Ganesha

A look at the religious interpretations of Ganesha, and how the SMITE god matches up.

Ganesha has been out for a while, but with the end of the Season 4 Spring Split bringing us the Spring Gauntlet LAN and Spring Masters LAN there has been a flurry of other activities to cover. That isn’t to say the newest support in SMITE introduced in 4.7 isn’t worthy of diving into the lore around him. On the contrary, there is so much lore that is still relevant that ensuring the appropriate amount of time is dedicated to it is crucial. Unlike most of the pantheons in SMITE, the Hindu pantheon is still actively worshiped today on a large scale. While I am certain the other pantheons all have modern day worshipers – the Norse pantheon is incredibly attractive to white supremacists, unfortunately – none of them possess the scope of worshipers of the Hindu pantheon. Therefore, it is important to see how the SMITE interpretation stacks up against the current Hindu views. In short, does the SMITE god match the lore?

Cernunnos | Ganesha

A Brief History

To say that Ganesha is popular is an understatement. Ganesha is not only worshiped by most Hindu sects, Buddhists and Jains also worship him. Appearing as a distinct deity in the Gupta period between the 4th and 5th century AD, it wasn’t until the 9th century that Ganesha rose to prominence. It was then he became one of the five primary deities of the Smartism sect of Hinduism – along with Shiva, Vishnu, Surya, and Devi. Around the 6th century, a specific Ganapatya sect began to take shape. This sect worshiped Ganapati (another name for Ganesha) as the Supreme Brahma (Parabrahma), and – because of his position as the primary deity – was known as the Supreme God (Parameshwara.) This sect build numerous temples to Ganesha, including Ucci Pillayar koil – known as the Columns Hall of a Thousand Pillars – at Rock Fort. By the 10th century, Ganesha was firmly established.

However, Ganesha date back much further than that – typically believed to have non-Vedic origins. As I am sure everyone knows, the Vedic period refers to between 1500-500 BCE when the Vedas – the oldest scriptures of Hinduism – were composed. There is a lot of conjecture – as there always is with this sort of historical theology – but some theologians date the roots of Ganesha worship back to 3000 BCE. Similar images have been found across the Indus Valley and into China, lending some credence to this.  Interestingly, even if this is incorrect, there is substantial evidence Ganesha was not part of the Vedas, but rather become prominent in connection with the four Vināyakas. The Vināyakas are four demons who created obstacles and trials for that needed to be overcome. In many sects, Ganesha is referred to as Vināyaka. As always, origins are more complicated than people think. If nothing else, take away that the message of Ganesha is of such importance that he has found wide-acceptance even outside of Hinduism.

What’s in a Name?

Ganesha is a name rooted in Sanskrit. It is comprised of two sections, gana – meaning group or many – and isha – meaning lord or master. In this case, gana actually refers to the divine beings that serve Shiva. Thus, “Master of the Divine Servants” or similar is a good meaning of the name. His most common other name is Ganpati, which is just a similar word built on the same roots. Gana is again the first part of the word, while pati means ruler or lord. To those that would be confused how or why this happens, well I just used three English words that all meant similar things – ruler, lord, master.

Of course, Ganesha can’t only have two names. Instead, he has a plethora of names – some to describe his different states or forms, and some as just titles or appellations.

He’s Got the Look

How the god is depicted is very important. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are myriad depictions of Ganesha, all differing in physical features, based on the sect doing the depicting. For example, when depicted as Heramba-Ganpati, he has five elephant heads rather than one. He has between two and sixteen arms, though four has become standardized. He has one broken tusk and one whole tusk (one of his names is Ekadanta, meaning “one tusked”). He’s often depicted wearing a headpiece with a symbol or gem in the center, resting above his third eye. He is depicted with a protruding, expansive belly. He has at least two names for this feature, Lambodara (hanging belly) and Mahodara (great belly). His belly contains all of the universes and times, you see. SMITE has opted for four arms, the broken tusk, and a pudgy – understated, some might say – belly.

One of the greatest variations come from what Ganesha is holding in his hands. He is often shown with: an axe, an elephant goad, a rope, a noose, a lotus bloom, prasada (religion food offerings or food for the gods – similar to ambrosia), the broken tusk, mice, and a snake. The mouse is sometimes at his feet, and the snake is sometime a belt, scarf, or throne. While I am continually disappointed in the lack of decorative serpents with my SMITE gods, there isn’t much here that isn’t included. I would have liked to have seen the axe as part of the core look, but the myriad objects will lend themselves to future skins fairly easily. What I find interesting is the image of Ganesha we get in SMITE is one that is commonly associated with yoga practice here in the United States. This is particularly true of the presence of the lotus blossom and the elephant goad.

