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The Ganapati Atharvashirsa (Sanskrit: गणपत्यथर्वशीर्ष, Gaṇapatyatharvaśīrṣa) is a Sanskrit text and a minor Upanishad of Hinduism. It is a late Upanishadic text dedicated to Ganesha, the deity representing intellect and learning. It asserts that Ganesha is same as the eternal underlying reality, Brahman. The text is attached to the Atharvaveda, and is also referred to as the Sri Ganapati Atharva Sirsha, the Ganapati Atharvashirsha, the Ganapati Atharvasirsa, or the Ganapati Upanishad.
The text exists in several variants, but with the same message. Ganesha is described to be same as other Hindu gods, as ultimate truth and reality (Brahman), as satcitananda, as the soul in oneself (Atman) and in every living being, as Om.
Ghurye notes that the text identifies Ganesa with the Brahman and is of a very late origin, while Courtright and Thapan date it to the 16th or 17th century. While the Upanishad is a late text, the earliest mention of the word Ganapati is found in hymn 2.23.1 of the 2nd-millennium BCE Rigveda. Ganapati literally means "leader of the multitudes", it is however uncertain that the Vedic term referred specifically to Ganesha.
The Ganapati Upanishad text is listed at number 89 in the Muktikā canon of 108 Upanishads compiled in the mid 17th century, and also mentioned c. 1800 by Upanishad Brahmayogin in his commentary on the Muktika canon.
Swami Chinmayananda published a variant of the Sanskrit text with an English translation in 1987. In his version of the source text he groups verses together to form sections that he calls upamantras. He notes that as a result of this his line numbering and versification may differ from those given in other variants.
John Grimes provides a structural analysis including a version of the Sanskrit text and an English translation in his 1995 book on Ganapati. His version provides no line numbers.
It is part of the five Atharva Shirsha Upanishads, each of which are named after the five main deities or shrines (panchayatanan of the Smarta tradition) of Ganapati, Narayana, Rudra, Surya and Devi.
Ganesha as the supreme reality
The first verse of the Upanishad proper asserts that Ganesha is the Supreme principle and all pervading metaphysical absolute reality called Brahman in Hinduism. Ganesha is asserted by the text as identical to Om, the Brahman, the Atman or soul, and as the visible manifestation of the Vedic idea Tat tvam asi (you are that) found in the sixth chapter of the Chandogya Upanishad, in a manner similar to Shiva in Shaiva Upanishads, Vishnu in Vaishnava Upanishads, Devi in Shakti Upanishads.
Homage to Lord Gaṇeśa. Oṃ. Reverence to Gaṇapati. You are indeed the visible "That Thou Art" [tattvamasi]. You indeed produce the universe. You indeed sustain it. You indeed destroy it. You indeed are the all pervading reality. You are the manifestation of the eternal self (Brahman).
Chinmayananda translates this verse as follows:
(O Lord Ganapati!) You alone are the visible manifestation of the Essence of the words "That thou art". You alone are the Doer. You alone are the Creator and the Sustainer (of the universe). You alone are the Destroyer. Verily You alone are all this - "idam sarvam" - in the creation, because You are Brahman. You are the Eternal Atman in bodily form."
Identification with other deities and with Om
A variant version of this passage is translated by Chinmayananda as follows:
(O Lord Ganapati!) You are (the Trinity) Brahma, Viṣnu, and Maheśa. You are Indra. You are fire and air. You are the sun and the moon. You are Brahman. You are (the three worlds) Bhuloka, Antariksha-loka, and Swargaloka. You are Om. (that is to say, You are all this).
The verses state Ganesha to be all that is spiritual, the satcitananda, all words, all four levels of speech, all knowledge, all consciousness, the source of all universe, the universe now, that in which the universe will someday be dissolved, the three Guṇas of Samkhya philosophy and what is beyond, all states of being, the truth, the oneness, the contentment, the inner bliss.
