World, as we know it, is a collection of organism made from a compilation of molecules. These molecules in Sanskrit are known as “Ganas”. The name Ganesh hence means the Lord of all Ganas.
Several idols of Ganesha exist all over the world. These depictions may vary in different countries but each one holds a meaning. Many craftsmen have worked meticulously on the details of the idols. The details not just lie in the artifacts or the features of Lord Ganesha, but also the positions he rests in. Every position of rest has a symbolic meaning associated to it.
The sitting posture may be seen mounted on high platform. The throne is called a ‘Pitha’. Lord Ganesha is also depicted sitting on a lotus flower. The posture in which Lord Ganesha sits on a lotus is known as the “Padma Asan” in yoga. Typically Lord Ganesha is seen with one leg up and right leg hanging on the ground.
The leg on the ground symbolizes Lord Ganesha’s connect with worldly affairs. The left leg bent backwards indicates meditation. This posture hence denotes a perfect balance between attaining spirituality and taking care of his duties. Though several other forms of sitting postures of Lord Ganesha exist, their symbolic meaning is contested by specialists in each case.
Of the standing postures of Lord Ganesha static as well as dynamic postures of the deity exist. In the static posture Ganesha is shown standing, with one foot on the ground and the other slightly raised and supported by his vehicle, the rat. Although the standing posture has been associated to having a rigid attitude, it also depicts determination and strength of the mind. The dynamic posture on where Lord Ganesha is shown dancing denotes celebration by Lord Ganesha on defeating demons. This is reminiscent of the time when Lord Krishna (another Hindu deity) defeated the serpent Kaliya and danced on his head. The Brahmavaivarta-Purana indeed states that Lord Ganesha is an incarnation of Krishna. The “Linga Purana” was written after Ganesha successfully defeated demons to save earth. The dance is also an emulation of his father- Shiva. This posture has been depicted in paintings in the medieval period and is also found in Thailand and Sri Lanka.
The lying Ganesha is more so a modern representation. The other positions of Ganesha date back to 5th and 7th century and have been depicted in paintings. Statues made of bronze exist from this period that depicts Ganesha in the lying down position. The resting position is often associated with content. According to the Vedas, Ganesha is the one who maintains the balance of life. Although Lord Vishnu created earth by breathing into the water of life, Ganesha maintains the balance of life by doing the same. However, these parallels are contested by scholars as the interpretation of Ganesha lying down is more modern.
In his essence, Ganesha holds many meanings. It is not just his countenance or the artifacts but also his resting positions that symbolically mean something.
There are two dedicated scriptures for Lord Ganesha, the Mudgala Purana and the Ganesha Purana. Both the scriptures contain stories of Lord Ganesha’s childhood, his marriage and his various avatars. In Hinduism an avatar is a direct descent of a deity which is born for a purpose. Apart from Hinduism, only Sikhism and Ayyavazhi religions believe in the concept of avatar or incarnations. Thus, Hinduism believes in the principle of Avatarvada.
As per the Ganesha Purana, there are four incarnations of Ganesha, one for each “yuga” (cycle of life). The Mudgala Purana describes eight incarnations of Ganesha which are popular. This article talks about the eight incarnations of Lord Ganesha.
All the avatars of Ganesha have specific attributes. They differ in physical qualities like colour of the skin or the vehicle they use. However the purpose of all the avatars was one, to slay demons. All the avatars symbolize abstract qualities but have similar purpose of existence. The Mudgala Purana preaches that the importance of the stories of the eight avatars is not in their literal recitation but it is in the understanding of their purpose.
The first of Lord Ganesha’s manifestation is called Vakratunda. The name is derived from the physical attributes of this manifestation of Lord Ganesha. Since the avatar has a twisted trunk it is called “Vakratunda”. The reason this avatar was born was to defeat the demon Matsaryasura. Symbolically Matsaryasura is the demon of envy and his defeat by Lord Ganesha is a testimony to triumph over envy.
The second incarnation was Ekdanta. The incarnation got the name because of Lord Ganesha being single tusked. This avatar was born to defeat the demon Madasura. The demon Madasura represents intoxication.
The third manifestation of Lord Ganesha is Mahodara or the big bellied one. He was born to kill the demon of delusion, Mohasura. This incarnation of Lord Ganesha also destroyed Durbuddhi (negative thought) and Jnanaari (Ignorance). Mohasura was born out of momentary confusion of Lord Shiva.
Gajanana, was the fourth incarnation of Lord Ganesha. The name of the avatar is coined after the “elephant face” of Lord Ganesha. He was born to slay the demon of greed, Lobha.
The fifth incarnation of Lord Ganesha is Lambodara who killed Krodha, the demon of anger. The name Lambodara means “potbellied God”.
Vikata, “the misshaped one”, defeated Kama, the demon of desire. Vikata is the sixth incarnation of Lord Ganesha.
The seventh incarnation, Vighnaraja destroyed Mama, the demon of ego. In Sanskrit, Vighnaraja means the king of obstacles.
The last or the eighth incarnation of Lord Ganesha is Dhumravarna (smoke colour). The incarnation got victory over the demon Ahamkara (narcissism).
The purpose of the incarnations was to gain victory over vices. Lord Ganesha helps his devotees to overcome bad qualities and walk the path of righteousness.