Ganesha in world religions

Ganesha in world religions

India had an impact on many countries of West and South Asia as a result of commercial and cultural contacts. Ganesha is one of many Hindu deities who reached foreign lands as a result. [Nagar, p. 175.] The worship of Ganesha by Hindus outside of India shows regional variation.

Ganesha was a deity particularly worshipped by traders and merchants, who went out of India for commercial ventures. [Nagar, p. 174.] The period from approximately the tenth century onwards was marked by the development of new networks of exchange, the formation of trade guilds, and a resurgence of money circulation, and it was during this time that Ganesha became the principal deity associated with traders. [Thapan, p. 170.] The earliest inscription where Ganesha is invoked before any other deity is by the merchant community. [Thapan, p. 152.]


Ganesha is worshipped by most Jainas, for whom he appears to have taken over certain functions of Kubera. [Thapan, p. 157.] Jaina connections with the trading community support the idea that Jainism took up the worship of Ganesha as a result of commercial connections. [Thapan, pp. 151, 158, 162, 164, 253.]

The Jaina canonical literature does not mention the cult of Ganesha. [Krishan, p. 121.] The earliest literary reference to Ganesha in Jainism is in Abhidhānacitāmani of Hemachandra (c.a. third quarter of twelfth century). It refers to several appeallations of Ganesha such as Heramba, IAST|Ganavigneṣa and Vinayaka and visualizes him as elephant headed, pot-bellied, bearing an axe and riding a mouse. [Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God By Robert L. Brown p.101-102]

According to the Swetambara Jaina work, Ācāradinakara of Vardhamānasūri (c. 1412 CE), Ganapati is propitiated even by the gods to get desirable things. It is further mentioned that He is worshipped at the beginning of every auspicious ceremony and new project. This practice is still very common in the Swetambara community. The text provides procedures for the installation of Ganapati images. [Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God By Robert L. Brown p.101-102]

The popularity is however not met with in Digambara texts. Excepting two medieval figures carved at Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves, Orissa and an early figure at Mathura, his representations are not found in any Digambara sites. [Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God By Robert L. Brown p.101-102]

The earliest known Jaina Ganesha statue at Mathura with Jaina Yakshi Ambika(the Jaina name for Gauri). [Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God By Robert L. Brown p.102] dates to about the 9th Century CE. [Krishan, p. 122.] Images of Ganesha appear in the Jaina temples of Rajasthan and Gujarat. [Thapan, p. 158.] In the tenth century Mahavir at Ghanerav and eleventh century temple in Osian, Rajasthan; Ganesha images are found.


Ganesha also appears in Buddhism, not only in the form of the Buddhist god IAST|Vināyaka, but also portrayed as a Hindu demon form also called IAST|Vināyaka. [Getty, pp. 37-45. "Chapter 4: Ganesha in Buddhism".] His image may be found on Buddhist sculptures of the late Gupta period. [Getty, 37.] As the Buddhist god IAST|Vināyaka, he is often shown dancing, a form called Nṛtta Ganapati that was popular in North India and adopted in Nepal and then into Tibet. [Getty, p. 38.]

Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan representations of Ganesha show ambivalent views of him. [Nagar, p. 185.] In one Tibetan form he is shown being trodden under foot by Mahākala, a popular Tibetan deity. [Getty, p. 42] [Nagar, p. 185.] Other depictions show him as the Destroyer of Obstacles, sometimes dancing. [Nagar, pp. 185-186.]

"Ganapati, Maha Rakta" (Tibetan: tsog gi dag po, mar chen. English: The Great Red Lord of Hosts or Ganas) is a Tantric Buddhist form of Ganapati (Ganesha) related to the Chakrasamvara Cycle of Tantras. This form of Ganapati is regarded as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara.

"...beside a lapis lazuli rock mountain is a red lotus with eight petals, in the middle a blue rat expelling various jewels, [above] Shri Ganapati with a body red in colour, having an elephant face with sharp white tusks and possessing three eyes, black hair tied in a topknot with a wishing-gem and a red silk ribbon [all] in a bundle on the crown of the head. With twelve hands, the six right hold an axe, arrow, hook, vajra, sword and spear. The six left [hold] a pestle, bow, khatvanga, skullcup filled with blood, skullcup filled with human flesh and a shield together with a spear and banner. The peaceful right and left hands are signified by the vajra and skullcup filled with blood held to the heart. The remaining hands are displayed in a threatening manner. Wearing various silks as a lower garment and adorned with a variety of jewel ornaments, the left foot is extended in a dancing manner, standing in the middle of the bright rays of red flickering light." (Ngorchen Konchog Lhundrup, 1497-1557) [A Gift of Dharma to Kublai Khan By Chogyal Phagpa, Seventh Patriarch of Sakya. Ngorchen Konchog Lhundup, Ngor chos 'byung, folia 323?328. Translated by Jared Rhoton, 1976)] .

