Ganesha & The Less-known Stories Of The Women Significant In His Life
Hindu mythology would be incomplete without the reference of ‘Shakti’, as an embodiment of womanhood, power and all that is considered to be feminine. However, it is this ‘Shakti’, which when coupled with ‘Shiva’, forms the ‘Shiva-Shakti’—the supreme power of Shiva and the adishakti of Parvati. But while Ganesha is popularly considered to be the son of Shiva and Parvati, the Puranic myths relate several different versions of his birth, the most popular being how he was created from his mother, Parvati. Once, when, bathing and scrubbing sandalwood paste on her body, Parvati decided to make herself a child. She blended the sweat and scrapings from her body with the clay from the river to sculpt a young boy, so beautiful that she breathed life into him. And so was born Ganesh from the adishakti of his mother.
While according to Shiva MahaPuran, Ganesha is said to be married to Riddhi and Siddhi from whom he had two sons – Shetra/Shubh(auspicious) and Laabh (prosperity) and later a daughter Santosh (satisfaction) there is an interesting mention of Vinayaki, the woman shakti of Ganesha. All the three women have individual significance.
Anything auspicious, especially weddings, do not start without the mention of Ganesh. And it is an interesting tale about his own wedding and his search for his brides. Unhappy about his elephant head and his pot belly, Ganesh was disheartened that he would never get himself a bride. Lord Brahma, with his powers, created two beautiful women from his mind: Riddhi and Siddhi and then gave them away in marriage to a delighted Ganesha. The metaphorical significance is more layered though. The concepts of Buddhi (intellect) or Ganesh himself being married to Siddhi (spiritual power), and Riddhi (prosperity) who are personified as goddesses and thus considered to be Ganesha’s wives or more of feminine emanations – shaktis – rather than just spouses. Theirs is the siddhi-buddhi-samanvita – the amalgamation which implies that when Ganesha (Buddhi) is present, siddhi ‘spiritualism’ and riddhi ‘prosperity’ are not far behind.
The concepts of Buddhi (intellect) or Ganesh himself being married to Siddhi (spiritual power), and Riddhi (prosperity) who are personified as goddesses and thus considered to be Ganesha’s wives or more of feminine emanations – shaktis – rather than just spouses.
With so little literature available on Vinayaki, it is not surprising that many do not know that she is often considered the female representation of Ganesha. Whether this female deity is an independent devi and not his consort is arguable, in the Puranas, she is considered one of the 64 yoginis or one of the matrikas – the original mother goddess – often holding the parashu or battle-axe, that same axe brandished by Ganesha himself.
In the Devi Purana, Vinayaki is explicitly revealed as the shakti of Ganesha, characterized by her elephant head and ability to remove obstacles like Ganesha. This slender, four armed, elephant-headed goddess is supposed to be the female avatar of Ganesha. She is one of the least encountered deities in religious literature, with inconsistent names, mostly seen as feminine versions of the elephant god – Gajanani, Vighneshi, Gajarupa.
The female form is often seen as symbolising the generative power of all life source. If the male body ejaculated life, it was in the female body, that life is created and nourished.
The female form is often seen as symbolising the generative power of all life source. If the male body ejaculated life, it was in the female body, that life is created and nourished. Or the reason could be more conceptual: the female form as a convention for the worldly against the male form for thought and thinking. Interestingly, the fourth day after every new moon is celebrated as Vinayaki Chaturthi, a day significant for Lord Ganesha but named after his female form.
It can be tempting to write Vinayaki off as not really being female because of her status as an avatar of the male Ganesha, but that would be inaccurate – Vinayaki is female, although the implications of her connection to Ganesha might mean differently in terms of dual-genderism or fluid sexuality. But it should be recalled that Hindu mythological philosophy is complex; and close and cross-referenced readings reveal the inextricable relation between the male and female forms are but actually extensions of each other, fulfilling the tasks of creation, preservation and destruction necessary for the continuation of life and time.
Kavita Kane writes a monthly column named Goddess of All Things for SheThePeople. Views expressed are the author’s own.