Lord Ganesha and His Trunk: What is the Symbolism?

Picture of Traditional Lord Ganesha

Traditional form of Lord Ganesha with left-sided trunk

Parabrahma roopam Ganesham bhajema |

Lets us pray Lord Ganesha who is the Parabrahman(the Ultimate Reality).

Lord Shri Ganesha is one of the most powerful and popular deities in Sanatana Dharma(Hinduism).  He looks lovely with an elephant head! He is the ruler and remover of obstacles. So, before we start any new work or any venture, we pray him for his blessings.

He is also one of the five main Vedic deities, viz. Ganesha, Surya, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga. What is the most striking and differentiating feature of Ganesha among these? Yes, you’re right! It is his trunk!  Is there any symbolic significance of this? Let us understand clearly.

Lord Ganesha is an elephant-headed God. By the way, what is the primary function of trunk in an elephant? It is a powerful tool to grip the things like trees. It is also used to access things to put in the mouth. It is used by the elephant to enjoy a nice shower by pouring water on the back! The bottom line is: for an elephant, trunk gives an easy access to many things.  Moreover,  trunk is used by the elephant to give things to others.

These are very important features of an elephant. So, let us keep them in mind, to help us understand the next discussion by correlation.

Left Side Turned Trunk

In Lord Ganesha, generally trunk is towards his left side accessing a laddu(sweet ball). What does it symbolize? It represents moon and the cool power of ida nadi in our psychic body. This Ganesha helps us to access the fruit of our work in the material world and he also gives the fruits to us very easily with his trunk!

In other words, laddu(sweet ball) indicates all material comforts. Since he enjoys the sweet, he will surely bestow them to you too. This why if we need to enjoy material prosperity and comforts, we need to worship and pray Lord Ganesha with left-sided trunk enjoying a sweet laddu! So, Lord Ganesha with left-sided trunk provides us bhoga(material enjoyment).

Right Side Turned Trunk

There is another pose of Lord Ganesha. It is with his trunk turned towards his right side holding a pot of nectar. What is the symbolism here? It represents Sun and the hot power of pingala nadi in our psychic body.The pot of nectar held by right-turned trunk is nothing but the bliss or the happiness obtained in samadhi state in traditional yoga. So, this Ganesha helps us achieve moksha(liberation).

According to Hinduism, the highest purpose of human life is to get liberation from infinite birth and death cycle.  So, people who are interested in achieving the real goal of yoga i.e. moksha (liberation) should pray Lord Ganesha with trunk turned to his right side.

Significance of laddu(sweet ball)

The most favorite sweet for Lord Ganesha is Modaka which is a sweet dumpling made of jaggery, coconut and wheat flour. He is also fond of eating laddus(sweet balls). In this left turned trunk form, it is important to ensure that the trunk accesses a sweet ball in a bowl filled with laddus. 

The sweet ball(laddu) symbolizes prosperity. Lord Ganesha with left side trunk bestows material prosperity(bhoga). Remember, if we make sure that he eats laddus, he will definitely give us the same in the form of  material prosperity!

Traditional form of Left-side turned trunk Lord Ganesha

The Scripture Ganapati Upanishat says:

Ekadantam chaturhastam pasha-ankusha dharinam |
Radam cha varadam hastaih bibhranam mooshaka dhwajam ||

Meaning: Lord Ganesha has a tusk and four hands. He holds noose, goad, a tusk and boon-giving gesture in his back-left, back-right, front-right and front-left hands respectively. He has a mouse as his vehicle.

Lord Ganesha’s noose indicates that he is capable of liberating us from a noose of infinite birth and death cycle. The noose also suggests us not to get attached to material comforts. The goad shows the Lord’s nigraha shakti(power to subdue/neutralize) all evils and obstacles.

The Lord Ganesha  shows the abhaya(“don’t fear”) gesture by holding a tusk in his hand to assure us the complete safety and fearlessness. The lord shows the varada(“boon giving”) gesture by holding a bowl-full of sweet balls(laddus).

As discussed earlier, the Lord likes laddus and he gives material comforts(symbolized by laddus) to his devotees. The trunk of Lord Ganesha touches the laddus in the bowl indicates Lords readiness to give the boons(laddus)  using his trunk.

This pose of the left sided trunk in a bowl of laddus is unique form of varada (“boon giving”) gesture of Lord Ganesha.  Recall our discussion at the beginning about the trunk of an elephant. Just like in an elephant, Lord Ganesha uses his trunk as a handy tool to either bless us or to give us the boons!

Ritualistic worship of the traditional form of Lord Ganesha as described in Ganapati Upanishat is highly recommended to achieve material comforts and prosperity. So, when buying an idol to worship, it is important to keep these traditional features in mind to obtain desired results.

Caution: Any fancy form/pose of  the Lord Ganesha, that is available in the market, which is not having any basis in our Scriptures should not be worshiped.  The divine power gets concentrated in an idol. Just like human beings, a pose and body language(gesture) of an idol reflects the mood of a deity.
Now, think about it: how do you behave if you are in a bad mood? You may interpret a genuine situation in a totally different way, right?  Similarly, worshiping a wrong form of the idol or pose of the trunk results in a different mood of the Lord and thus, may produce undesirable effects. You may refer to the above picture of traditional form  of Lord Ganesha, before you buy an idol/worship.

I would like to worship Lord Ganesha. Which form is suitable for me?

As discussed earlier, Left-sided trunk Ganesha is very peaceful and is highly recommended(read: safe) for everybody to worship.

As discussed, right sided trunk Lord Ganesha is mainly worshiped by people who want liberation and God realization. This form of Lord Ganesha is very powerful and  not forgiving. He demands the worship by following the strict rules as laid down in our Scriptures.

So, it is not for everybody. You can worship in this form only if you really know what you are doing! Otherwise, you are simply betting on serious risks. Therefore, more  easy-going left side turned trunk Lord Ganesha is suggested to everybody for prayer and worship. Got it?

In summary, Lord Ganesha is omnipotent deity with absolute power to confer his devotees with material enjoyment (bhoga) and liberation(moksha) from endless cycle of birth  and death.

Liked the discussion? You may check out related articles:

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Let us pray Lord Ganesha for his blessing:

Ekadantam upasmahe |
We pray Lord Ganesha(for his blessing and Grace)!

Om Namah Shivaya ||

– Kalidas

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Maybe it helps to read a fun-filled article on new age yoga vs. traditional yoga.

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If yes, you may want to read and understand the articles in the category: The Pillars of Yoga.

Enjoy reading! Have fun!! All the best.

Om Namah Shivaya ||

– Rudraksha Yoga

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