Ganesha Dhyanam

Recited by the music ensemble in Gurudev Siddha Peeth

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ganesh dhyanam

Introduction by Elizabeth Grimbergen

Our house has quite a few murtis, enlivened statues, of Lord Ganesh. Though they come in various sizes, shapes, and materials, each of these forms of Lord Ganesh has been the focus of our worship. This elephant-headed deity with his rotund belly and twinkling eyes is much beloved in our household, seen as a protector of our home and of all those within its walls. Known as the lord of beginnings and remover of obstacles, Ganesh is one of the most venerated deities throughout India.

The verse (shloka) above, Ganesha Dhyanam—translated as “Meditation on Lord Ganesh”—is one of many verses chanted daily in his honor in India.

The story of how Lord Ganesh acquired the head of an elephant tells us much about who this deity is and why he is so revered. Lord Ganesh is the son of Uma (uma-sutam). Uma, meaning “splendor” or “luminance,” is another name for Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva. The story begins when the Goddess Parvati decides to take a bath and creates a boy from clay to guard her doorway. Instructed to let no one in, he takes his post at the threshold to her room.

Lord Shiva arrives to see his wife and tells the boy to let him pass. Not knowing who Shiva is, the boy refuses, steadfastly protecting his mother. A battle ensues in which Lord Shiva strikes off the boy’s head.

Goddess Parvati, seeing her son lifeless on the ground, demands that the Lord return him to life; Lord Shiva then commands his army (gana) of divine attendants (bhuta) to find the boy a new head. They return with an elephant head, which Shiva places on the boy’s body, returning him to life.

Lord Shiva then declares his son to be the leader of the ganas by naming him Ganesh— literally, Lord of the Ganas. The first line of the verse celebrates this aspect of Lord Ganesh: gajananam bhuta-ganadi-sevitam, “he who has the face of an elephant and is served by an assemblage of celestial attendants.”

This story, like other sacred legends, holds deeper meanings that convey wisdom and insight into the nature of our relationship with the Divine. Lord Ganesh is a divine creation whose purpose is to guard the doorway to a sacred space. He is an obstacle to any intruder who would cross this threshold without permission. On the other hand, this celestial guard permits the passage of the righteous. In the Skanda Purana, Lord Shiva gives his son the task of creating obstacles for those who go against dharma and removing the obstacles of those who walk the path of dharma1. For this reason, Lord Ganesh is also known as the Lord of Obstacles. His name Vighneshvara comes from the Sanskrit vigna meaning “obstacles” and ishvara meaning “the Lord.”

Lord Ganesh also stands at temporal thresholds, and in this respect, he is the Lord of Beginnings. He removes the sorrows (soka-vinasa-karakam) of the past and ushers in the new, the possible. Every beginning is a threshold, a new moment in time, and in order to begin anything new, the old must be left behind. And so, it is traditional to invoke Lord Ganesh’s blessings at the beginning of any new endeavor to smooth the way to success.

On the Siddha Yoga path, we invoke the grace of Lord Ganesh to support us in our sadhana. Lord Ganesh grants fearlessness and wisdom. He removes attachments we may have that hold us back on the spiritual path. He enables us to cross the threshold into the knowledge of our own divinity, our very own Self.

In my home, one tiny Ganesh murti is placed above our front door, protecting the threshold. Each time I pass beneath his benevolent form, I am reminded of his presence and his protection. Whenever I begin something significant or important, I ask for the blessings of Lord Ganesh so that his wisdom will guide me forward. In this way, I am confident that each step I take, whether it be a step outside my door or a step on the spiritual path, will be filled with the divine grace of this approachable and magnanimous bestower of protection and prosperity.

1 John Grimes, Ganapati: Song of the Self  (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1995), p. 49.