Vinayaka means one who removes all obstacles in the way of fulfilling any action. Vinayaka also demonstrated the truth that His Divine parents (Parameshwara and Parvati) were the two to whom he owed his birth and existence and whom he should seek as his redeemers. This is the reason he is described as Vinayaka and Vighneshwara (The Lord of Obstacles). He is also called Ganapati - the Lord of all the Ganas (the host of spirits). There is an inner meaning for this name. Ganapati is known for his supreme intelligence. It is because of this intelligence, he is able to keep under his control the vast array of spirits. Only the person who has Sukshma buddhi (acute power of intellect) can realise this nature of Divinity. Saint Tyagaraaja enquired whether one needed refined intelligence to recognise the Lord. How could a monkey (Hanumaan) cross the ocean? How could Lakshmi attain the Lord? How could Yashoda bind Krishna? How could Bharata enjoy the glory of Raama without satiety? All this was due to the power of supreme devotion to the Lord. There was nothing greater than devotion to Rama, declared Tyagaraja.
Ganapati, who was endowed with supreme intelligence which enabled him to understand the all-encompassing nature of the Divine, subjected himself to a test by which he could impart to the world this intelligence. Parameshwara invited His two sons, Vinayaka and Subrahmanya, to go round the world and said that whoever completed the trip first would get a fruit immediately. Subrahmanya mounted his peacock and set out on the race with zest. Ganesha's claim for completing the trip round the world Ganapati, who was cast in a big mould and had as his vehicle a mouse, was apparently no match for his younger brother. How could he hope to go round the world? Seeing Ganesha complacently sitting there, without joining the race, the 'Divine parents asked him why he had not yet started on his trip. They urged him to get busy. But Ganapati continued to enjoy what he was eating and seemed to be in no hurry to make a start. A little while later, seeing that Subrahmanya was approaching the place, Ganapati circumambulated his parents and sitting before them claimed that he had gone round the world. Parvati asked him: "Without going round the world, how can you claim you have done so merely by going round us?" Ganesha replied: "Oh, Mother, the whole earth is permeated by both of you. If I go round you, is it not equal to going round the whole world? What is the purport of statements such as: Eeshaavaasyam Idam Sarvam (All this is inhabited by the Lord), Vasudeva Sarvam Idam (Vasudeva is everything)? You are Omnipresent and to go round you is equivalent to circling the Universe," he said. Parameshwara presented a fruit to Vinayaka and said: "Because you have a keen intellect, you shall be the master of all the spirits." It is for this reason that Vighneshwara is worshipped by one and all before performing any auspicious function, whether it is entering a new house or performing a marriage ceremony or any other religious function.
It must also be noted that the Lord's family is an ideal one, maintaining harmony and peace in spite of the antagonistic elements present amongst them. The vehicles of Shiva (the bull), Parvati (the lion), Ganesha (the mouse) and Subrahmanya (the peacock) are in their natural state inimical to each other. But living in the presence of the Lord they shed their enmity and live at peace. Harmony in the Divine family shows that where there is Divinity there is peace and amity. Hatred and jealousy arise when the Omnipresence of the Divine is forgotten or ignored.
Holy days like Vinayaka Chaturthi should be celebrated only to remind ourselves of such sacred truths and to sanctify our minds and lives accordingly. They should not be treated as holidays for feasting and merry making. Ganapati should be worshipped so that all the Ganas (spirits) become friendly and helpful to us. Tyagaraja sang that if he has the Daivanugraham (Lord's grace) all the Grahas (planets) will be in his grasp.
We must purify our hearts so that the Lord may shower His grace on us. All education, all mastery of the scriptures and all kinds of worship will be of no avail if the heart is not filled with qualities like love, compassion and forbearance.
Source: Divine Discourse on September 10, 1984, Prasanthi Nilayam Mandir