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GAEŚA ("lord of the group") is the elephant-headed Hindu deity. Also called Vināyaka ("leader"), Gajānana ("elephant-faced"), Gaādhipa ("lord of the group"), Ekadanta ("one-tusked"), Lambodara ("potbellied"), Vighnarāja ("lord of obstacles"), and Siddhadāta ("giver of success"), he is the son of Śiva and Pārvatī, and leader of Śiva's group of attendants (gaa s). His special province within the Hindu pantheon is to remove and create obstacles to various undertakings. His images are found both in temples dedicated exclusively to him and, more frequently, as doorway guardians of temples to other deities, especially Śiva and Pārvatī. Gaeśa enjoys widespread devotion from Hindus of various sectarian affiliations and ranks. Hindus who regard him as their principal deity of devotion are called Gaapatyas; they are located primarily in southern and western India.

Gaeśa's historical origins are obscure. Early Vedic literatures refer to a Gaapati ("lord of the group") and to Hastimukha ("elephant-faced"), and devotees regard these references as evidence for Gaeśa's Vedic roots. It is more likely that these epithets refer to Bhaspati, Indra, or Śiva. Numismatic evidence suggests that Gaeśa originated in the first century ce. Sculptural evidence places his entry into the Hindu pantheon about four centuries later. Literarily and iconographically, Gaeśa is well established in myth and cult by the fifth century within the general framework of Saivism, although he receives worship by Hindus of various devotional and sectarian orientations for his general role as the overcomer of obstacles.

Gaeśa's mythology centers on several themes: his birth, beheading and restoration, lordship over the gaa s, associations with demons, and powers as creator and remover of obstacles. Stories in the Purāas and vernacular folklore traditions tell of occasions when Pārvatī created Gaeśa out of the substance, sometimes called mala ("dirt") or lepa ("rubbing"), rubbed off the surface of her body and formed into the shape of a handsome youth. Once, while Śiva was absent and deep in meditation, Pārvatī commanded this young man to guard her private quarters from all intruders. When Śiva returned and sought entry into Pārvatī's presence, the young man barred the door. During the battle that followed, Śiva beheaded the youth. Pārvatī became angry and demanded that Śiva restore him at once. Śiva sent out his group of attendants (gaa s) to find the first available head, which happened to belong to an elephant. Śiva restored the youth with the elephant's head and gave him command over his group of gaas, thus naming him Gaapati or Gaeśa, Lord of the Group. Śiva also told all gods and brahmans that Gaeśa must be worshiped first before all other undertakings, ritual or otherwise, or else their efforts would come to ruin.

Gaeśa is also called Vināyaka, meaning "leader." The early Dharmasūtra literature, predating the above-mentioned myths of Gaeśa, describes rituals prescribed to ward off vināyaka s, evil demons who possess their victims and cause them to act in strange and inauspicious ways. Gaeśa's dwarfish torso resembles the iconography of these vināyaka s. Some scholars have suggested that Gaeśa may originally have been a member of this class of demons but gradually achieved brahmanical recognition and gained admittance into its pantheon as the son of Śiva and Pārvatī.

In receiving the head of the elephant, Gaeśa also takes on some of the symbolism associated with elephants in Indian culture. Elephant motifs frequently are found at the bases of temples, appearing to hold up the massive edifices. Elephants guard the doors of temples and serve as the vehicles for deities and royalty. Gaeśa also serves in these protective capacities as the remover and placer of obstacles.

See Also

Elephants; Gaapatyas.


Courtright, Paul B. Gaeśa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. New York, 1985. A detailed survey of the myths and rituals surrounding the figures of Gaeśa in classical Sanskrit sources and contemporary western India (Maharashtra).

Getty, Alice. Gaeśa: A Monograph on the Elephant-Faced God. Oxford, 1936. A study of the myth and iconography of Gaeśa in India, Southeast Asia, and East Asia.

New Sources

Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God. Robert L. Brown, editor. Albany, 1991.

Ganesh, the Benevolent. Edited by Pratapaditya Pal. Bombay, 1995.

Grewal, Royina. The Book of Ganesh. New Delhi; New York, 2001.

Grimes, John A. Ganapati: Song of the Self. Albany, 1995.

Karunakaran, Rankorath. The Riddle of Ganesha. Bombay, 1992.

Nagar, Shanti Lal. The Cult of Vinayaka. New Delhi, 1992.