Integration of Tantra
Some evidence that the work is of late origin which associate Ganapati with the Muladhara chakra:
त्वं मूलाधारस्थितो॑सि नित्यम्
This text provides a detailed description of Ganesha's bija mantra gaṃ (Sanskrit: गं; gaṃ). When this mantra is written using simplified transliteration methods that do not include diacritical marks to represent nasal sounds, it is written as "gam". This bija mantra is also used in the Ganesha Purana which is generally dated as preceding the Ganapati Atharvasirsa. Courtright translates the passage as follows:
तन्नो दन्तिः प्रचोदयात्
May we know the single tusked one,
May we meditate on the one with the curved trunk,
May that tusked one inspire knowledge and meditation of ours.
Having uttered the first letter of the word gaṇa, ga, then I utter the nasal sound ṇa which follows and appears beautifully like the crescent moon. This is your form. The ga forms the initial letter, the a forms the middle letter and the ṇa forms the final letter. To utter this sound [i.e., gaṃ] is to utter all sounds together.
The text includes a Gayatri mantra in verse 8, with Ganesha as the source of inspiration for meditation and knowledge, in Nrichad Gayatri poetic meter. This, states John Grimes, distills the highest human spiritual aspiration. The tooth and trunk in the Ganesha-Gayatri mantra, adds Grimes, embodies symbolism for philosophical and spiritual truths, channeling the attention to physical, intellectual and intuitional self-realization.
The text asserts its own status as an upanishad in its final line, which reads "Thus, the Śrī Gaṇapati Atharvaśīrṣa Upanishad"; śrīgaṇapatyatharvaśīrṣopaniṣad). The text associates itself with the Atharvaveda, in a passage that Chinmayananda translates as "Thus says Atharvana" (Sanskrit:इत्यथर्वणवाक्यम्; ityatharvaṇavākyam).
The text ends with the Shanti hymn, states Grimes, "May we be protected together, may we be sustained together, may we do great deeds together, Om, peace, peace, peace!".
It is the most important surviving Sanskrit text in the Ganapatyas tradition of Hinduism, wherein Ganesha is revered. The entire text is written over the entrance to the temple hall in the aṣtavināyaka Ganesha shrine at Ranjangaon.
- Apte, Vaman Shivaram, 1858-1892. (1965). The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary : containing appendices on Sanskrit prosody and important literary & geographical names of ancient India ([4th] rev. & enl. ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-0567-4. OCLC 22941401.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Material on the Atharvaśīrṣa is pp. 21-36 in: Grimes, John A. Ganapati: Song of the Self. (State University of New York Press: Albany, 1995) ISBN 0-7914-2440-5 In his notes Grimes cites the Courtright and Chinmayananda editions, as well as Navaratnam, Aum Gaṇeśa, 101-18.
- Courtright, Paul B. Gaṇeśa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. Appendix: "The Śrī Gaṇapati Atharvaśīrṣa". (Oxford University Press: New York, 1985)
- Grimes 1995, pp. 21–29.
- Swami Chinmayananda. Glory of Ganesha. (Central Chinmaya Mission Trust: Bombay, 1987). pp. 121-131. Other reprint editions: 1991, 1995.
- Hattangadi 2004.
- Ghurye, G. S. Gods and Men. (Bombay: 1962) pp. 101-2.
- Courtright (1985) p. 252.
- Anita Raina Thapan (1997). Understanding Gaṇpati. Manohar Publishers. p. 40. ISBN 978-81-7304-195-2.
- Grimes 1995, pp. 17-19 with footnotes.
- Grimes 1995, pp. 17–19, 201.
- Rigveda Mandala 2, Hymn 2.23.1, Wikisource, Quote: गणानां त्वा गणपतिं हवामहे कविं कवीनामुपमश्रवस्तमम् । ज्येष्ठराजं ब्रह्मणां ब्रह्मणस्पत आ नः शृण्वन्नूतिभिः सीद सादनम् ॥१॥; For translation, see Grimes (1995), pp. 17-19
- Deussen 1997, pp. 556–557.
