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The primary function of Ganapati in Tantric Buddhism is that of a wealth deity - a practice done for the purposes of obtaining wealth. Most forms of Ganapati belong to the Kriya classification of Buddhist Tantra. In the 11th century Jowo Atisha popularized at least two forms of Ganapati in Tibet and the Indian Pandita Gayadhara introduced numerous others which came down through the Sakya Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. In the following centuries the Nyingma Tradition gave rise to numerous forms through the process of Revealed Treasure.
Ganesh/Ganesha is the name most commonly used by modern Shaiva and Vaishnava Hindu religious followers for the elephant headed god. The name Ganapati is also used. Ganesha is the more proper Sanskrit pronunciation and Ganesh follows the modern Hindi pronunciation. Vinayaka is another name used by Buddhists for the elephant headed god especially when appearing under the feet of Shadbhuja Mahakala or the Charya Tantra form of Bhutadamara Vajrapani.
Some specific forms of Ganapati, such as Maharakta, are power deities. The concept of wealth, power, etc., belong to the Tantric system of the Four Activities. the activities are special powers achieved through the practice of Tantric Buddhism. These powers are used to skillfully benefit all sentient beings: peaceful activities, increasing, powerful and wrathful. In art, these powers are associated with specific colours and shapes, white, yellow, red, and blue-black along with physical appearance and facial expression such as a smiling face or a fearsome face. The colour green is generally considered the combination of all of the colours and activities.
Not all Elephant headed deities found in Himalayan art, although referred to commonly as Ganesha/Ganapati, are in fact the same deity, entity or god.
For Tibetan and Tantric Buddhist followers Ganapati is the Sanskrit name commonly used and the word found in Tibetan literature. The two words Ganesha and Ganapati have the same basic meaning in English: lord of hosts (meaning the hosts of Shiva). For Hindus the names are interchangeable. For Buddhists the names are partially, or generally interchangeable, but the specific Sanskrit word Ganesh/Ganesha is not typically found in Tibetan Texts, or in the Tantric Buddhist mantras or praises originating in Sanskrit Buddhist texts.
It is also important to know that the Buddhist Ganapati is not the same individual or entity as the Shaiva Ganesha, son of Parvati, and lord of Shiva's hosts of followers. The Tantric Buddhist Ganapati is most often Avalokiteshvara, or an emanation of Avalokiteshvara. In the Maharakta tradition the narrative relates how Avalokiteshvara after killing the Shaiva Hindu Ganesha proceeded to cut off the elephant head and then placed it on top of his own, thus taking on the appearance of the defeated 'evil' Ganesha.
The Buddhist protector Mahakala (Shadbhuja) in the six-armed form (only) is also an emanation of Avalokiteshvara. In this form he stands atop an elephant headed supine figure. The name of the figure varies from ritual text to ritual text but is commonly referred to as Vinayaka. In the lower classification sets of Buddhist Tantra, such as the Tattvasamgraha Tantra, Ganapati/Ganesha can be found as a retinue figure along with other Vaishnava and Shaiva Hindu gods. In these instances the elephant headed god is not associated with Avalokiteshvara, but is also never depicted as a central or principal figure in Himalayan art.
Types of Elephant Headed Deities:
1. Vinayaka under the feet of Shadbhuja Mahakala (Kriya Tantra)
2. Vinayaka under the feet of Bhutadamara Vajrapani (Charya Tantra)
3. Retinue Figure in various Kriya, Charya & Yoga Tantras
--- Trailokyavijaya Mandala (1037 Deity)
--- Paramadya Vajrasattva Mandala (77 Deity)
--- Sarvavid Vairochana Mandala (37 Deity)
--- Chakravarti Guna Mandala
--- Trailokyavijaya with 9 Bhairavas Mandala
--- Trailokyavijaya with 8 Mahadevas Mandala
--- Chakrasamvara, Raudra Samvara Mandala
4. Thirteen Enemy Gods (Dralha Chusum)
5. Kolpo Kundali (as a retinue figure)
6. Three faces, Six Hands (Atisha Tradition)
7. One Face, Four Hands (white, red or blue)
8. One Face, Twelve Hands, Maharakta (red) (Maharakta Outline Page)
9. One Face, Two Hands (white)
10. Nyingma Forms of Ganapati (Revealed Treasure)
Jeff Watt 5-2006 [updated 3-2011]