Lord Shiva said to Ganesha, 'With my blessings you will be worshipped first by all sects. Before beginning any ceremony or undertaking, whether auspicious or inauspicious, worldly or spiritual, you will be invoked for the sake of its fulfilment.'

Ganesha Purana.

Ganesha Chaturthi falls on the fourth day of the dark moon fortnight in the Hindu month of Bhadra (September). On this day, people all over India celebrate the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the small, childlike, pot-bellied elephant deity. Idols of Ganesha, both large and small, are jubilantly paraded through the streets for many hours and then finally submerged in nearby lakes and rivers. Ganesha is a very powerful symbol of yoga and a reminder of how we should aim to conduct our lives in order to live more harmoniously and consciously.

The word Ganesha is made up of two Sanskrit words: gana (attendant or administrator) and isha (supreme). Therefore Ganesha means literally 'the supreme administrator'. He is also widely known as Ganapati, 'the chief administrator'.

Here the word 'gana' has special significance. The mind, both cosmic and individual, has different aspects or powers; these are called ganas. Ganesha is the chief or greatest of these powers, that which controls all the others. What is this power? It is intelligence which directs everything in the cosmos and in man himself. Without intelligence nothing human or otherwise could function or even exist.

Ganesha symbolises that intelligence which lies mostly untapped within each of us. The purpose of worshipping and evoking Ganesha is to bring about inner transformation, resulting in an expression of pure intelligence. This is progressively and gradually awakened through yogic sadhana.

Ganesha is widely known as Buddhi Vidhata (bestower of intelligence). He is also called Vidya Varidhi (ocean of knowledge) since he is regarded as keeping a record of all the events of the universe without error; 'an elephant never forgets'. He is regarded as the recorder of the scriptures. Great saints and yogis receive revelation and Ganesha writes everything down. That is, revelations are received from Shiva (consciousness) and Ganesha records them in the cosmic (akashic) record book.

Without intelligence, which Ganesha represents, there can be no real understanding of the scriptures. Therefore Ganesha is always invoked before beginning ceremonial worship and the reading of scriptures. He is widely known as Vinayaka (first to be worshipped). Weddings, building projects and almost all important undertakings begin with worship of Ganesha because their success also depends on intelligence. Ganesha is also called Vighna-nashaka (remover of obstacles) and Vighneshwara (supreme remover of obstacles), since without intelligence, obstacles in life cannot be overcome.

Since Ganesha represents such an important aspect of one's life, it is not surprising that he is widely venerated in countries outside India such as Nepal, Tibet, Thailand, Burma, Java, Bali, Japan and so forth. Actually Ganesha is a symbol of that which is universally held in high esteem - intelligence.

Chaturthi means 'the fourth'. Here it specifically refers to the fourth state of being, super-consciousness. An individual must seek the help of Ganesha if he wishes to reach this fourth state; this is why the festival is called Ganesha Chaturthi. It is a reminder to all that they must earnestly seek the blessings of Ganesha if they want to succeed in yogic sadhana.

Ganesha is the mythical second son of Shiva and Parvati. Shiva represents Consciousness and Parvati the dynamic energy that lies behind the cosmic creation, and indeed behind each and every human being. Their first son is called Kartikeya or Subramanyam. He was born shining like gold and is the embodiment of divine wisdom and virtue. He manifests all the qualities of his father: austerity, detachment, spiritual knowledge and bliss. Parvati wanted a son who was more down to earth, to be her helper - so she created Ganesha who embodies intelligence combined with active participation in the world.

Kartikeya symbolises those aspects of our being which do not participate in worldly affairs. He indicates the higher realms of our being on the plane of intuitive consciousness (vigyanamaya kosha). Ganesha symbolises the lower yet more practical aspects of our being. He indicates the plane of manomaya kosha, which controls all mental, sensual and physical activities through intelligence.

There are many interesting stories about Ganesha. The following is an example:

One day Parvati told Ganesha to guard her gate and allow no one to enter as she would be taking a bath. When Lord Shiva came, Ganesha barred his way. Lord Shiva was very annoyed and sent his ganas (attendants) to remove the boy from his gate. But Ganesha was so quick, clever and strong that he defeated all of his father's ganas single-handed. Finally Shiva had to chop off his head to stop him. When Parvati heard about this her anger knew no bounds and she immediately began destroying all the worlds. The gods were very frightened and sought her forgiveness. Lord Shiva pacified her by promising to bring Ganesha back to life with the head of another being born on the same day. A baby elephant was the first encountered; its head was lopped off and joined to Ganesha's body. With his father's blessings Ganesha returned to life. Parvati was very pleased and all the gods accepted him as their leader.

This story is more than a mere myth; its meaning is very deep and significant. Ganesha, because of his intelligence, became egotistical. He even tried to fight and reject his father, Shiva, his original source-consciousness. This is what all of us do. Full of egoism and pride, we forget, or perhaps never even realise, that we are mere 'puppets on a string'. Without the underlying background of consciousness, we are powerless; we are nothing.

Lord Shiva (the guru) could not bear to see this excessive ego and pride in his son so he chopped off his head, the seat of ego and pride. But while the sense of ego may keep us far from the original source of being, still it is very essential in worldly activities. Ego is a necessary evil. Therefore Shiva gave Ganesha back his ego (head), but in a new form, which leads to higher consciousness. He remoulded or remade Ganesha so that his ego could be wisely used for spiritual evolution and the benefit of all beings.

But why give Ganesha an elephant's head? The elephant symbolises strength and determination to overcome obstacles in life; it is universally recognised as being the epitome of wisdom and intelligence. An elephant is also symbolic of mooladhara chakra, the mundane level of consciousness in man. It is the seat of Shakti and doorway to higher planes of consciousness. It is only when the ego (head) is lopped off, that the mooladhara chakra awakens, and Shiva and Shakti unite in cosmic consciousness.

Ganesha is said to have married two goddesses - Siddhi (perfection) and Riddhi (prosperity). This symbolises that intelligence operating at a higher level of awakening is always 'wedded' to perfection and prosperity. Ganesha has two sons - Shubha and Labha. Shubha means 'auspicious' and Labha means 'benefit'. Intelligence gives birth to an auspicious life, full of attainment. Therefore the message of Ganesha Chaturthi is this: awaken your intelligence and you will gain in all spheres of life whether physical, mental or spiritual. We should all invoke Ganesha and come to realise his true nature within us.