Today is Ganesh Chaturthi, which is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha. Ganesha’s birth story conveys something very symbolic. Parvati while taking bath, makes the form of Ganesha with turmeric paste. She breathes life into the form and makes him as a young boy and appoints him as a guard. When Shiva comes in, Ganesha doesn’t recognize him and doesn’t allow him inside. This results in a fight and Shiva severes the head of Ganesha. Finally when the truth is recognized, an elephant’s head is fixed on the headless boy.
Parvati taking bath symbolizes the first step in the spiritual path: preparing the ground by purifying oneself. Ganesha guarding the door is your awareness guarding the contents of the mind, which symbolizes the second step in the spiritual path where you remain as a witness. When Shiva or the self realization comes, the head or the ahamkara, the feeling that one is the doer of his actions, is severed. Elephant symbolizes wisdom. Wisdom replaces ahamkara.
The story of Skanda and Ganesha quarrelling for the fruit of wisdom or the gnanapalam also has a symbolic meaning. Ganesha symbolizes the type of seekers who realize that Purusha and Prakriti, or the Father and the Mother are within and get the fruit of wisdom instantly. They are like Ramana Maharshi who follow the direct path like self inquiry right away. Skanda symbolizes the type of seekers who go around the world, seeking fulfillment in worldly things, then trying various spiritual practices before attempting to go through the direct method. These people are like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who was more attached to the name and external form of Goddess Kali. After trying various sadhanas, he receives Vedantic instructions from Totapuri and gets the fruit of wisdom.