In This Article Gaṇeśa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Encyclopedias
  • Gaṇeśa and the Goddess
  • Iconography and Painting
  • Modern Devotional Works on Gaṇeśa
  • Gaṇeśa outside India

Hinduism Gaṇeśa
by
Greg Bailey
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0139

Introduction

Gaṇeśa, also called Gaṇapati and Vināyaka, is one of the most popular gods in contemporary India and one of the most well known Hindu deities outside India. His popularity comes from his function as creator and remover of obstacles as well as from his status of being the first god to be worshiped in all rituals. In addition, his elephant head marks him out as almost unique among deities in India. Since he has been the deity worshiped at the beginning of all rituals in India, all Hindus usually come into contact with Gaṇeśa at some time each day. Up until about 1900 he was popular mainly in western and southern India, but his popularity is now universal throughout India. However, from the middle of the 1st millennium CE, images of Gaṇeśa are found throughout Southeast Asia, and he also has a presence in China and more recently in Japan, making him one of the most international of Hindu deities. Despite his popularity, he has not received the scholarly treatment one might have expected. This is because he has usually been treated as part of the Śiva family of deities, not so much as an independent deity in his own right. It is also likely that he became independent only after the 14th century, as evidenced by the appearance of two Purāṇas centered on his mythology and worship and some associated Tantric texts. Prior to this, most of Gaṇeśa’s appearances in literature have been in association with his birth, subsequent conflict with Śiva, his beheading, and the replacement of his human head with an elephant’s head. However, his immense popularity as a god of auspiciousness in contemporary India has given rise from the 1990s to a flood of devotional literature.

General Overviews

In this category are books that combine surveys of the historical development of Gaṇeśa as a deity with studies of his mythology and iconography. They can be regarded as introductions to the study of the deity without offering specializations found elsewhere in this bibliography. Getty 1971 is a pioneering work, outdated now because of its reliance on a small range of sources. Courtright 2001 is very strong on psychoanalytic interpretations of Gaṇeśa’s mythology and of his worship in contemporary Maharashtra. Brown 1991 consists of a collection of essays exploring different aspects of Gaṇeśa’s worship, iconography, and mythology. Martin-Dubost 1997 focuses substantially on Gaṇeśa’s iconography, but interprets this through the primary literary sources. Thapan 1997 is an excellent historical study of Gaṇeśa and his divine predecessors from the earliest occurrences before the Mahābhārata, and Krishan 1999 analyses Gaṇeśa’s development as a deity primarily through literary texts. Bailey 2009 is a brief introduction to Gaṇeśa’s mythology.

  • Bailey, Greg. “Gaṇeśa.” In Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 1. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, and Angelika Malinar, 51–63. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

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    Identifies five historical stages in the development of Gaṇeśa as an independent deity in his own right. Discusses the themes of auspiciousness, the elephant head, and family relations as central to understanding the god’s mythology and ongoing popularity.

  • Brown, R. L. GAṆEŚA: Studies of an Asian God. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1991.

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    Contains eleven essays covering Gaṇeśa’s earliest development in India, his rise to prominence in the Purāṇas, literature about Gaṇeśa, the artistic treatment of the god in Jainism, and different aspects of the deity as represented in the art and literature of other parts of Asia. An excellent starting point for dealing with the problems in studying the god.

  • Courtright, Paul B. Gaṇeśa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2001.

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    Divided into sections dealing with origins, mythology, ritual, and Gaṇeśa in a regional setting, this is almost a complete handbook about Gaṇeśa in India. It is a major advance on Getty 1971 and other earlier monographs in its use of contemporary hermeneutical tools for analyzing the god’s mythology and in its exploration of Gaṇeśa worship in contemporary Maharashtra. Originally published in 1985.

  • Getty, Alice. Gaṇeśa: A Monograph on the Elephant-Faced God. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1971.

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    The earliest of a series of books that looks at Gaṇeśa from an historical perspective and traces his development outside India into China, Japan, Tibet, and Southeast Asia, as both a Hindu and a Buddhist deity. Also functions as an introduction to Gaṇeśa’s iconography. Raises questions about the god’s origins that have still not been answered. Originally published in 1936.

  • Krishan, Yuvraj. Gaṇeśa: Unravelling an Enigma. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999.

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    Primarily a collection of essays published earlier and now brought together in a single volume. It studies the history of the god’s emergence and his mythology, and is very strong on the depiction of Gaṇeśa in countries outside India. It is also strong on iconography, containing hundreds of pictures of the deity from many periods and in many styles.

  • Martin-Dubost, P. Gaṇeśa, the Enchanter of the Three Worlds. Mumbai: Franco-Indian Research, 1997.

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    A very comprehensive work focusing primarily on Gaṇeśa’s mythology, including his attendants (the gaṇas) and the mothers, and the iconographical representations of this mythology. It contains wonderful illustrations and summarizes a number of texts about the god. It does, however, contain a slight devotional tinge. Almost a source book for the study of the god, with a very extensive bibliography.

  • Thapan, Anita R. Understanding Gaṇapati: Insights into the Dynamics of a Cult. Delhi: Manohar, 1997.

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    An important recent work that traces elephant worship in India from Harappan times until Gaṇeśa appears as an independent deity in the Purāṇas. Focuses on his importance to the mercantile community as a powerful source of his popularity. Argues that in the Puṛāṇas the deity is associated with a process of brahmanization.

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