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Ganapati variations: the female Ganesa?

I became interested in the female forms of Ganapati after a friend recounted to me a dream in which she encountered a female form of Ganesha. Unfortunately, comparatively little is known about Ganapati in female form – although She is sometimes named as Vinayaki, Ganesani, or Ganeshari. There are scattered references to elephant-headed goddesses in various texts, but the one major scholarly text which focuses on female forms of Ganesha – Goddess Vinâyakî, the Female Ganesha by P.K Agrawala (1978) – appears to be out of print.

The 16th century Silparatna gives a description of Vinayaki as having the head of an elephant and the body of a youthful woman. She is vermillion-coloured, has large breasts which bow down her body due to their weight, a corpulent belly, and beautiful hips. There are representations of her standing, seated or dancing. Although Vinayaki is generally related to Ganapati (via the name linkage Vinayaki/Vinayaka) – the scholarly consensus appears to be that she is an independent goddess and not one of Ganesa’s Saktis or consorts (I’ll take a look at this issue another time). The name “Vinayaki” sometimes appears within lists or iconographical depictions of the 64 Yoginis or the nine matrikas.

Lawrence Cohen (see Brown, 1991) notes that the earliest evidence for a “female Ganesa” is a terracotta plaque from Rairh (Rajasthan) of a standing female figure with an elephant’s head – however he points out that the identity of this image is not clear. He says that although there are references to Vinayaki/Vainayaki in Puranic texts, this figure is not described as elephant-headed, nor is Vinayaki specifically associated with Ganesa. According to Cohen, elephant-headed goddesses who appear in Puranic or folk myths from the tenth century onwards are demonesses or transformed goddesses – he cites one example as Malini – an elephant-headed “demoness” who features as Ganesa’s mother, giving birth to a son with five elephant heads, four of which are removed by Siva in one variant of Ganesa’s origin.

The Buddhist Hevajra Tantra mentions an elephant-headed goddess Ganaptihrdya – who has been tentatively identified as the personification of a Ganesha mantra.

You can find some contemporary representations of Vinayaki by the artist Mahen Chanmugam here

If anyone out there has more information, please comment!

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
Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings, Paul B. Courtright, Oxford University Press, 1989

One comment

  1. Nikki Wyrd
    Posted September 15th 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Vinayaki has been an idol of mine for years now. I first saw her on the dance floor of Brixton Academy, her elephant eye steadily fixed me as her heavy feet pounded out the rhythym beneath the ground. I looked up “female Ganesh” when I got home, and there was her name, Vinayaki. I have promised to visit at least one of her shrines in India on a pilgrimage, an urge I have not felt for any other deity, despite daily Ganesh puja for nearly three years and loving him dearly, he didn’t inspire the same kind of desire to visit a physical place to meet him.

    Vinayaki for me takes the form of woman as animal, with intelligence. A potent combination!