This form of Ganapati belongs to a set of three powerful deities known as the 'mar chen kor sum' or the Three Great Red Deities included in a larger set called 'The Thirteen Golden Dharmas' of Sakya. The other two deities are Kurukulle and Takkiraja.

In depictions of the six-armed protector Mahakala (Skt: Shad-bhuja Mahakala, Wylie: mGon po phyag drug pa), an elephant-headed figure usually addressed as Vinayaka is seen being trampled by the Dharma Protector, but he does not appear distressed. In Vajrayana and cognate Buddhist art, He is decipted as a subdued god trampled by Buddhist deities like Aparajita, Parnasabari and Vignataka.

The Tibetan Ganesha appears, besides bronzes, in the resplendent Thangka paintings alongside the Buddha. [] [] []

In "Ganesh, studies of an Asian God"," edited by Robert L. BROWN, State University of New York Press, 1992, page 241-242, he wrote that in the Tibetan Ka'gyur traditionm, it is said that the Buddha had taught the "Ganapati Hridaya Mantra" (or "Aryaganapatimantra") to disciple Ananda. The sutra in which the Buddha teaches this mantra can be found here [] .

Shinto and Shingon Buddhism

In Japan, Ganesha is considered a minor deity in the Buddhist pantheon, where he is known as "Shōten" (聖天), "Daishokangi-ten" (大聖歓喜天), "Kangiten" (歓喜天), "Ganabachi" (Ganapati), "Binayaka-ten" ("Vinayaka") (毘那夜迦天). [ [ Hindu Wisdom - Glimpses XVII ] ] .

Ganesha worship was brought to Japan by early Buddhists through China. [ [ NEPALESE DEITIES IN JAPAN] ] In Japan the Ganesha cult was first mentioned in 806 CE. [Martin-Dubost, p. 313.] Scholars commonly date the presence of Ganesha in Japan with the age of Kukai (774- 834), the founder of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. The centrality of the worship of Ganesha or Vinayaka or Kangiten, as he is popularly called in Japan, is a distinguishing feature of this cult. The doctrines, rituals and beliefs of the sect have a number of parallels with the cult of Ganapatya. Also called the Deva of bliss, Ganapati is invoked both for enlightenment and for worldly gains - more for the latter than the former. Kangiten - Vinayaka is offered "bliss - buns" (made from curds, honey and parched flour), radishes, wine, and fresh fruits. The offerings are later partaken in the same spirit as Hindus take prasad.Fact|date=February 2007

It should also be noted that in Japan that the Hindu Ganesha is displayed more than Buddha in a famous temple in Futako Tamagawa, Tokyo. [ [ Hindu Wisdom - Hindu Art ] ] In the Hozan-ji temple on Mt. Ikoma in Nara, Sho-ten is worshipped mainly by the merchants. [] In Osaka we have the biggest temple of Sho-ten named Kaishozan Shoenji Temple, where, besides devotees, a permanent priest offers prayers daily. [] A special temple is consecrated to the esoteric Twin Ganesa at the Jingoji monastery of Takao where every year worship is held in his honor. []

Dr. Lokesh Chandra,Director,International Academy Of Indian Culture explains:"German scholar Philipp Franz von Siebold has written that in 1832 there were 131 shrines dedicated to the goddess (Benzaiten) and 100 to Lord Ganesha in Tokyo itself.A 12th century temple of Ganesha in Asakusa suburb of Tokyo has been declared a national treasure of Japan."

Ganesha is worshipped as god of love by many young boys and girls for achieving success in their courtship. The old worship him for success in business, Dr Chandra said. [ 'Goddess Benzaiten - Saraswati rules Japan kitchens', Hindustan Times,Mumbai February 28,2007 pg.12 ] [ [,000600010001.htm "Japan wants to encourage studies of Hindu gods"] Satyen Mohapatra ]

Kangi figures

There are more than thirty distinguishable forms of Ganesha in the Japanese iconographic tradition. [Sanford, James H. "Literary Aspects of Japan's Dual-Gaņeśa Cult." pp. 287-335 in: Brown, Robert L. (editor), "Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God", op. cit. For the statement regarding the number of forms and popularity of this figure see pp. 288-89.] There are several dual forms. The most typical dual form is the Embracing Kangi. In this form two tall figures with elephant heads and human bodies, male and female, stand in embrace. A new concept of Vinayaka couple both elephant-headed – a unique development in the religious history of Japan. The concept of this twin form of Ganesha (with Ganeshani) could not develop in India. [ [ Hindu Wisdom - Glimpses XVII ] ] There are at least three variant types of Embracing Kangi figures. Orthodox Shingon Buddhism interprets the details of all three types as sopisticated allegorical symbols. Sanford believes that these orthodox Shingon interpretations, of considerable eventual importance in Japanese worship of Ganesha, developed during the Heian period in an attempt to legitimize Ganesha as a figure in Japanese Buddhism. [Sanford, op. cit., p. 290] []

