WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka

GANESH- The elephant-headed god  (God Pillaiyar or Ganadeviyo)

Ganesh is the elephant-headed god, Ganesha (or Ganesh) is known (by various names in different parts of India and Sri Lanka and on different occasions) as the Remover of Obstacles, the god of domestic harmony and of success. He is the most beloved and revered of all the Hindu gods, and is always invoked first in any Hindu ceremony or festival. He is the son of Parvati (the wife of Shiva, the Destroyer, the most powerful of the Hindu trinity of principal gods). There are many stories about how Ganesha got his elephant head, and about his exploits and antics. He was created as an ordinary boy, but was decapitated in battle. Shiva's emissaries were sent into the forest and told to get the head of the first animal they found and to fit that head onto the boy's neck. They found a little elephant, and it worked!

Heroes of epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are immortalized and are still alive in the day-to-day existence of the common people. The gods of Hinduism are at once super-human and human and there is distinct feeling of warmth and familiarity towards them. Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, represents qualities such as honor, courage and valor and is held up as a model of manliness. His wife Sita is the prototypal Indian wife who is carried off by Ravana, the king of Lanka, while Rama and Sita are on exile. Sita's eventual rescue by Rama, his brother Lakshmana, and Rama's faithful monkey-general Hanuman are all woven into this engrossing tale. Stories from this epic have been passed down orally from one generation to the next. Religious fairs, festivals and rituals have kept these legends alive, and there is never an occasion that does not offer an opportunity to retell the old stories.

The stirring verses of the Mahabharata tell the story of the dynastic struggle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, who were close cousins. Lord Krishna plays a very important role in this Great Epic. He is a friend, philosopher and guide to Arjuna, one of the Pandavas, and he helps Arjuna overcome his hesitation to kill his close relatives in the battlefield. The wise philosophy of Krishna and his teachings have been embodied in the Bhagwad Gita. Although the popular image of Krishna is that of a god who steals butter as a child, and who, as a youth, plays the flute and entices cows and cowherd girls alike; in his mature years he is depicted as the wise philosopher with a more serious side to his nature.

There are numerous gods and goddesses worshipped by Hindus all over India. Among these, the most fundamental to Hinduism, is the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - creator, preserver and destroyer respectively. Brahma has four heads corresponding to the four directions of the compass. He is the creator of life and the entire universe. Vishnu is the preserver who guides the cycle of birth and rebirth. He is also supposed to have taken many incarnations to save the world from evil forces. Both Rama and Krishna are believed to have been incarnations of Vishnu. Shiva, usually seen with a coiled cobra around his neck, destroys all evil and also has many incarnations, not all of which are terrifying.

The invisible deities are represented by a complexity of images and idols symbolizing divine powers. Many of these idols are housed within ornate temples of unparalleled beauty and grandeur. The Hindu gods are very much alive and live in temples, snow-capped peaks, in rivers and oceans and in the very hearts and minds of the Hindus.

Ganesh (Pillaiyar/Ganadevi) in Sri Lanka

In predominantly Tamil areas as well as in upcountry estates, a black stone or a black stone-statue of God Pillaiyar is placed at the foot of trees at certain places and venerated the same way. The God is also known as Gana Deviyo.

According to Hindu believers, Gana Deviyo  had been commanded by god Shiva to stand by a roadside and it is this command that the Gana Deviyo is faithfully adhering to. Vows made to Gana Deviyo seeking his protection are followed by boiling of milk and offering it to the god seeking protection and grace from him.  In  Jaffna, Pillaiyar was regarded as the "guardian of the crops" and many shrines were erected by the agriculturists in the neighborhood of their fields. According to a local tradition, a temple dedicated to Ganesa was erected at Inuvil, in Jaffna, by Karunakara Tondaiman, the commander of Kulottunga Chola I (1070-1118 AD), and it has come to be known as Karunakara Pilliayar Temple.

For instance in the Nuwera Eliya mountainous area, one finds such Ganesh small shrines, located at road crossings, often under trees. The statues display the typical South Indian style (black colored by cult smoke, dressed by a piece of tissue). Some scattered Ganesh colorful folk statues are also located near road crossings in jungle regions between Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. 

