Doctrines Ganapati is the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati. As the god who overcomes obstacles Ganapati is worshipped by most Hindus (and even by Buddhists, as in Sri Lanka) together with other gods. Ganapatyas extend this by making Ganapati the supreme divinity. He can be a kuladevata, family or clan patron-god, or an istadevata, personal god. Worship of the kuladevata takes place at ceremonies and festivals. Other names of Ganapati are Ganesha (lord of categories), Vighnesvara (lord of obstacles), Vinayaka (great leader), Gajanana (elephant-faced), and Gajadhipa (lord of elephants). As Jyestha-raja (king-of-the-elders) he presides over the assembly of the gods.
Ganapati stands for one of the basic Hindu concepts, the identity of the macrocosm and the microcosm, the doctrine that man is the image of God. To the Ganapatyas, he is the form of Brahman, ultimate reality, that is accessible to the senses and the mind, and through devotion the heart.
The Ganesa Purana in the twelfth century and the Mudgala Purana in the fourteenth century are accounts of the victories of Ganapati over demons on behalf of the gods and devotees together with ritual instructions and hymns. Since the seventeenth century there has been a flow of devotional literature in Sanskrit and Marathi. Works by Ganapatyas remain almost entirely untranslated into Western languages.
Ganapatyas believe that it is important to visit the eight shrines around Poona, the main one being at Cincvad. It is especially auspicious to visit all eight in one pilgrimage. Cincvad is special not only for darsan, viewing of the god, but because the shrine was spiritually endowed after the moksha, release from rebirth, of Moraya Gosavi, spiritual progenitor of the sect, and his descendants.

History The Shiva Purana tells of the birth of Ganapati, created out of the dirt rubbed from the body of Parvati, as a handsome youth. Parvati told him to guard her quarters from all intruders and he barred Shiva from entering. A fight ensued and Shiva beheaded the youth. Parvati was sorrowful at this and Shiva sent his ganas, attendants, to bring back the first head they found, which was that of an elephant. The youth was given the elephant's head by Shiva, put in control of his ganas, and named Ganapati, leader of the ganas.
When the god came to have the elephant's head, it is difficult to know. The history of the origin of Ganapati is obscure. His devotees believe there are Vedic references to him, though these may refer to Brhaspati, Indra, or Shiva. There is numismatic evidence for a first century CE origin. But by the fifth century Ganapati is firmly established in the literature and sculpture of Shaivism. There are sculptures of Ganapati in the caves of Ellora, for example. At first Ganapati was worshipped by Hindus of various devotions and sects as the overcomer of obstacles, as he is still today, but in addition Ganapatya groups started to appear between the sixth and ninth centuries. Six varieties of the Ganapatya sect are mentioned by Anandagiri in his Samkaradigvijaya. These worshipped different forms of Ganapati according to Brahmanic and Tantric practices of the time. The forms include Mahaganapati, Haridraganapati, and Ucchistaganapati (see Symbols).
The Ganapatyas rose to prominence between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries in Maharashtra in western India among high-caste Hindus. The sect also became important in South India.
The growth was due largely to Moraya Gosavi who came from South India to the Ganapati shrine at Moragaon near Poona, where he experienced visions of Ganapati, who said he would incarnate in Moraya Gosavi and his lineage for seven generations. Cincvad with its tradition of living deities became the centre and in 1651 Moraya Gosavi underwent jivansamadhi, living entombment, below the shrine. Several of his descendants are similarly enshrined.
Royal patronage of the Ganapatyas by both Hindu and Muslim kings also helped the expansion of the sect. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the brahman Peshwas, hereditary rulers of the Maratha empire after the death of Sivaji, its founder, gave large contributions to new shrines and the carrying out of ritual. During British rule patronage declined and contributions from devotees took over. But with the increased popularity of Ganapati in contemporary times, the Ganapatya shrines have flourished.

Symbols The elephant-headed man symbolises the elephant as the macrocosm and man as the microcosm. Ganapati has only one tusk. 'One' is the symbol of maya, illusion, from which everything has come. The missing tusk symbolises the necessary breaking of the ego before spiritual progress is possible. His trunk is bent to right or left because it shows the way to get around obstacles. Similarly, his symbol the svastika has arms bent to either side. Ganapati's four arms instituted the four kinds of beings, the four castes, and the four Vedas as well as signifying he is the universal ruler. His large ears winnow the words of men. He stands on his vehicle, the mouse, who is the master of the inside of everything. Ganapati is obese because all manifestation is in his belly.
Ganapati is also symbolised by the mantra, sound representation, of OM and the sacred formula tat tvam asi, "Thou art That," representing the fundamental identity of the macrocosm and the microcosm. The yantra, or graphic symbol, of Ganapati is the svastika, which shows that we cannot reach the basic unity through the outward forms of the universe as they are 'crooked.'
Elephants are often sculpted at the base of temples as though to support the temple and, as the temple is the microcosm, the world. Splendid examples are the Kailasa Temple at Ellora and the prakara wall of the Mallikarjuna Temple at Srisailam.
There are various forms of Ganapati worshipped by the different Ganapatya groups. Mahaganapati is being embraced by the Shakti. Haridraganapati is dressed in a yellow silk garment, wears a yellow sacred thread, has four arms, three eyes, his face is covered with turmeric ointment, and he holds a noose, an elephant-goad, and a staff. The devotee of this Ganapati has on both his arms the marks of Ganapati's face and one tusk made by a heated iron stamp. Ucchistaganapati sits with Devi on his knee and tickles her yoni with his trunk. Followers of this form resort to the Vamamarga, the left-handed path, and have a red mark on the forehead.
Symbols of Ganapati are found over the doors of houses, among the stone sculptures on temple walls - often near the main entrance as doorway guardians in Shiva temples, in countryside shrines, or small shrines on city streets.
On the pilgrimage route of eight centres near Poona there are svayambhu ("self-formed"), elephant-headed stones, which give blessings.
At Cincvad there is a tradition of living deities, elephants that are Ganapati. Twice a year priests and devotees take an image of Ganapati one hundred kilometres to Moragaon. The second of these pilgrimages is at the time of the highly popular Ganapati festival celebrated in Maharashtra in August and September.

Adherents The sect is most developed among high-caste Hindus in the Marathi-speaking region of Maharashtra. It is also important in South India.

Main Centre
 Cincvad, near Poona, Maharashtra, India.