Is Ganesha only worshipped by the Hindus?
Lord Ganesha is one of the Hindu deities who have a global appeal. This happened because of trade and commercial aspects that involved exchange of ideas and materials.
Particularly worshipped by traders and merchants in approximately the 10th century, this deity was worshipped by this union despite their religion. One of the earliest inscription and statue of Ganesha belongs to this period. The ‘Jainas’ belonged to the trader’s clan and hence Lord Ganesha is worshipped by this religious community as well. Apart from trading, migration also contributed to the popularity of Lord Ganesha in other cultures. Hindus migrated to the Malay Archipelago and took Lord Ganesha with them. The Malay Archipelago has many statues of Lord Ganesha along with Lord Shiva. The migration of Hindus created a new culture that has a few aspects of Hinduism but is also unique. The religious texts or the literature does not support the worship of Lord Ganesha. No references of Lord Ganesha in the scriptures of Jainism exist. Lord Ganesha is still worshiped by Jainas and he also has characteristics of Kubera for this particular religious sect. Images of Lord Ganesha also appear in some old temples of the Jainas in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Ganesha appears in Mahayana Buddhism. In the Buddhist religion he is known as Vinayaka. Buddhist sculptures dating back to 5th century (the Gupta period) depict him as one of their Gods. The idol representation of the Buddhist God Vinayaka is often shown dancing. This form is also called ‘Nratta Ganapati’. Ganesha’s form Nratta Ganapti also became popular in Tibet and Nepal. In Nepal, Lord Ganesha is popularly known as Heramba. The idol of Heramba has five heads and has the lion as his vehicle. ‘Tshogs Bdag’ is the Tibetan representation of Lord Ganesha. The Tibetan religion has ambivalent views on Ganesha. Some depictions of Lord Ganesha in Tibet show him being destroyed by the deity Mahakala (similar to Lord Shiva) while; others show him as a destroyer of obstacles. The idol is shown as dancing. In China and Japan evidence of Lord Ganesha’s idols are seen having regional quality.
Buddhism is also prevalent in Thailand, Burma and Cambodia. Hinduism and Buddhism were practiced simultaneously in these regions resulting in the interspersing of the two cultures. The resultant culture created a modified version of Lord Ganesha in all these countries. This can also be seen in Java, Bali and Borneo. Lord Ganesha (or the modified visual representation of Lord Ganesha) is believed to be the remover of obstacles in these regions as well.
In modern times Lord Ganesha is worshiped by other communities in India as well. Some “Sikhs” worship Lord Ganesha for the virtues he represents. It is the universal appeal and teachings of this deity that attract people from other religions as well. Evidence supports the worship of Lord Ganesha by Jainas and Buddhists across the world but Lord Ganesha is worshiped as per the Hindu definitions of his existence across borders.