Himalayan Art Resources

Buddhist Deity: Ganapati Religious Context

Ganapati Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Outline Page
- Ganapati Buddhist
- Secondary Figure & Underfoot
- Related Deities
- Animal Headed Deities (Buddhist)
- Study Guide
- Source Texts
- Bibliography
- Confusions
- Others...

- Ganapati Introduction
- Is the Hindu Ganapati & the Buddhist Ganapati the Same?
- A Ganapati Painting
- Elephant Imagery in Art
- Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God (Book Review)

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.

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 four 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 colours and therefore represents all activities.

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Jeff Watt 5-2006 [updated 3-2011, 5-2017, 12-2019]


Toh 665/1084. The Essence of Gaṇapati. ཚོགས་ཀྱི་བདག་པོའི་སྙིང་པོ། · tshogs kyi bdag po'i snying po. gaṇapatihṛdaya.

Toh 666. The Tantra of Gaṇapati. ཚོགས་བདག་ཀྱི་རྒྱུད། · tshogs bdag kyi rgyud. mahāgaṇapatitantra.

Ganesh, Studies of an Asian God. Robert L. Brown, Editor. SUNY, 1991.

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).