The one area that misses the mark – make no mistake, the rest of the visual design is fantastic – is the coloration. Like the above, there are a lot of various interpretations of the iconography, but there is a larger amount of consensus on this point. His base skin is a blue-purple, and his re-color – importantly named Ganpati – is pink. He is typically described as red, though his color varies based on his form. Notably, when he is in the form of Heramba-Ganpati or Rina-Mochana-Ganpati he is white. When he is in a meditative form as Ekadanta-Ganpati, he is blue. So, there is some mixed messaging around naming conventions and colors going on. Nothing major, as the interpretations are so varied, but it’s worth noting.

What Is My Purpose?

While last time I did not necessarily explore the kit that Cernunnos possesses, in the case of Ganesha it is worth doing as the theming is critical to his presentation.

His passive ability is called Good Fortune, and is about providing kills to others and being able to gain assists at a larger range. From a thematic perspective, this is a fine ability, though reworking the name to be something regarding the Muladhara or root chakra. It’s the base upon which all other principles are built, so it’s a fitting name. While Ganesha is often associated with Lakshmi – goddess of luck and prosperity – there is enough room in SMITE to make Lakshmi more of an entity and move away from some of the overlap. Now, Ganesha is said to bring success when worshiped properly, so it’s understandable as to how it ends up here.  Seeing as SMITE chose to make God of Success his title, it’s a fine fit there – it’s just not one of his core features, you know? It’s not critical or anything, but I would have liked to see this ability reference the First Chakra, instead. The concept of this ability – no commentary on strength or usefulness – is a good one.

The first active ability is Turn of Fate. This ability provides protections to his allies for each enemy hit with it. Conceptually, this is great. It echoes one of the creation myths for Ganesha, protecting an ally while fighting off the aggressor. Totally on theme. Again, it’s the name that could use a bit of work. Something like Blessing of the Lord of Hosts or Gift to the Hosts, or along those lines. Play up his role as the first of the Host and his duty as a protector. Still, this is another minor quibble.

The second active ability is Ohm. There is no question this ability is nigh-perfect, thematically speaking. Ganesha is heavily associated with aum (also known as om and ohm), and this is a primal sound often used in meditation practices. This ability silences and increases physical protections. It’s very solid. I love the little drifting levitation with the skill, as well. Fantastic stuff.

It is the third ability that is likely my favorite thematically. Remove Obstacles allows you to rush through player made obstacles, while becoming an obstacle for an opponent you hit – rooting them in place and knocking them up. As Ganesha is the Lord of Obstacles – both removing them and providing them to those who need them – this is a killer interpretation. The name is spot on, and the ability captures both aspects of Ganesha’s duties in this regard.

The final ability is a bit rote, unfortunately. The dharmic pillars themselves are somewhat open to interpretation. In this case, this is a result of the age, interpretations, and rewrites. For the most part, the four great pillars referenced here can be taken to be law, order, harmony, and truth. These are seen as the regulatory principles of the universe, which exists within Ganesha – as you might remember from earlier. The ability creates four pillars – which are terrain – and shred protections, slows, and deals damage to those who leave it. I suppose this is sort of a remix of the theme of Remove Obstacles, but I am sad the theme behind it is just as simple as it is. There is a lot of room here that could have been explored – dancing, in particular. There is precious little of the theme of dancing, and it is a large part of the interpretations of Ganesha. The ability is alright, but it’s kind of a let down thematically from the rest of the kit. It’s not bad, just not as good as the rest.

God of Success

SMITE obviously went with a more modern interpretation. Interestingly, this mostly stems from the Buddhist Thai beliefs about Ganesha, and those have become merged with the existing Hindi beliefs. It’s not as if there is anything wrong with any of this. It’s just a more modern and current view of a god than the ones that mainly exist in SMITE. This is in large part to the role Ganesha plays in the religion and culture. It’s unlike anything else we have seen in SMITE to date, and it’s incredibly respectful. I can’t stress this enough. This is a great interpretation of a living deity and religious icon. Thematically speaking, this is one of the best gods they have released to date. Kudos to the SMITE team.

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