- Bühnemann, Gudrun. Budha-Kauśika's Rāmarakṣāstotra. Publications of the De Nobili Research Library, vol. 10. (Ed. Gerhard Oberhammer: Vienna, 1983), p. 103.
- Bühnemann, Gudrun. Some Remarks on the Structure and Application of Hindu Sanskrit Stotras. Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 28, pp. 73-104.
- Kennedy, Vans. Researches into the Nature and Affinity of Ancient and Hindu Mythology. (London: 1831) pp. 493-94.
- J. R. Sartha, ed., Śrī Gaṇapati Atharvaśīrṣa. (Bombay, 1969).
- Courtright (1985) Appendix.
- Kennedy 1831, p. 442.
- McDaniel 2004, p. 90.
- Deussen 1997, pp. 769–772.
- Grimes 1995, p. 22.
- Hattangadi 2004, p. 1.
- Grimes 1995, pp. 22–24.
- Deussen 1997, pp. 155-161 (Volume 1).
- Grimes 1995, pp. 23–26.
- Coburn 1991, p. 136.
- Translation by Courtright (1985) p. 253
- Chinmayananda (1985) p. 125. In Chinmayananda's numbering system this is upamantra 1.
- Grimes 1995, pp. 23–24.
- Chinmayananda (1987) p. 127. In Chinmayananda's numbering system this is upamantra 8.
- Grimes 1995, pp. 24–26.
- Chinmayananda (1987) p. 127. In Chinmayananda's numbering system this is part of upamantra 7.
- Hattangadi 2004, p. 2.
- Grimes 1995, pp. 27–29.
- Chinmayananda (1987) p. 127. In Chinmayananda's numbering system this is part of upamantra 9; Quote: One should first utter the first syllable "ग" in the word "गण" followed by "अ" the first of the alphabets. Add an अनुस्वार (a nasal म् indicated by a dot above the line). Then adorn it by a crescent (also a nasal). Prefix ॐ to it. And this represents (O Lord Ganapati!) your terrestrial form endowed with gunas.
- Grimes 1995, p. 29.
- This is verse 29 in the Chinmayananda variant. Text and verse numbering are given in Chinmayananda (1987) p. 131.
- This is verse 21 in the Chinmayananda variant. Chinmayanada notes that his version numbering may differ from that in other variants. Text and verse numbering are given in Chinmayananda (1987) p. 130. Courtright translates the verse as "This text was told by the Atharvan sage." Courtright (1985) p. 254. Chinmayananda comments on this claim of lineage saying that "it may or may not be so", noting that such an attribution of authorship is not found in the body of many of the upanishads. Chinmayananda (1987) p. 122.
- Grimes 1995, pp. 32–33.
- Grimes 1995, pp. 21–22.
- Coburn, Thomas B. (1991). Encountering the Goddess: A Translation of the Devi-Mahatmya and a Study of Its Interpretation. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-0445-4.
- Swami Chinmayananda. Glory of Ganesha. (Central Chinmaya Mission Trust: Bombay, 1987). pp. 121–131. Other reprint editions: 1991, 1995.
- Courtright, Paul B. Gaṇeśa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. Appendix: "The Śrī Gaṇapati Atharvaśīrṣa". (Oxford University Press: New York, 1985) ISBN 0-19-505742-2
- Deussen, Paul (1997). Sixty Upanishads of the Veda. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-1467-7.
- Grimes, John A. (1995). Ganapati: Song of the Self. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-2440-5.
- Kennedy, Vans (1831). Researches Into the Nature and Affinity of Ancient and Hindu Mythology. Longmans, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green. p. 491.
- Hattangadi, Sunder (2004). "श्रीगणपत्यथर्वशीर्षोपनिषत् (Shri Ganapati Atharvasira Upanishad)" (PDF) (in Sanskrit). Retrieved 19 February 2016.
- McDaniel, June (9 July 2004). Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls : Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-19-534713-5.