One year, when I was facing a particularly challenging set of circumstances, my yoga teacher gave me a gift of a small statue. At the time, I was fairly new to yoga, and had never heard of Ganesha (aka Ganesh or Ganapati, among other names). But I was excited when she revealed that this elephant-headed Hindu deity was known for his ability to remove obstacles. I should place the Ganesha statue facing my doorway, she said, and give him a chance to do his stuff.
In all honesty, I’m still battling obstacles and challenges in my life, but it’s also true that a number have been removed. I guess I’ll never know for sure whether Ganesha has had a hand (or a tusk) in this, but in any case, I’ve come to truly admire and feel affection for him. I’m not alone: Ganesha is beloved and revered all over the world. So what is the story of Ganesha?
Like many stories, the one about Ganesha has more than one version. One of the most popular is that Parvati, the wife of Shiva, created Ganesha while her husband was away on a very long trip. She placed him outside her chambers to guard her privacy, but when Shiva came back he was angry that there was an unknown stranger guarding his wife and beheaded him. When Parvati found out that Shiva had beheaded her beloved son she was understandably distraught. Shiva then replaced the boy’s head with the head of an elephant, and gave him his powers.
You will also notice that Ganesha rides on a mouse and carries a noose and a goad to help him capture and remove the obstacles. I’ve also read that Ganesha is capable of placing obstacles in your path if he thinks they are needed.
In any case, this well-known figure is everywhere these days—stores and websites offer Ganesha jewelry, Ganesha paintings, mugs, tattoos, posters, Ganesha t-shirts, you name it. And, there is an overflowing wealth of Ganesha-inspired devotional music. For Bhakti yogis, Ganesha is often prayed to at pujas to open the way, and many gatherings begin with an invocation to Ganesha. There’s an awesome “Ganesh Invocation” on Craig Pruess’s Sacred Chants of Devi and Sean Johnson also offers a great invocation track on the album Devaloka entitled “Calling Ganesha.” It’s a wonderful series of some of the different names of Ganesha.
An all-time elephant favorite is MC Yogi’s Elephant Power. Jai Uttal joins MC Yogi on the rockin’ song “Ganesh is Fresh.” And the CD’s title song, “Elephant Power” features the venerable Bhagavan Das.
Here are a few Ganesha tracks and Sanskrit mantras you can check out if you’re a fan (and if you’re new to Ganesha, all the better!).
Gan Gan Ganapati (“salutations to the remover of obstacles”)
Ragani’s Best of Both Worlds offers a great “Ganapati” track
Ganesha Sharanam (“Oh lord Ganesha, give me shelter.”)
Ganapati Om Jaya Ganapati Om Jaya (“Jaya” is hail or victory, “Ganapati” means lord of the multitudes.)
Gaja Nana: A prayer to Ganesha, who purifies and removes the obstacles of the mind.
Om Gum Ganapati (“I bow to the elephant faced God, who is capable of removing all obstacles. I pray for blessings and protection.”)
Kristin Luna Ray has a beautiful “Ganesha” track on her album One Shared Heart. “Jai Ganesha” is the mantra. And “Ganesha” on Heart of Devotion by Ena Vie is sweet and uplifting. Ariah Firefly’s “Ganesha” on One Blissful Dream is absolutely joyful.
There’s a gorgeous track by Swaha —“Ganesha Ji”– on Yoga Motion: White Swan Yoga Masters Volume 4. The mantra is:
Om Shree Ganesha Ji Gam Gam Ganapati Gaaye Namaha
This translates as “Oh Great Ganesha-Ji Remover of Obstacles, we sing and salute you!”
And this is just a beginning! Once you start listening to Sanskrit devotional music, you’ll find that the elephant-headed remover of obstacles really gets around. As MC Yogi says, “…Ganesh makes everything possible/because elephant power’s unstoppable!”