In Hinduism every divine being has the male as well as the female form. That is, every divine deity has a male and female avatar signifying the circle of life. The male avatar denotes the mental state of power while the female avatar denotes the physical state of power or ‘shakti’. For instance Lord Vishnu’s shakti (female avatar) is known as Vaishnavi, Lord Indra’s shakti is Indrani, Lord Brahma’s shakti is Brahmini and so on. Lord Ganesha’s female shakti is called Vinayaki, according to the Matsaya Purana and the Vishnu-dharmottara Purana. The Vana-Durga-Upanishad refers to the female form of Ganesha as Ganeshvari.
The female form of Ganesha came into prominence in the 16th century when a separate sect of religious group called the tantric emerged. The popularity grew as this sect preferred worshiping the female avatar of Ganesha more than the dominant male form. Tantric practitioners believe that the female form is the source of generative powers. While the male is responsible for implanting life, the female nurtures and nourishes it. In metaphysical theory, the female was considered the source of all material resources that is responsible for continuity of life.
The Puranas mention Malini, the elephant headed companion of Goddess Parvati. She is believed to be the nursemaid of Lord Ganesha. Therefore some scholars think that the female avatar of Ganesha is nothing but an exaggerated description of Malini.
The birth of the female avatar Vinayaki is mentioned in the Matsaya Purana. It is believed that the demon Andhaka wanted Goddess Parvati to become his wife. He tried to take her by force from Lord Shiva, who injured the demon with his trident. Andhaka had a boon that when blood dripped from his body and touched the ground, every drop would turn into a new Andhaka. The only way to stop this was to not let the blood touch the ground.
Parvati called out to the other deities and asked them to fight the demon along with their female forms. So Indrani, Vaishnavi and Brahmani came forward to fight Andhaka and absorb the blood before it touched the ground. It was Lord Ganesha’s female form, Vinayaki, who finally drank all the blood which helped the deities to destroy Andhaka.
Over the years, the debate has been afloat among sages, whether mental potential is more important over tangible and material resources. The sages, who believed that mental strength held more importance, associated themselves with Vedic practices and worshiped the male form of Lord Ganesha. The group that veered towards material resources worshiped the female form Vinayaki and practiced tantric activities. So the female form, Ganeshvari, also gained popularity.
The stories and the references are debatable as there isn’t any concrete evidence supporting the same. The acknowledgement of the female form of Ganesha happens on the occasion of Vinayaki Chatturthi. It occurs on the fourth day after the new moon appears.
The Mudgala Purana describes the eight incarnations of Lord Ganesha. Each incarnation was born to defeat a specific demon. Although the purpose of the incarnations was the same their physical attributes and characteristics differ.
The main characteristics of Lord Ganesha’s avatars are given below in the tabular form.
|Avatar||Meaning of the name||Symbolic meaning||Demon killed by the avatar||Symbolic win over||Vehicle||Colour of the body|
|Vakratunda||The curved trunk one||Embodiment of the form of Brahman||Matsarasura||Jealousy||The Lion||Flesh colour or yellow|
|Ekdanta||The single tusked||Embodiment of the essential nature of Brahman||Madasura||Arrogance||The mouse||Flesh colour|
|Mahodara||The Big bellied one||Embodiment of the wisdom of Brahman||Mohasur, Durbuddhi and his son Jnanari.||Delusion (Mohasur)Negative thoughts (Durbuddhi) and Ignorance (Jnanari)||The mouse||Red|
|Gajanana||The elephant face one||Embodiment of the absolute impersonal aspect of Brahmin||Lobhasur or Lobha (son of Kuber)||Greed||The mouse||Flesh colour|
|Lambodara||The potbellied (large bellied) one||Embodiment of the pure power of Brahman||Krodhasura||Anger||The mouse||Red/Orange|
|Vikata||The misshaped one||Embodiment of the illuminating nature of Brahmin||Kamasur||Desire||The peacock||Flesh colour|
|Vighnaraja||the remover of obstacles||Embodiment of the preserving nature of Brahman.||Mamasur (also known as Mamtasur or Mama)||Ego||The Shesha (divine serpant)||Flesh colour|
|Dhumravarna||The smoke colour one||Embodiment of the destructive nature of Brahman.||Abhimanasur||Pride||The horse||Grey|
The above table gives us an overview on the main characteristics of the eight incarnations of Lord Ganesha. Lord Ganesha had the head of an elephant in each of the avatar but had different physical attributes and purpose of existence. In each life the deity fought to destroy a demon which symbolically represented a human weakness. This triumph over ego, greed, and jealousy etc., represents the power of Lord Ganesha to help his devotees tread the path of spirituality and virtue. The eight avatars of Lord Ganesha were born in different cosmic eras and convey intricate spiritual meaning.