When Shiva and Parvati decided to have their sons, Kartikeya and Ganesh married, they stipulated that he who circumambulated the earth first would be considered the best deity and would be married first. Kartikeya flew off on his vehicle - a peacock. Poor Ganapati's vehicle was a mouse which was no match for a peacock. Being the choicest devotee of God, Parvatiji consoling him showed Ganeshji a simpler and quicker way. She advised him to cicumambulate the cow since she also symbolically represents another earth and he had reap the same benefit as going round the earth.
Another reference cites him circumambulating his parents.Consoling him, Parvati showed a short cut. She divulged that it was ordained in the scriptures that he who offered pujan to his parents and then circumambulated them received the same merit as he who went around the earth. Ganapati hence married first showing that one who obeys the wish of the choicest devotee of God or his parents attains his desired wishes. Hence Ganeshji is invoked first in all auspicious events, rites and rituals such as marriage, opening ceremonies, ground-breaking ceremonies, yagnas and so on.
The Shiva Puran cites another story. Prajapati had two daughters, Siddhi (wealth) and Buddhi (intellect). He approached Parvati and Shivaji for the girls' marriage to Kartikeya and Ganeshji. However both girls wished to marry only the latter.
Thus they married him. Siddhi gave birth to a son named 'Shubh' (auspiciousness) and Buddhi to 'Labh' (merit).
Therefore when businessmen and merchants offer pujan to Ganeshji and Lakshmiji they write 'Shubh' and 'Labh' inside their account ledgers to invoke the two deities.
The first person to observe the 'vrat' (vow) of Ganesh Chaturthi was Chandra - the moon. After Ganeshji's fame as leader ('pati') of Shiva's 'ganas', hence Ganapati, he was travelling through the heavens. As he passed Chandra - who prided on his attractive features, he slighted Ganeshji's peculiar form. In return, Ganeshji cursed him, "You shall bear the fruit of your karma. Whenever somebody does your darshan he will be cursed too." Chandra begged for forgiveness. Ganeshji then advised him to observe the Ganesh Chaturthi vrat and was freed from the curse.
By being aware of the detrimental effects of false pride one should cultivate humility. The Skanda Purana mentions this sentiment of the festival.
The Vayu Puran advocates the observance of this festival by listening to the following relevant episode of Shri Krishna, to be relieved from false accusation:
When Shri Krishna was falsely accused of pilfering the Syamantak Mani (gem) he observed Ganesh Chaturthi and was freed from the false charge.
This festival also inspires devotees to inculcate two virtues; obeying the commands of God and His choicest devotee, and consolidating faith in them, just as Ganeshji had faith and trust in Parvati regarding circumambulating his parents.
Names of Ganeshji
To scribe the Mahabharat Katha Ganeshji removed one of his tusks to carve a quill from it. He then scribed the epic on palm leaves as the sage Ved Vyas recited it. The scribing took three years!
In south India there is a belief that when ploughing first began on earth, it was Lord Ganeshji who first ploughed using one of his tusks.
In the Uttar Ramayan, Brahmand Puran and Padma Puran there is a reference of a battle between Ganeshji and Parshuram. During the duel, the latter's axe fractured one of Ganeshji's tusks According to the Brahmand Puran, it was his left tusk.
There are other names related to his body and virtues.
A few commonly known are listed below:
Lambodar - from the long - 'lambo', tummy - 'udar'.
Gajkarna - from the large elephant 'Gaja' ears - 'karna.'
Kapil - from his ruddy complexion.
Vikat - heavy-bodied.
Bhalchandra - having a Chandra (moon) on his forehead - 'bhal.'
Dwaimatur - one who has 'dwi' - two, 'mata' - mother; Parvati - who gave birth to him and Malini - a demoness who nurtured him.
Vakratund - one who breaks the ego of he who behaves anti-socially ('Vakra').
Mudgal - In south India, a special 'Mudgal Puran' extols Ganapati's glory. It cites 32 names, while 'Shardatilak' lists 51 names.
Vigneshwar - One who removes mayic obstacles - 'vignas'
Symbolism and Import
Since Ganeshji represents auspiciousness, his whole being has symbolic imports for devotees:
Large ears - signify listening to God's katha with great zeal.
Small eyes - to do the Lord's darshan minutely.
Large forehead - to develop great intellect to realise God.
Large stomach - depicts his great capacity to empathise with the woes of devotees.
Short legs - depicts patience.
Long trunk - symbolic of his deep scriptural wisdom.
Mouse as vehicle - a hyperactive creature, symbolic of our indriyas. Therefore Ganesh sitting on such a vehicle represents a deity of control over the indriyas.
Four arms - which hold: 'ankush' - symbol for control over the mind
'ladu' - for happiness
'pash' - axe to punish the indriyas and antahkaran
'ashirvad mudra' - blessings for the well being of humanity
Depending on the role of Ganapati, the number of arms varies, as do the type of objects.
Festival & Ritual
On this day every household in Maharashtra installs a small clay murti of Ganeshji in their homes. He is offered pujan and prasad until Sud 14 - Anant Chaturthi. This is celebrated with great festivity and fervor and the murti is taken to a river or lake and submerged. A well known chant is chanted during the procession for submersion :
Ganpati Bapa Moriya - Farewell O Lord Ganpati!
Gheema ladu choriya - Who avails 'ladus' soaked in ghee
Pudcha varsi laukariya - Return in haste next year.
Bapa Moriya re, Bapa Moriya re - O Lord farewell, O Lord farewell…
In Gujarat and in the Swaminarayan mandirs a clay or plaster of paris murti of Ganesh is installed on Ganesh Chaturthi and worshiped for ten days. The murti is submerged on 'Parivartini' i.e. 'Jal Zilani' Ekadashi. Devotees observe a waterless fast. The traditional prasad offered to Lord Ganeshji are chopped cucumbers and 'ladus' - sweet balls of wheat flour, ghee and sugar.
Five pujas and arti are offered, together with a boat ride after each arti before Ganeshji's 'Visarjan' - submergence.
In this manner Ganesh is a deity of auspiciousness, wisdom and wealth. Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival inspiring devotees to inculcate redemptive virtues in their lives.
om shri sai ganeshay namah