Other Ganesh representations in south of lanka are much older ones. They can be seen in some Buddhist temples, where they are warily displayed. Some are mural paintings, with other Hindu deities (Vishnu, Indra, Kartikkeya), paying respects to the Buddha. One in Dambulla temple Cave n°2, and another one in a cave of the Alu Vihara temple. Other statues: one small white standing Ganesh can be found in a Buddhist shrine at Embekke Devala but the best and biggest is hidden in an ancient part of the Lankatilaka temple, both near Kandy. Of course, other such ancient Ganesh representations exist in other places too.

The only temple which openly displays Ganesh is the well-known Kelanya temple in a near suburb of Colombo. There, on the southern wall, a large sculpture of the benevolent God is displayed. He is seated on His huge rat.

Near Mihintale, the stupa Kantaka Cetinga is surrounded by a decorative frieze which inscriptions say to date from the 1st or 2nd century A.D. On this frieze, the elephant-headed god is undoubtebly carved. Indeed, one can see a twofold Gana procession moving towards an elephant-headed personage with a left-turned trunk. We can be sure that this is a Ganapati representation, despite the antiquity of the frieze.

In Museums, one can remember some good old stone Ganesh statues in the National Museum (Colombo); however, we regret that no information is given about their age and the place where they have been found. On the other hand, two best pieces, one stone-made, one bronze-made (both from the 12th century), are presented in the excellent Polonnaruwa Museum. In the catalogue of the exposition in Paris "Bronzes Bouddhiques de l’antique Ceylan" (1992), Von Sroeder (1992) describes a large splendid sitting bronze Ganesh from the 11th century (Pollonaruwa period, which has been found in the Shiva Devale (temple) in 1960. The author writes that this unique specimen would be on display in the Anuradhapura museum. According to the picture, no doubt that this piece is the Ganesh now displayed in Polonnaruwa.

There are several ancient Sinhala texts written for beginners during the time of Pirivena education prior to the establishment of schools by the British. One such early book is ‘Ganadevi Hella’.  As the name indicates, ‘Ganadevi Hella’ was a collection of verses referring to Hindu god Gnesh, popularly known as ganadevi in Sinhala. There are 49 verses in the book. A typical verse in the book popular even today reads:

Ganadeviyan nuwana denna
Sarasawathi pahala venna
Siyalu roga durukaranna
Nitara vandimi thunuruvanna

Pillaiyar Temples in Sir Lanka:

Northern area, Jaffna

Chulipuram : Kannaikothikakkai Pillaiyar temple
Inuvil : Karunakara Pillaiyar temple
Manipay : Maruthady Vinayagar temple
Murukandi : Murukandi Pillaiyar temple
Nallur : Kailasa Pillaiyar temple
Neervely : Arasakesari Pillaiyar temple

Northern area, outside Jaffna

Alaveddy : Kumbalavalai Pillaiyar temple
Batticaloa : Mamanga Pillaiyar temple

Other places

Colombo : Shri Muthu Vinayaga temple, Chettay Street
Bambalapitiya : New Kathiresan temple
Kandy : Selva Vinayaka temple
Katarigama : Manikka Vinayaka temple


Lord Ganesh is the virtual son of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvathi.

When Lord Shiva, was away fighting for the gods, the lady of the house, goddess Parvathi was alone at home.

On one occasion, she needed someone to guard the house when she was going for a bath. Unable to think of an alternative, she used her powers to create a son, Ganesh. She instructed Ganesh to keep strict vigil on the entrance to the house and not to allow anyone into the house. Ganesh agreed and stayed on the strictest of strict vigils.

In the meantime Lord Shiva returned happy after a glorious victory for the gods, only to be stopped at the entrance by Ganesh. Ganesh, acting on Parvathi's orders verbatim, did not allow Shiva to enter the house.

Lord Shiva became enraged beyond control and in a fit of rage slashed the head of Ganesh.

Paravti came out from her bath and was aghast at the scene. She was very very angry at her lordship for what had happened and explained him the situation.

