The story is told that the elephant-headed Ganesha and his brother Kartikeya, the god of war, were once locked in a dispute. To break the impasse they sought the counsel of their parents, the great God Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Lord Shiva proposed that the boys compete in a race of 3 laps around the universe. Kartikeya mounted his peacock and dashed out of sight, hoping to open up an early lead. Ganesha, on the other hand, was in no hurry. He walked over to Shiva and Parvati, went around them thrice and bowed, saying, "You, my dear parents, are the manifest universe. I have completed the race."
This parable illuminates Ganesha's character - loving, highly intelligent; a fount of wisdom. Immensely loved in India, He is acknowledged as a scholar nonpareil, music runs in His blood, and as his portly figure suggests, He is a confirmed foodie. It was Ganesha who transcribed the great Hindu epic Mahabharata in real time while the sage Vyasa dictated it.
Ties to Ganesha run deep in Hindu families where He is often viewed as a member of the household. He is invoked at the beginning of every new undertaking and His blessings sought at major events in life. Generations of students given to goofing off have been known to petition Him for a lifeline just before writing their final exam.
The festival of Ganesha Chathurthi is celebrated every year, and the festivities in western and southern India are especially intense. Our slideshow looks at this remarkable icon from the Hindu pantheon, with photographs drawn from different parts of the country.