanquished demon. Nevertheless, the Ganesh rat is mainly found in western and south India (and Nepal) where Ganesh was a god of harvest. According to specialists, He is rarely seen in Kashmir and western Himalaya.

Symbolism

In India the rat, like the fox of our western tales, represents trick, cleverness, sagacity and political slyness. Therefore, as normally, the rat has been first conquered, then mastered and occupied by the One who is the incarnation of spiritual strength. After all, the rat had to bow to Ganesh, his Master, more efficient to guide him than his own insight.

In that manner are associated the skilful might of the elephant and the rat trick, able to elude traps. From that point of view, Ganesh and His mount may be seen like two complementary but separate aspects of the same powerful will.

At the Ganesh feet, on the ground, fruits or other food are often arranged. Near these offerings, the Ganesh rat is watching, standing on his back paws. Food represent the properties, power and well-being. When a man uses to follow high principles in his life, prosperity may come naturally to him. Whatever properties are or are not at his disposal, this does not change anything in his mental attitude : he remains indifferent to these facilities.

The rat does not touch this food but looks at Ganesh to beg His permission. The rat symbolizes desire. This animal has a very small mouth and minute sharp teeth, but he is the most ravenous of all the animals. His greediness and eagerness are so strong that he robs more than he can eat and that he collects more than he may remember, so that he often leaves inadvertently burrows full of stock grains.

This prominent characteristic of the rat fully justify that he is the symbol of greediness.

Likewise, a small desire pervading the man's mind may destroy all the achievements that he got for years on the material and spiritual levels. Therefore, looking up to Ganesh, the rat demonstrates that desires are fully controlled by a wise man.

Activities of a man having got these spiritual achievements are rather directed by his ability of discrimination and sound judgement than by the sensitive and irresistible wish to enjoy the whole collection of worldly things.

Esoteric meaning

The Ganesh / Ganapati mount is a mouse named mûshaka. The mouse realm is inside all things.

The Self, the all-pervading Atman , is like a mouse dwelling in a hole called the mind, inside the all beings' heart. He benefits the pleasures of all the creatures. This everybody' self is a thief like the mouse : nobody can see him but he is able to catch all the things belonged by the living creatures. He lurks behind the invisible forms of delusion and nobody knows that he, alone, is enjoying the pleasures that human beings think to feel.

"Only to Him is granted the benefit of any spiritual discipline".
(Bhagavad-Gîtâ).

The word musha (mouse) comes from the root mush which means to rob. Although stealing to living creatures all things they enjoy, the mouse doesn't care to know if they are fruits of vice or virtue. The same, the inner-Sovereign of all things (to understand Brahman , hidden behind the undiscoverable Illusion (Maya ), enjoys the pleasures of all but is not at all affected by distinctions between vice and virtue.

"The mouse is His glorious vehicle that everybody can ride and praise. Everlasting wisdom calls Him the mouse-Rider. The root mush means to rob. Robbing is the profession of the boundless-Being who, invisible, is the origin of all names and all forms. Being their cause, He is inside all the pleasures, the only One to enjoy them. Only men misguided by self-pride ignore that. He alone enjoys everything, the Lord Sovereign, dwelling within us like a thief. Instigator of men, one names Him the mouse".
(quoted by Bhagavat Tattva, translated in French by Daniélou).

Therefore, just as a mouse stealthily enters within things and destroys them from inside, unnoticed selfishness penetrates in our mind and quietly ruins all our undertakings. He can be used profitably only when he is mastered by a divine wisdom.

Or else, the robber mouse may represent love who steals human hearts. While human love stays at the lowest level, he can cause havoc. But when he is inspired by the Divine, he may ennoble us. The mouse who uses to watch inside all things may represent the acute understanding. Since Ganapati is the Lord of mind, He did well when He choose the mouse as a vehicle. That too means that Lord Ganapati perfectly masters the mind.

Other Ganesh mounts>

If the rat (or the mouse) is the usual vehicle of the god, so that Ganesh without His mouse looks missing "something", exceptions are described : first the peacock, a rare Ganesh vehicle, under the form of Mayureshwar and Vikata. However, one knows that the peacock is the usual vehicle of the Ganesh brother, Skanda , named also Kârtikkeya.

Very exceptionally, the Ganesh mount may be the elephant, as mentioned in the Skanda Purâna.

In tantric forms like Heramba Ganapati, Simha Ganapati, Pañchamukha Vinâyaka, Vakratunda, the Ganesh mount is the lion or, moreover, in the case of Moolâdhâra Ganapati, a multiple-headed serpent on which He is sitting.

The serpent

Since a very long time, the serpent has been often associated with Ganesh. Tantric texts describe Ganesh holding a serpent. Quaintly, the Satapatha Brahmana often uses the word Nâga to name the elephant... Ganesh, surmounted by the canopy of a five-headed Nâga , is worshipped by several esoteric sects. A lot of Ganesh images display a snake coiled around His stomac, or His neck, or like a sacred thread on His left shoulder, whilst He is holding a snake in two of His hands on several Nepalese statues.

Traditional ancient Ganapati images, mainly those found under trees or in the open air throughout the Dekkan area, are often accompanied by "Nâga stones", embossed with intertwined snakes (Nâgakkal). In some primitive Ganesh images, the snake displays his head above the god's head.

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