Ganesha, also known as Ganapati, Vinayaka and Binayak, is one of the best-known and most worshiped deities in the Hindu faith. The image of Ganesha is found throughout India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Nepal. Worshipped by most Hindu sects, devotion to Ganesha also extends to Jains and Buddhists.
Although he is known by many attributes, Ganesha's elephant head makes him easy to identify. Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom. As the god of beginnings, he is honoured at the start of rites and ceremonies. Ganesha is also invoked as patron of letters and learning during writing sessions. Several texts relate mythological anecdotes associated with his birth and exploits and explain his distinct iconography.
It is quite likely that Ganesha emerged as a deity as early as the 2nd century AD, but most certainly by the 4th and 5th centuries AD, during the Gupta period, although he inherited traits from Vedic and pre-Vedic precursors. Hindu mythology identifies him as the restored son of Parvati and Shiva of the Shaivism tradition, but he is a pan-Hindu god found in its various traditions. In the Ganapatya tradition of Hinduism, Ganesha is the supreme deity. The principal texts on Ganesha include the Ganesha Purana, the Mudgala Purana, and the Ganapati Atharvashirsa. Brahma Purana and Brahmanda Purana are other two Puranic genre encyclopedic texts that deal with Ganesha.
Ganesha is a popular figure in Indian art. Unlike those of some deities, representations of Ganesha show wide variations and distinct patterns changing over time. He may be portrayed standing, dancing, heroically taking action against demons, playing with his family as a boy, sitting down or on an elevated seat, or engaging in a range of contemporary situations.
Ganesha images were prevalent in many parts of India by the 6th century. The 13th-century statue pictured is typical of Ganesha statuary from 900–1200, after Ganesha had been well-established as an independent deity with his own sect. Ganesha has the head of an elephant and a big belly. This statue has four arms, which is common in depictions of Ganesha. He holds his own broken tusk in his lower-right hand and holds a delicacy, which he samples with his trunk, in his lower-left hand. The motif of Ganesha turning his trunk sharply to his left to taste a sweet in his lower-left hand is a particularly archaic feature. A more primitive statue in one of the Ellora Caves with this general form has been dated to the 7th century. In the standard configuration, Ganesha typically holds an axe or a goad in one upper arm and a pasha (noose) in the other upper arm. In rare instances, he may be depicted with a human head.
The influence of this old constellation of iconographic elements can still be seen in contemporary representations of Ganesha. In one modern form, the only variation from these old elements is that the lower-right hand does not hold the broken tusk but is turned towards the viewer in a gesture of protection or fearlessness (abhaya mudra). The same combination of four arms and attributes occurs in statues of Ganesha dancing, which is a very popular theme.
Ganesha's earliest name was Ekadanta (One Tusked), referring to his single whole tusk, the other being broken. Some of the earliest images of Ganesha show him holding his broken tusk. The importance of this distinctive feature is reflected in the Mudgala Purana, which states that the name of Ganesha's second incarnation is Ekadanta. Ganesha's protruding belly appears as a distinctive attribute in his earliest statuary, which dates to the Gupta period (4th to 6th centuries). This feature is so important that according to the Mudgala Purana, two different incarnations of Ganesha use names based on it: Lambodara (Pot Belly, or, literally, Hanging Belly) and Mahodara (Great Belly). Both names are Sanskrit compounds describing his belly. The Brahmanda Purana says that Ganesha has the name Lambodara because all the universes of the past, present, and future are present in him. The number of Ganesha's arms varies; his best-known forms have between two and sixteen arms. Many depictions of Ganesha feature four arms, which is mentioned in Puranic sources and codified as a standard form in some iconographic texts. His earliest images had two arms. Forms with 14 and 20 arms appeared in Central India during the 9th and the 10th centuries. The serpent is a common feature in Ganesha iconography and appears in many forms. According to the Ganesha Purana, Ganesha wrapped the serpent Vasuki around his neck. Other depictions of snakes include use as a sacred thread wrapped around the stomach as a belt, held in a hand, coiled at the ankles, or as a throne. Upon Ganesha's forehead may be a third eye or the sectarian mark, which consists of three horizontal lines. The Ganesha Purana prescribes a tilaka mark as well as a crescent moon on the forehead. A distinct form of Ganesha called Bhalachandra includes that iconographic element. Ganesha is often described as red in color. Specific colors are associated with certain forms. Many examples of color associations with specific meditation forms are prescribed in the Sritattvanidhi, a treatise on Hindu iconography. For example, white is associated with his representations as Heramba-Ganapati and Rina-Mochana-Ganapati (Ganapati Who Releases from Bondage). Ekadanta-Ganapati is visualized as blue during meditation in that form.
Ganesha is considered to be the Lord of letters and learning. In Sanskrit, the word buddhi is a feminine noun that is variously translated as intelligence, wisdom, or intellect. The concept of buddhi is closely associated with the personality of Ganesha, especially in the Puranic period, when many stories stress his cleverness and love of intelligence. One of Ganesha's names in the Ganesha Purana and the Ganesha Sahasranama is Buddhipriya. This name also appears in a list of 21 names at the end of the Ganesha Sahasranama that Ganesha says are especially important. The word priya can mean "fond of", and in a marital context it can mean "lover" or "husband", so the name may mean either "Fond of Intelligence" or "Buddhi's Husband".
Ganesha is identified with the Hindu mantra Aum, also spelled Om. The term oṃkārasvarūpa (Aum is his form), when identified with Ganesha, refers to the notion that he personifies the primal sound. The Ganapati Atharvashirsa attests to this association. Chinmayananda translates the relevant passage as follows:
(O Lord Ganapati!) You are (the Trimurti) Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesa. You are Indra. You are fire [Agni] and air [Vāyu]. You are the sun [Sūrya] and the moon [Chandrama]. You are Brahman. You are (the three worlds) Bhuloka [earth], Antariksha-loka [space], and Swargaloka [heaven]. You are Om. (That is to say, You are all this). Some devotees see similarities between the shape of Ganesha's body in iconography and the shape of Aum in the Devanāgarī and Tamil scripts.
According to Kundalini yoga, Ganesha resides in the first chakra, called Muladhara (mūlādhāra). Mula means "original, main"; adhara means "base, foundation". The muladhara chakra is the principle on which the manifestation or outward expansion of primordial Divine Force rests. This association is also attested to in the Ganapati Atharvashirsa. Courtright translates this passage as follows: "You continually dwell in the sacral plexus at the base of the spine [mūlādhāra cakra]." Thus, Ganesha has a permanent abode in every being at the Muladhara. Ganesha holds, supports and guides all other chakras, thereby "governing the forces that propel the wheel of life".
(source : Wikipedia)