Lord Shiva wanted to make it up to Parvathi and agreed to put life back into Ganesha by putting the head of the first sleeping living creature that came in sight which was sleeping with its head to the north. He sent his soldiers to go in search of the creature. The first creature which came in sight was an elephant.

So Lord Shiva re-created his son with the head of the elephant. Hence the trunk of Lord Ganesha.

Parvathi was still not totally happy so Shiva granted Ganesha a boon that before beginning of any undertaking or task people would worship Lord Ganesh. Thus the reason for worship of Ganesha before start of any work.

Legend 2:

There was a monster called Gajasura. He was all powerful and an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. He underwent penance for many years to receive special boons from Shiva. Lord Shiva, the god, who is easily pleased by prayers, was deeply moved by Gajasura's devotion. He blessed the monster and offered him a boon (reward). But the devotee is not as innocent as Shiva. He pleaded with Shiva to reside in his belly. Left with no option but to grant the boon, Shiva gets into Gajasura's stomach.

Meanwhile on Mount Kailash, Parvati - Shiva's wife, becomes anxious not knowing the whereabouts of her husband after a long period of time. She searches through the whole universe but to no avail.

Finally she approaches Lord Vishnu - the preserver of the world. Vishnu disguises himself in the form of a street player along with Nandi - the sacred bull of Shiva and sets out in search Shiva.

They go to Gajasura's kingdom and Nandi performs a dance to please the monster. The monster is delighted to see the bull dancing in his honor and wishes to reward the bull. The bull asks for Shiva as a reward. Hearing this, the monster realizes that the entertainer is none but Lord Vishnu himself. He also realizes that Shiva cannot be made to live in his stomach forever because he has his role to play in the world. He lets Shiva out of his stomach.

He prays to him, that he be made immortal in the memories of people. To fulfill this wish, Shiva severs Gajasura's head and frees him from the cycle of birth and death. He carries the head along with him. On Mount Kailash, in the Himalayas, Parvati comes to know of Vishnu's victory and is very happy. She makes arrangements to receive her Lord and goes to bedeck herself. She wants somebody to stand guard.

She creates a doll out of the dough that she uses in her bath. She calls him Vinayak - the one who puts off all obstacles.

This boy having never seen Shiva, prevents his entry into the palace. In a fit of fury Shiva beheads the boy and enters the palace. Parvati is unaware of the happenings and receives Shiva with warmth, for he had returned after a long period. During the course of their conversation, Shiva mentions the incident at the palace gates and tells her about severing the child's head.

Parvati is shocked to hear the news and pleads with Shiva to bring the child back to life for he is like a son to her.

Shiva who has with him the head of Gajasura, immediately puts it on the torso of the dead child. Thus the child comes back to life.

That day is Bhadrapad Chaturthi. Shiva blesses him with a boon that the entire world would worship him on that day and also would propitiate him before any auspicious event.

At the same time, all the Gods approach Shiva and request for a leader.

Shiva and Parvati have a son called Kumarswami or Kartik. To select the best one of them as a leader of all the Gods, Shiva conducts a test between the two. He says that whoever makes three rounds of the earth sooner than the other, will be made the Ganaadhipati. Kumarswami seated on a peacock, his vahanam (vehicle), starts off for the test.

Vinayak is given a rat which moves swiftly. Vinayak realizes that the test is not so easy but he cannot disobey his father. He reverently pays obeisance to his parents and goes around them three times and completes the test before Kumarswami. He says, " my parents pervade the whole universe and going around them, is more than going round the earth." Everybody is pleasantly surprised to hear Vinayak's logic and intelligence. Meanwhile, Kartik is amazed to see Ganesh completing the holy bath at each river that he reached at and ready for another round of the universe.

When he comes back to Kailas, Shiva had already declared Vinayak as the winner. He is blessed as the Supreme God of the universe. After this, Vinayak is called as Ganaadhish, Ganapati and Ganesh.

All the gods worship him.

The festival of Ganesh or Vinayak Chaturthi, the day on which Ganesh was born is the most joyous event of the year . Throughout India the festival is celebrated with much enthusiasm and devotion. In Andhra Pradesh, like Maharashtra, the festival is celebrated for ten days.

Read all about Ganapati in Loving Ganesha

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka