Aum. Hinduism is a religion full of symbolism. There are many universal Hindu symbols such as the sacred syllable (AUM) and the lotus flower (Padma). In addition, each Hindu God has a distinct iconography representing their unique characteristics and mythology. Ganesha is depicted with four (or more) arms. In each of Ganesha’s hands, he holds a symbolic object. More objects may rest at his feet.
(The sacred syllable)
“Aum. The root mantra, soundless sound from which all creation issues forth.”
The sacred syllable is written at the beginning and end of every sacred verse. It is associated with Ganesha, who rules over all beginnings.
The Ankusa, held in Ganesha’s right hand, is a hook-like instrument used by a mahout to train and guide an elephant. Ganesha helps move us ahead on are karmic journey when we grow lazy or complacent.
Ganesha is sometimes seen holding his own broken tusk. He used his tusk as a pen while transcribing the ancient Hindu scriptures as the sage Vyasa dictated them. He teaches us that sacrifice is necessary in the pursuit of intellectual and spirituality knowledge.
(Fly-whisk or Fan)
The Chamara can be used to whisk away thought of the past, worries and misleading thoughts as if they were insignificant flies.
“Lord Ganesha uses the Chamara to fan memories of the past from the minds of his followers and help them reside in the present.”
The elephant, king of beasts and sign of royalty and power. Just as Ganesha stood guard over his mother’s chamber, statues of elephants or living elephants, often stand guard at the entrance to Hindu temples.
(The Water Vessel)
Ganesha’s kamandalu is always full, never needing to be refilled. It is a symbol of his endless capacity for love and his ability to provide his devotees everything they need.
A Mala is a strand of beads, similar to the Christian rosary. It is commonly made of Sandalwood, Rudraksha or Tulasi wood. It is used to count prayers and aid mediation.
(Bowl of Sweets)
Ganesha has a sweet tooth, not only for sweet foods, but for the sweetest of all things – Moksha (spiritual liberation). The modaka, Ganesha’s favorite treat, is a round, sweet made of rice, coconut and sugar.
Hindu gods and saints are often shown with their hands in distinctive positions. Each gesture represents a different concept, such as generosity or inner-reflection. Ganesha’s up raised hand represents protection and welcome to his devotees.
Ganesha always has the mouse, or Mushika, at his feet. This is Ganesha’s mount. It may seem comical for a large elephant to be riding on the back of a small mouse, but this image is full of symbolic meaning.
“The mouse is a symbol of greed. Mice have the tendency to eat whatever they see, and what they do not eat, they make usable. Lord Ganesha controls this aspect in one’s character.”
“Seated on Mushika, Ganesh crushes useless thoughts, which multiply like rats in the dark.”
“A mouse represents the timidity and nervousness that overwhelm us at the onset of any new venture.”
A snake, or Naga, is often shown on Ganesha’s arm or worn around his waist like a belt. Like the rat that Ganesha rides, the snake represent human emotions, such as fear and pride, that we mush learn to subdue. The Naga snake is also one of the sacred symbols of Ganesha’s father, Lord Shiva.
The coconut represent the ego – soft and sweet inside, hard and rough outside. A devotee breaks a coconut to ask that Ganesha help break the ego’s hold on us.
The lotus flower is a symbol of beauty and purity. Rooted in the mud of a riverbank, its blossom rises above the muddy waters. It reminds us that by living our lives without attachments, we can gain release from the cycle of karma. “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water.”
— Bhagavad Gita 5.10
(A Tether or Lasso)
The three-strand tether represents the soul’s three-fold bondage of Anava, Karma and Maya. God uses the spiritual Pasha to lead wandering souls, pashu, (lit. cows) along the path to truth. The Pasha may also refer to the tether used to restrain the wild elephant. Signifying that Ganesha may help us restrain our passions and desires.
The call of the conch shell is reminiscent of the trumpeting of the elephant. Ganesha uses it to call his followers to him. He summons, “Come to Me and pray.” The conch is often blown to announce the beginning of a ritual, a celebration and at the dawn of the day.
(Sign of Good Luck)
The Swastika was originally a sacred Hindu symbol. Sadly, Hitler took this powerful image and made it a sign of Nazism. Svastika (from the Sanskrit “It is well”) is a symbol of auspiciousness and the good fortune Ganesha grants his devotees. It is said that the svastika’s crooked arms signify the fact that the path toward our objectives is not always straight and easy to follow.