Shakunthala Jagannathan. Ganesha, the Auspicious, the Beginning. 1992.

Paul B. Courtright (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 11 2018


(b. Nandod, Gujarat, India, 1507)


Ganeśa was born into a Brâhmaṇa family of astronomers and astrologers. He was the son of Keśava of the Kauśikagotra and his wife Laksmî, and studied under his famous father, on many of whose works he eventually wrote commentaries. In his turn Ganeśa trained Nṛsiṃha (b. 1548), the son of his brother Râma, and Nṛsiṃha both commented on Gaṇeéa’s Grahalâghava and wrote, in 1603, a set of astronomical tables entitled Grahakaumudî based on that work. Gaṇeśa also taught Divâkara of Golagrâma, many of whose descendants commented on various of his master’s books. Ganeśa’s last dated work, the Vivâhahadîpikâ, was written in 1554; he must, however, have lived at least a decade longer in order to have been his nephew’s teacher. So far as is known, he never left his native village.

Ganeśa wrote a number of works on jyotiḥaśâstra (astronomy and astrology) and dharmaśâstra (Hindu law). These are listed by his nephew, Nṛsiṃha, in his commentary, Harṣakaumudî, on the Grahalâghava:.

1. Grahalâghava (see essay in Supplement).

2. Laghutithicintâmaṇi (see essays in Supplement).

3. Bṛhattithicintâmaṇi (see essays in Supplement).

4. Siddhântaśiromanivivṛti (see essay in Supplement).

5. Lîlśvatîvyâkṛti (see essay in Supplement).

6. Vṛndâvanaṭîkikâ.

7. Muhûrtatattvavivgti.

8. Śrâddhâdivinirṇaya.

9. Chandorṇavaviuṛti.

10. Sudhîran̄njana..

11. Tarjanîyantraka.

12. Kṛṣṇâṣṭamînirṇaya.

13. Holikânirṇaya.

To these the following can be added.

14. Pâtasâraṇî.

15. Câbukayantra.

16. Pratodayantra.

17. Dhruvabhramaṇayantravyâkhyâ

The Grahalâghava or Siddhântarahasya, Ganeśa’s main work on astronomy, was composed in 1520, when he was thirteen. It contains sixteen chapters:.

1. On the mean longitudes of the planets.

2. On the true longitudes of the sun and moon.

3. On the true longitudes of the five “starplanets.”

4. On the three problems involving diurnal motion.

5. On lunar eclipses.

6. On solar eclipses.

7. On calendrical problems.

8. On eclipses.

9. On helical risings and settings.

10. On the planets’ altitudes.

11. On the altitudes of the fixed stars.

12. On the lunar crescent.

13. On planetary conjunctions.

14. On the pâtas of the sun and moon.

15. On calculating lunar eclipses with a calendar.

16. Conclusion.

The Grahalâghava has been the most popular Sanskrit astronomical treatise in northern and western India since the sixteen century. Its popularity is reflected in the hundreds of manuscripts of it that are extant, in the several commentaries on it, and in the numerous sets of astronomical tables based on its parameters. The known commentaries are the following (for editions, see the list of editions of the Grahalâghava itself given below):

1. Tîkâ of Mallâri (fl. ca. 1600), the son of Divâkara of Golagrâma (published).

2. Harṣakaumudî of Nṛsiṃha3 (b 1548), Gaṇeśa’s nephew.

3. Manoramâ of Gan̂gâdhara (1586).

4. Siddhântarahasyodâharaṇa of Viśvanâtha (1612), the son of Divâkara of Golagrâma (published).

5. Manoramâ of Kamalâkara, the great-grandson of Divâkara of Golagrâma.

6. Udâhṛti of Nârâyana (1635[?]).

7. Sadvâsanâ of Sudhâkara Dvivedin (1904, published).

8. Sudhâmanjarîvâsanâ of Sîtârâma Jhâ (1932, published).

9. Mâdhurî of Yugeývara Jhâ (1946, published).

10. Tîkâ of Bâlagovinda.

The following astronomical tables are based on the Hrahalâghava:.

