In Hinduism, Ganesha refers to the "lord of the hosts," also spelled as Ganesa and Ganesh, often also referred to as Ganapati) - and is one of the most well-known and venerated representations of God (Brahman).
He is the first born son of Shiva and Parvati, and the husband of Bharati, Riddhi and Siddhi. He is also called Vinayaka in Marathi, Malayalam and Kannada, Vinayagar and Pillayar (in Tamil), and Vinayakudu in Telugu.
'Ga' symbolizes Buddhi (intellect) and 'Na' symbolizes Vijnana (wisdom). Ganesha is thus considered the master of intellect and wisdom.
He is depicted as a big-bellied, yellow or red god with four arms and the head of a one-tusked elephant, riding on, or attended to by, a mouse. He is frequently represented sitting down, with one leg raised in the air and bent over the other. Typically, his name is prefixed with the Hindu title of respect, 'Shree' or Sri.
The cult of Ganesha is widely diffused, even outside of India. His devotees are called Ganapatya.The ganapati festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and devotion throughout India but in Mumbai, the financial capital of the Country, the festival assumes a special significance because of the scale at which it is performed.
As is the case with every other external form with which Hinduism represents god, in the sense of the personal appearance of Brahman (also referred to as Ishvara, the Lord), the figure of Ganesha too is an archetype loaded with multiple meanings and symbolism which expresses a state of perfection as well as the means of obtaining it.
Ganesha, in fact, is the symbol of he who has discovered the Divinity within himself.Ganesha is the first sound, OM, in which all hymns were born. When Shakti (Energy) and Shiva (Matter) meet, both Sound (Ganesha) and Light (Skanda) were born.
He represents the perfect equilibrium between force and kindness and between power and beauty. He also symbolizes the discriminative capacities which provide the ability to perceive distinctions between truth and illusion, the real and the unreal.
A description of all of the characteristics and attributes of Ganesha can be found in the Ganapati Upanishad (an Upanishad dedicated to Ganesha) of the rishi Atharva, in which Ganesha is identified with Brahman and Atman.
According to the strict rules of Hindu iconography, Ganesha figures with only two hands are taboo. Hence, Ganesha figures are most commonly seen with four hands which signify their divinity. Some figures may be seen with six, some with eight, some with ten, some with twelve and some with fourteen hands, each hand carrying a symbol which differs from the symbols in other hands, there being about fifty-seven symbols in all, according to some scholars.
The image of Ganesha is a composite one. Four animals, man, elephant, the serpent and the mouse have contributed to the makeup of his figure. All of them individually and collectively have deep symbolic significance.