Each Ganesh temple carving, statue, or painting you see is slightly different. The elephant-faced deity Ganesha has 4 arms, showing his capable powers at helping humanity. His hands hold a wide variety of symbolic objects that show us what those powers are. His type of throne varies, as do the objects at his feet. Each symbol carries a message for you from Ganesh.
A friend was appreciating and indulging my adoration for elephants and bestowed a Ganesha gift upon me, a diminutive statuette, the kind Hindus carry with them for good luck when they travel. Immediately, I noticed that Ganesha is sitting on a conch shell with his little mouse friend nearby. I seldom see Ganesh using the shell as his throne. Looking closer with a magnifying lens, I looked to see what was in his tiny hands. What hidden meanings does this Ganesh hold?
You may or may not know that I am not Hindu. Yet since I was a very young child, I've been inexplicably drawn towards East Indian art and culture. While other preteen girls wanted Barbie dolls from Toys R Us, I wanted nothing more than for my mother to take me to Cost Plus (now World Market) in San Francisco so I could scour through their treasure chest of incense and brass candle holders, saris and bangles. It's fair to say that I was drawn by the art first and the religion second. In my thirst for spiritual understanding, I've read some books on Hinduism, but I'm not scholarly. I'm a seeker of direct experience.
My relationship with Ganesha is a personal one. In my twenties, I visited a temple with an enormous wooden Ganesh. He was immense, standing at least a foot taller than me, and covered with flowers and coins that devotees had left as offerings. As is my way, I playfully whispered a greeting to him. Then something came over me. A warm and powerful wave of energy. I felt spiritually "hugged." Thus began our relationship. I turn to Ganesha as a father figure and friend. When I feel small and unprotected, he comforts me. When I'm taking myself far too seriously, I feel his amusement. I most definitely feel his big elephant trunk nudging and prodding me along my path. I try to listen and learn from him. The meditations I write here, Lessons from Ganesh, are borne out of that listening.
There is a marvelous book called Loving Ganesha by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami that the Himalayan Academy has uploaded in its entirety for you to read on-line. Although I haven't read very much of it yet, I like the author's writing style. It's geared towards a modern person's way of thinking and written in plain English. It's such a large body of work (592 pages) that a paperback copy is on my shopping list, but I'm grateful that the academy made it available for free on-line.
In that book, there is a terrific chapter on Ganesha's Sacred Symbols. The following quotes are excerpts that demystify the meaning of the gift I received.
Ganesha's companion, a mouse, attests to the all-pervasiveness of the elephant God. Mushika, the mount or vahana, carries Him into the mind's every nook and cranny.
I love how the symbol of the beckoning conch shell reminds Ganesh of happily trumpeting elephants! What a beautiful calling. The mouse is a good reminder that God is in the details, too. I suppose the mace is Ganesha's tough love. He is a thorough teacher. The conjures up images of being in Ganesha's rodeo. This little lamb could use tending. So very sweet. A wonderful gift!