1. Grahalâghavasâriṇî I (the initial epoch is 1520).

2. Grahakaumudî of Nṛsiṃha3 (1603).

3. Grahasâraṇî of Gañgâdhara (1630).

4. Grahalâghabasâriṇî of Premamiśra (1656).

5. Grahaprabodhasâriṇî of Yâdava (1663).

6. Grahalâghabasâriṇî II (1754).

7. Grahalâghavîyasârinî of Gangâdhara Varman (Bombay, 1907; 2nd ed., 1923).

Most of these sets of tables are described in D. Pingree, “Sanskrit Astronomical Tables in the United States,” in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s. 58 no, 3 (1968), passim; “On the classification of Indian Planetary Tables,” in Journal of the History of Astronomy, 1 (1970), 95-108; and “Sanskrit Astronomical Tables in England,” in Journal of Oriental Research (to be published).

The Grahalâghava has often been published in India:

1. Edited with the Tîkâ of Mallâri by L. Wilkinson (Calcutta, 1848).

2. Edited with the Tîkâ of Mallâri and the Udâharaṇa of Viśvanâtha by Bhâlacandra (Benares, 1864).

3. Edited with the Udâharaṇa of Viśvanâtha and a Marâṭhî translation by Kṛṣṇa Śâstrî Goḍabole and Vâmana Kṛṣṇa Jośî Gadre (2nd ed., Bombay, 1873; 5th ed., Poona, 1914; 6th ed., Poona, 1926).

4-7. Edited with the Ṭîkâ of Mallâri (Bombay, 1875; Benares, 1877; Delhi, 1877; Bombay, 1883).

8. Edited with the Udâhara1E47;a of Viśvanâtha and a Bengâlî translation by Rasikamohana Cattopâdhyâya (Calcutta, 1887).

9. Edited with the Hindî translation of Jiyârâma Śâstrî by Râmeśvara Bhaṭṭa (Kalyâna-Bombay, 1899).

10. Edited with the Ṭîkâ of Mallâri by Hariprasâda Śarman (Bombay, 1901).

11. Edited with the Ṭîkâ of Mallâri, the Udâharaṇa of Viśvanâtha, and his own Sadvâsanâ by Sudhâkara Dvivedin (Benares, 1904; repr. Bombay, 1925).

12. Edited with the Tîkâ of Mallâri and the Ândhraṭîkâ of Māgipûḍi Vîrayya Siddhântigâr (Masulipatam, 1915).

13. Edited with his own Sudhâmañjarîvâsanâ and a Hindî bhâsâ by Sîtârâma Jhâ (Benares, 1932; repr. Benares, 1941).

14. Edited with the Udâharaṇa of Viśvanâtha, the Mâdhurî of Yugeśvara Jhâ, and a Hindî ṭîkâ by Kapileśvara Śâstrî Kâśî Sankrit Series 142 (Benares, 1946).

The Laghutithicintâmaṇi consists of table for determining tithes, nakṣatras, and yogas accompanied by a short introductory text; Gaṇeśa composed it in 1525. Of this work also there are hundreds of manuscripts as well as several commentaries:

1. ṣîkâ of Nṛsiṃha3 (b, 1586), the grandson of Divâkara of Golagrâma and the nephew of Mallâri, the commentator on the Grahalâghava.

2. Udâharaṇa a Viśvanâtha (1634), the commentator on the Grahalâghava. Published.

3. Ṭippaṇa of Vyēkaṭa, alias Bâpû.

4. Ṭîkâ of Yajñeśvara.

The Laghutithicintâmaṇi has been published twice:.

1. Edited with his own Hindî commentary, Vijayalakshmî (1924), by Mâtṛpasâda Pâṇḍeya, Haridas Sanskrit Series 76 (Benares, 1938).

2. Edited with the Udâharaṇa of Viśvanâtha by V. G. Âpte, Ânandâśrama Sanskrit Series 120 (Poona 1942), part I.

The tables of the Laghutithicitâmaṇi are discussed in D. Pingree, “Sanskrit Astronomical Tables in the United States,” pp. 47b-50b; and “Sanskrit Astronomical Tables in England.”

The Bṛhattithicintâmaṇi, also consisting of tables for computing tithes, nakṣatras, and yogas and an introductory text, was written in 1552. It was much less popular than the Laghutithicintâmaṇi; there are only a dozen manuscripts, and the unique commentary is the Sùbodhinî composed by Viṣṇu, the son of Divâkara of Golagrâma and the brother of Mallâri. The text alone with Viṣṇu’s Subodhini is published By V. G. Âpte, Ânandâśrama Sanskrit Series 120 (Poona, 1942), part 2. The tables are described in D. Pingree, “Sanskrit Astronomical Tables in the United States,” pp. 50b-51a; and “Sanskrit Astronomical Tables in England.”

