gaNapati while being one of the most widely worshiped deities of the Hindu pantheon is one of the most poorly understood ones in terms of origins and history. The sectarian worship of gaNapati and kumAra unlike the vibrant and well-preserved shaiva, shakta and vaiShNava systems are largely extinct or facing extinction. The literature of the gaNapatyas is also largely neglected or unknown to most Hindus (A consequence of this is their inability to properly circumvent weak western productions like that of Courtright).
The ancient origins of gaNapati as can be gleaned from the manu’s gR^ihya sUtras and yAGNyavalkya’s smR^itis. With my old home situated just some distance from the greatest gaNapatya kshetras I have always been fascinated with the evolution of the gaNapatya sect and its hidden mysteries. The one of the main Acharyas of the gaNapatya sect was girijAsuta who propounded the tantrik worship of mahAgaNapati. Here gaNapati is concieved as being embraced by his Shakti with one tusk and an elephant face. This mahAgaNapati gives rise to emanations namely, brahmA, viShNu and rudra. From these emanantions the other devas headed by indra then emerge. The meditation of this gaNapati with the esoteric ulka gAyatri is supposed to lead to the path of moksha for these gaNapatyas.
The next great gaNapatya Acharya was gaNapatikumAra. He founded the cult of haridrAgaNapati. In its most basic form this gaNapati is worshiped in a lump of turmeric. The mUlamantra of this sect is that of gR^itasamda shunahotra shaunaka bhArgava which begins as gaNAnAntva gaNapatiM havamahe… They worship gaNapati in a yellow form with yellow silken clothing, yellow yaGNyopavIta and having 4 arms, 3 eyes and a club, a pAsha and an ankusha. They also use the emanation imagery where the other devas directly emerge from gaNapati and then form the universe. The followers of this cult brand themselves with an image of gaNapati, just as the vaiShNavas with the discus and conch of viShNu.
The next great Acharya of the sect was herambasuta, who founded the heterodox vAmAchara cult of gaNapati worship. They worship the form of gaNapati termed ucchiShTa gaNapati. He is mediated in a form, which may be viewed by many uninitiated modern Hindus and others as being very obscene. The votaries wear red clothes, smear a red tilak on their forehead and are not bound by norms like marriage. They activate the great gaNanAtha in the mUlAdhara after stilling themselves with wine, eating modakas with their left hand and then performing sexual intercourse to kick start the upward ascent of gaNanAtha’s shakti.
The three Acharyas navanIta, svarNa and saMtAna founded other sects of gaNapati that are poorly studied. They follow a pantheistic view with the whole world being concieved as the parts of the great gaNanAtha.They use mantras termed the gaNapati atharvashiras to perform their rites. They also perform the great rite of the gaNapati kalpa as laid out in the dharma shAstras. They also use vedic hymns to the maruts and rudra in their rites.