At the commencement of all rituals and other works we, Hindus begin with the invocation of Lord Ganesha, the destroyer of all obstacles. Each Puranas has different stories regarding the birth of Ganesha. Whatever may be the illustrations in the puranas, Lord Ganesha has become one of the deities of the Hindu pantheon by accepting Him as the son of Shiva & Parvathi.
According to Ganesha Purana, Lord Ganesha incarnated in different forms in the 4 Yugas as follows to destroy the demons. In Kritha Yuga as Mahotkata to destroy Narantaka and Devantaka. In Thretha Yuga as Mayuresha to kill Sindu. In Dwapara Yuga as Gajanana to kill Sindur. In Kali Yuga in which we are living we have evil minds due to which there will be chaos in all spheres of life. It is predicted that Lord Ganesha will incarnate as Dhoomraketu to destroy the evil minds of the people and restore peace.
Vigneshwara, the Lord of obstacles has four arms. Elders attribute them as follows, by the axe He hold in one of the hands He cuts off the attachments of His devotees to free them from sorrow. By the rope He pulls His devotees towards the truth to realize Atman, with the Modakas (Sweet made of Rice Balls) He give enjoyment to His devotees and with the Abhaya Hasta He blesses His devotees by giving protection from obstacles.
The Trinity worships Ganapathi, the leader of Ganas. Brahma meditated on Lord Ganesha, who asked Siddhi (Achievement) and Budhi (Wisdom) to help Brahma in creation of the universe. When Shiva set out to destroy the demon Tripurantaka, the nail of the chariot broke and Shiva prayed to Lord Ganesha and every thing was set right and Shiva killed the demon. Vishnu once found that His Valamburi Shanka (Conch with the swirl towards right) was missing but could hear the sound of the conch in the vicinity of Kailasa. Then He meditated on Lord Shiva who informed Him to pray to Lord Ganesha to retrieve the same. Accordingly Lord Vishnu prayed Ganesha and got back His Conch.
For His elephant face He is called Gajanana, Gajamukha, Gajavadana. Once Parasurama the devotee of Lord Shiva went to see Him at Kailasa. Ganesha who was guarding the entrance of the Kailasa did not allow Parasurama to enter. Short-tempered Parasurama stuck Ganesha with His axe and broke one of the tusks of Ganesha. Shiva & Parvathi appeared there and Parvathi rebuked Parasurama. Then Parasurama worshipped Ganesha and got His blessings. Since then Ganesha was called Ekadantha. The great epic Mahabharata was written by Ganesha, which was dictated by Sage Vyasa.
According to puranas once a Gandharva by name Krauncha insulted the sage Vamadeva in the court of Indra. The Sage cursed the Gandharva to become a rat. This rat devastated the ashrama of Sage Parasara, Parasara prayed to Ganesha who brought the rat under control and made it His vahana (Vehicle).
Once Kubera, who was proud of his wealth, took Lambodhara, the voracious eater to Alakapuri for dinner. Lambodhara eat all the dishes offered by Kubera. To humble the pride of Kubera he asked for more. Then Kubera prayed to Lord Shiva to rescue him. Shiva gave puffed rice to Ganesha and His hunger fulfilled by that. Once Ganesha who ate huge Modakas was riding on His vehicle the Mouse. As the mouse tripped by a snake, he fell & his over filled stomach burst open. Immediately Ganesha picked up the snake and tied around His stomach. At that time Chandra (moon) who was seeing this burst into laughter. Enraged Ganesha cursed the moon, which was shining with full brightness all the day that he would lose its shine. Then all gods approached Ganesha on behalf of moon and asked him to take back the curse, to this Ganesha obliged and said that the moon would wax and wane alternately every fortnight. And as the day was the 4th day of Bhadrapada (according to Hindu Calendar), Ganesha declared that those people who viewed the moon on that day would get involved in scandals. Since then onwards on the Ganesha Chauthi day people avoid seeing moon. To get relief from accidental viewing of moon on Ganesha Chauthi day one has to recite the Story of Shamantaka Gem, which involves Shri Krishna who also by chance saw the moon on Ganesha Chauthi day and gets suspected that He stole the Shamantaka Gem. The following Sloka when recited in devotion would get rid of the scandal.
“Simhahah Prasena Vadeh Simho Jambavanthaha tah sukumara marodhi tava hyeshah Syamanthakah”
There are many temples dedicated to Lord Ganesha in India and Abroad. In all the temples the image of Ganesha has four arms with His trunk turned towards left, in rare cases the trunk is turned towards right that is considered to be very auspicious. Different forms and postures of Ganesha are found all over the world. Devotees meditate on the Astakshara Mantra “OM SRI GANESHAYA NAMAH”