The Lîlâvatîvyâkṛti or Buddhivilâsinî, a commentary on the Lîlâvatî of Bhâskara II, was composed by Gaṇeśa in 1545. It was published in the edition of the Lîlâvatî produced by Dattâtreya Âpte, Ânandâsrama Sanskrit Series 107, 2 vols,. (Poons, 1937).

The Vṛndâvanaṭîkikâ or Vivâhadîpikâ, commentary on the Vivâhavṛndâvana of Keśavârka (a work on astrology applied to marriage), was written by Gaṇesa in 1554. It was published at Benares in 1868.

The Muhûrtatattvavivṛti or Muhûrtadîpikâ, a commentary on the Muhûrtatattva of his father, Keśava (a work on catarchic astrology), was written by Gaṇeśa before the Vivâhadîpikâ, which refers to it. The Muhûrtadîpikâ has not yet been published.

The Śrâddhâdivinirṇaya is evidently a work on offerings to one’s ancestors. No manuscripts are known.

The Sudhîrājana is a work on The astronomical instrument of the same name. It has not yet been published.

The Tarjanîyantraka is presumably a work on another astronomical instrument called the tarjanî. No manuscripts are known.

The Kṛṣṇâṣṭamînirṇaya is work on the festival of Kṛṣṇa’s birthday, which falls on the eighth tithi of the Kṛṣṇapakṣa of the month Śrâvaṇa. No manuscripts are known.

The Holikânirṇaya is a work on the festival called Holikâ which falls on the full moon of the month Phâlguna. No manuscripts are known.

The Pâtasâriṇî or Oâtasâdhana is a set of tables for computing the daters of pâtas of the sun and moon, accompanied by a brief explanatory text; Gaṇeśsa wrote it in 1522. There are three commentaries:

1. Vivṛti of Divâkara (b. 1606, a great-grandson of Divâkara of Golagrâma.

2. Vivrti of ViŚvanâtha (1631), the son of Divâkara of Golagrâma.

3. Vivṛti of Dinakara (1839).

Neither the Pâtasâriṇî itself nor any of its commentaries has yet been published.

The Câbukayantra and Pratodayantra are works on the astronomical instruments called by these names. A manuscript of the latter is said to be dated 1516, when Gaṇeśa was only nine years old. Neither work has been published.

The Dhruvabhramaṇayantravyâkhyâ is a commentary on the second adhikâra of Padmanâbha’s Yantraratnâvalì (ca. 1360). This adhikâra describes the dhruvabhramaṇayantra, which is an instrument for observing the north pole star. Its ascription to Gaṇeśa is uncertain. It has not yet been published.


The editions of Gaṇeśa’s works have already been mentioned. Very little else has been written of him or his astronomical system save my articles and books on astronomical tables, to which reference has been made. There are articles on him by Sudhâkara Dvivedin in his Ganakatarîginî (Benares, 1933; repr. from Pandit, n.s. 14 [1892], 58-63); by Ś. B. Dîkṣita, in Bhâratîya Jyotiḥśâstra (Poona, 1931; repr. of 1896 ed.), pp. 259-267; and by G. Thibaut, in Astronomie, Astrologie und Mathematik (Strasbourg, 1899), pp. 61-62. M. G. Inamdar, “An Interesting Proof of the formula for the Area of a (Cyclic) Quadrilateral and a Triangle Given by the Sanskrit Commentator Ganesh in About 1545 A.D.,” in Nagpur University Journal, 11 (1945), 36-42, deals with a passage in the Buddhivilâinî.

David Pingree


views updated May 29 2018

Gaṇeśa (Skt., ‘Lord of the hosts’). Gaṇapati, Vināyaka (leader), Ekadanta (one-tusked), Lambodara (pot-bellied), Siddhadāta (the one who gives success), Vighnarāja (lord of obstacles), the elephant-headed god of wisdom and good fortune. Since early medieval times Gaṇeśa has been one of the most popular Hindu gods. He is invoked before all undertakings—from religious ceremonies (excluding funerals) to written compositions, and before the worship of other deities. Though his origins may be that of a tutelary village deity, today all sects claim him as their own. A few sectarians worship him exclusively, especially the Gāṇapatyas who produced the Gaṇeśa-gītā (a version of the Bhagavad-gītā in which Gaṇeśa replaces Kṛṣṇa) and the Gaṇeśa-Purāṇa.