Buddha as avatar of Ganesha

Buddha appears as a name of Ganesha in the second verse of the Ganesha Purana version of the Ganesha Sahasranama. [IAST|Gaṇeśasahasranāmastotram: mūla evaṁ srībhāskararāyakṛta ‘khadyota’ vārtika sahita. (IAST|Prācya Prakāśana: Vārāṇasī, 1991). Includes the full source text and the commentary by Bhāskararāya in Sanskrit. The name "IAST|Buddhaḥ" is in verse 7 of the volume cited, which corresponds to verse 2 of the śasahasranāma proper.] The positioning of this name at the beginning of the Ganesha Sahasranama indicates that the name was of importance to the authors of that scripture, who were Ganapatya Hindus.

Bhaskararaya's commentary on the Ganesha Sahasranama says that this name for Ganesha means that the Buddha was an incarnation (avatar) of Ganesha. [ Bhaskararaya's commentary on the name Buddha with commentary verse number is: नित्यबुद्धस्वरूपत्वात् अविद्यावृत्तिनाशनः । यद्वा जिनावतारत्वाद् बुद्ध इत्यभिधीयते ॥ १५ ॥ ] This interpretation is not widely known even among Ganapatya, and the Buddha is not mentioned in the lists of Ganesha's incarnations given in the main sections of the Ganesha Purana and Mudgala Purana. Bhaskararaya also provides a more general interpretation of this name as simply meaning that Ganesha's very form is "eternal elightenment" (IAST|nityabuddaḥ), so he is named Buddha.

peculation related to Janus

In 1806 Sir William Jones drew a close comparison between a particular form of Ganesha, known as Ganesha-Jayanti, and Janus, the two-headed Roman god. ["On the Gods of Greece, Italy, and India" in: "Asiatick Researches"; or, "the Transactions of the Society instituted in Bengal", vol. i.; London, 1806. This reference is also cited as: "Asiatic Researches", vol. i; J.A.S. of B., 1806, p. 226.] Jones felt the resemblance between Ganesha-Jayanti and Janus was so strong that he referred to Ganesha as the "Janus of India." [Getty, op. cit., p. 14. Getty provides a picture of the Ganesha-Jayanti form, which is a very unusual depiction.] The Ganesha-Jayanti form is a very unusual depiction in which Ganesha is shown with the head of an elephant looking toward his right and a human head at his left. It was possessed of four arms. Nagar says that the Ganesha-Jayanti form was associated with the region around Bombay. [Nagar, p. 78.]

There was no clear claim by Jones either that Ganesha was worshipped by the Romans or how Janus could have evolved from Ganesha as a prototype (or "vice versa"). Another early 19th century Indologist, Edward Moor, repeated the speculation by Jones, helping to keep the Janus idea alive. [Edward Moore. "Hindu Pantheon". p. 98. (Reprint edition: Delhi, 1968)] Moore expanded the claims of an association based on functional grounds, noting that Janus, like Ganesha, was invoked at the beginning of undertakings, a "liminal" god who was the guardian of gates. Moor made various other speculations on the connection between Janus and Ganesha. [The summary of Moor's case is taken from Nagar, op. cit., p. 99, note 3.] These fanciful connections proposed by early Indologists no longer appear in modern academic reviews of Ganesha's history. [Janus is not listed in the indexes for Brown (1991), Courtright (1985), or Thapan (1997), three of the most-often cited current academic reviews on Ganesha.]

Ganesha is represented as having anywhere from one to five heads, so depictions with two heads are not reliable evidence of a connection with Janus. [For a review of Ganesha iconography that includes categorization of forms by the number of heads, see: Nagar, op. cit., Chapter VIII, "Iconography".] Representations of Ganesha with two heads are uncommon, and according to Nagar, textual references to the adoration of Ganesha with two heads are difficult to trace. [Nagar, p. 78.] There are no other examples of two-headed forms in which one head is human other than the Ganesha-Jayanti form. In the thirty-two mediation forms of Ganesha that are described in the Sritattvanidhi only one has two heads (Dvimukha Ganapati, the Ganapati with two faces), and both of those are heads of elephants, like all the other forms described. [Nagar, p. 78.]

outh-East Asia

Hindus spread out to the Malay Archipelago and took their culture with them, including Ganesha. [Getty, p. 55.] Statues of Ganesa are found throughout the Malay Archipelago in great numbers, often beside Shiva sanctuaries. The forms of Ganesha found in Hindu art of Java, Bali, and Borneo show specific regional influences. [Getty, pp. 55-66.] The gradual emigration of Hindus to Indochina established Ganesha in modified forms in Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand. In Indochina Hinduism and Buddhism were practiced side-by-side, and mutual influences can be seen in Ganesha iconography of that region. [Getty, p. 52.]


