It’s Ganesh Chaturthi and if you’re in Mumbai or aware of its culture, you surely know what it means for the city. The annual 10-day long celebration is when the city of dreams is at its best. The huge pandals, processions full of colour and fervour and the picturesque visarjans of Lord Ganesha are what makes the festival special.
The celebratory fervour of the city has been well documented in movies, songs and pictures. But did you know India is not the only place where Ganpati is worshipped? Lord Ganesha is revered across countries and religions, with numerous names and background stories associated with him. So how did this happen?
Lord Ganesha is a deity that was predominantly worshipped by traders and businessmen. The earliest inscription where Ganesha is invoked before any other deity is by the merchant community. It is believed that Lord Ganesha started being worshipped in other parts of the world when the Indian traders started travelling. It is believed that as they travelled out of the country on commercial ventures
With that in mind, we look at different places where Ganpati is worshipped apart from India, and the story behind it!
1. Lord Ganesha as Kangiten in Japan
The most popular depiction of Lord Ganesha after India can be found in Japan. Known by the name of Kangiten, Lord Ganesha in Japan is associated with Japanese Buddhism. Kangiten first emerged as a deity in the country around the 8th century, where it is believed that the Hindu form of the god travelled to China and eventually made its way to Japan. Although Kangiten, similar to Lord Ganesha in India is depicted as a single male deity with an elephant’s head, that most popular and interesting aspect of Ganpati in Japan is something else. The honour goes to what is commonly referred to as the ‘Embracing Kangiten’. A unique feature of Shingon Buddhism, it represents Ganesha as a two bodied, elephant-headed male and a female human couple standing together in an embrace.
Kangiten is In Japan is believed to hold great power in Japanese culture. The god is regarded as the protector of temples and stands for prosperity, kingship and sufficient food and clothing. Kangiten is predominantly worshipped by gamblers, actors, geishas and people in the business of “pleasure“.
2. Phira Phikanet in Thailand
Lord Ganesha is referred to as Phra Phikanet or Phra Phikanesuan in Thailand. Believed to be the deity of fortune, success and the remover of obstacles, the Thailand version of Ganpati is also associated with arts, education and trade. It is a common practice for Thai Buddhists to worship the deity on occasion of the commencement of a new business or on the occasion of a wedding. Not only this, but Thailand is also home to Chachoengsao, which is known as the "city of Ganesha in Thailand". The city even consists of 3 Hindu-Buddhist statues in 3 different temples across the city.
3. Maha Rakta in Tibet
Lord Ganesha is believed to be introduced by Indian Buddhist religious leaders Atisa Dipankara Srijna and Gayadhara in the 11th century AD. The leaders are considered to be the founders of the Ganpati cult in the Tiber, translating several Indian texts written on the Indian god. Another interesting thing to note is a 17th-century myth associated with Ganesha that gives a variant version of his birth theory. According to this theory, Shiva has two wives, Uma and Ganga. Ganga’s newborn son loses his head due to a curse given by Uma. Later, she is advised to use the head of a dead body to replace her son’s decapitated head and that is how the elephant-headed Ganesha is born.
There are mainly two versions of Ganesha predominantly depicted in Tibetan culture. The first version shows the deity being trodden under the foot by Mahakala, a popular Tibetan deity, albeit not in a distressed manner. The second variation shows him as a Destroyer of Obstacles, with many scriptures depicting him in a dancing state.