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Ganapati variations: How many Ganesas?

Ganesa is the ritual, Ganesa is the offering,
Ganesa is he who offers into the fire of Ganesa,
If a person sees Ganesa in every action,
That person becomes Ganesa – Ganesagita

Like other South Asian deities (Kali for example) there are many different forms of Ganapati – some of which are associated with particular modalities of worship. Groups of Ganeshas are arrayed in groups of 4, 8, 12, 16, 32, 56 and 51 according to various texts and sources. There is no authorative source list, and although the group of sixteen Ganesas is given in several texts for example, there is some discontinuity between lists. Worship of the group of sixteen Ganapatis is sometimes referred to as shodasa ganapati (shodasa = “sixteen”) – I have seen a variety of explanations for this, ranging from the sixteen kalas of the Moon to the sixteen upacaras (“attendences” or “steps”) of traditional puja (sixteen is also an important number in Sri Vidya).

Mention of the 4 Vinayakas can be found in the Mahabharata and there are also 4 avataras of Ganesa which correspond to each of the 4 yugas. The 51 forms of Ganesa are given in the ganesanyasa wherein the Ganeshas and their corresponding Saktis are related to different parts of the body. In the Ganesa Purana it is recounted that Ganesha assumed 56 forms whilst fighting the rasaka Durasada. An account of the eight avataras of Ganesha can be found in the Mugdala Purana (see Granoff, in Brown, 1991, for some discussion of the Mugdala Purana).

The following 32 forms of Ganesa are listed in S. Jagannathan & N. Krishna’s Ganesha: The Auspicious… The Beginning (Vakils, Feffer & Simons Ltd, 1992). As with the other groupings of Ganesa, there are considerable differences in the forms of Ganesa in this list, depending on the source. This listing is probably based on the forms of Ganesa given in the Mugadala Purana. A slightly different group of 32 Ganesas can be found in the Sritattvavanidhi.

Bala Ganapati Taruna Ganapati Bhakti Ganapati Veena Ganapati Shakti Ganapati Dwija Ganapati Siddhi Ganapati Ucchishta Ganapati
Vigha Ganapati Kshipra Ganapati Heramba Ganapati Lakshmi Ganapati Maha Ganapati Vijaya Ganapati Nritya Ganapati Urdhva Ganapati
Ekaakshara Ganapati Vara Ganapati Tryakshara Ganapati Kshipra-Prasada Ganapati Haridra Ganapati Ekadanta Ganapati Shrishti Ganapati Uddanda Ganapati
Runamochana Ganapati Dhundhi Ganapati Trimukha Ganapati Simha Ganapati Dwimukha Ganapati Yoga Ganapati Durga Ganapati Sankatara Ganapati

Some forms of Ganesha are held out as being particularly important. The Vidyarnavatantra for example (see Bühnemann, 2008) mentions 14 forms of Ganesa which, according to Bühnemann, do not constitute a group, but are those forms of Ganesa which the compiler of the text thought were the most powerful. These are: Ekaksara-Ganapati, Viri-Ganapati, Laksmi-Ganapati, Sakti-Ganapati (2 forms of) Ksipraprasadana-Ganapati, Heramba, Subrahmanya-Ganapati. Maha-Ganapati. Trailokyamohana-Ganapati, Bhogalola-Ganapati, Haridra-Ganapati, Vakratunda-Ganapati, and Ucchista-Ganapati.

Ganeśa: unravelling an enigma Hinduism and Its Sources Series, Yuvraj Krishan, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1999
Ganesh: studies of an Asian god, Robert L. Brown (editor), SUNY 1991
Ganapati: song of the self, John A. Grimes, SUNY 1995
Ganesha: The Auspicious… The Beginning S. Jagannathan & N. Krishna, Vakils, Feffer & Simons Ltd, 1992
Tantric Forms of Ganesa Gudrun Bühnemann, DK Printworld (P) Ltd., 2008