In Thailand, Ganesha is worshipped as "PhraPikanet" (พระคเณศ) or "Phra Phikhanesawora" (พระพิฆเนศวร์) and is worshipped as the deity of good fortune and the remover of obstacles. He is associated with the arts, education and trade. Ganesha appears on the emblem for the Ministry of Fine Arts in Thailand and the large television chanels and production companies have Shrines in his honour in front of their premises. Few movies or television shows begin shooting without a Brahmin ceremony in which prayers and offerings are made to Ganesha.There are shrines to Phra Pikanet across Thailand. One of the most revered Shrines being the Royal Brahmin Temple in central Bangkok by the giant swing, at which some of the oldest images can be found. There are other old Phra Pikanet images across Thailand, including a 10th Century bronze image found at Phang-Na with both Tamil script and Thai inscriptions. The Hindu Temple in Silom 'Wat Pra Sri Umadevi' also houses a Ganesha image which was transported from India in the late 19th Century.Thai Buddhists frequently pay respect to PraPikanet and other Brahmin deities as a result of the overlaping Buddhist/Brahmin cosmology.He is honored with Motaka, sweets and fruit, when business is good, and he is made ridiculous by putting his picture or statue upside down, when business is down. As lord of business and diplomacy, he sits on a high pedestal outside Bangkok's World Trade Centre (Now Central World Plaza), where people offer flowers, incense and a reverential sawasdee. [] Ganesha as the god of the arts is also incorporated in the emblem of the Thai Fine Arts Department. []

Bali and Indonesia

Even Muslim Indonesia reveres him and European scholars call him the 'Indonesian God of Wisdom'. Bandung boasts a Jalan Ganesha, and his image adorns 20,000 rupiah notes. A Ganesha statue from the 1st century AD was found on the summit of Mount Raksa in Panaitan Island, the Ujung Kulon National Park , West Java. While we do not find temples dedicated specifically to IAST|Gaṇeśa, He is found in every Śiva shrine throughout the islands. [ Loving IAST|Gaṇeśa: Hinduism's Endearing Elephant - Faced God By Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, Subramuniya , P. 287] A 11th century CE Ganesha staue(seen in the picture below) found in eastern Java, Kediri is placed in The Museum of Indian Art (Museum für Indische Kunst), Berlin-Dahlem .


Ganesha is featured in reliefs from Cambodian temples.



* Brown, Robert L. "Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God" (State University of New York: Albany 1991). ISBN 0-7914-0657-1. A collection of studies.
**Chapter 8: Brown, Robert L.. "Gaņeśa in Southeast Asian Art: Indian Connections and Indigenous Developments".
**Chapter 10: Lancaster, Lewis. "Gaņeśa in China: Methods for Transforming the Demoniac".
**Chapter 11: Sanford, James H. "Literary Aspects of Japan's Dual-Gaņeśa Cult".
*Getty, Alice. "Gaņeśa: A Monograph on the Elephant-Faced God". (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1936). 1992 reprint edition, ISBN 81-215-0377-X. Individual chapters are devoted to individual countries and regions of the world.
*Krishan, Yuvraj. "Gaņeśa: Unravelling An Enigma". (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers: Delhi, 1999) ISBN 81-208-1413-4. Chapter XVI. "Gaņeśa Beyond India's Frontiers".
* Martin-Dubost, Paul. "Gaņeśa: The Enchanter of the Three Worlds". (Project for Indian Cultural Studies: Mumbai, 1997). ISBN 81-900184-3-4. Appendix III: The Expansion.
* Nagar, Shanti Lal. "The Cult of Vinayaka". (Intellectual Publishing House: New Delhi, 1992). ISBN 81-7076-043-9. Chapter 17: "The Travels Abroad".
* Pal, Pratapaditya. "Ganesh: The Benevolent". (Marg Publications: 1995) ISBN 81-85026-31-9. A collection of studies, well-illustrated, with broad geographic range.
*Michael Wright "Ganesha: The Great Hihdu God in India and Southeast Asia" (Matichon 2006) ISBN 9789743235481.

External links

* [ Hindu Gods in Japan]
* [,M1 India and Japan]

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