The elephant child, the story of Ganesha

Ganesha-Hands-Henna
Ganesha-Hands-Henna

Who is the boy who has an elephant head? His name is Ganesha and he lived in India long, long ago. Also know as Ganesh, Ganpati, could be said that he still lives, because he is considered by the Hindus as one of the immortals. Hers is a fantastic story, full of twists and turns.

Ganesha – the elephant-god mounted on a mouse – has become one of the most common icons for everything related to Hinduism. This not only indicates the importance of Ganesha, but also shows how popular and omnipresent it is in the minds of the masses.

The Lord of Success

The son of Shiva and Parvati, Ganesha has an elephant face with a curved trunk and big ears and a huge potbellied body of a human being. He is the Lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is also worshiped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. In fact, Ganesha is one of the first five Hindu gods (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga being the other four) whose idolatry is glorified as the Panchayatana puja.

The child was born to Parvati, also known as the Divine Mother, the wife of Shiva. She considered him [Ganesha] the most beautiful baby (because at that time he had a normal head). Despite the elephant head, he grew up to be the darling of her heart and a very intelligent boy. In fact, even today he is considered as Wisdom among other things. (And you know that elephants are smart!)

How did he get the elephant head?

There are two versions of this story, the first one is in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana:

It is said that when the gods came to honor Parvati and admire their son, one of them (whom we in the West know as Saturn) refused to look at the boy. His mother was very upset about this. The other gods scolded him for it, but you see, he knew that a single glance from his powerful eyes could burn the child’s head and leave it to ash. However Parvati insisted that he give the baby the look of admiration. Finally, yielding to what we could today call “the pressure of the group,” I cast Saturn’s gaze over the boy, and indeed, his head was immediately reduced to ashes.

Of course, her mother started crying and crying, but God Vishnu, who is the conservator of the universe, came quickly and found a recently dead elephant calf and brought her head and put it on Ganesha’s neck.

NOTE – This story is from the Brahman puranas – Brahma is a celestial and thus the story takes place up in the heaveans.

The second story is the most common and known by most appears in the Shiva Purana and goes like this:

One day the goddess Parvati, wanted to take a bath, not having anyone to keep the door while bathing, she gave birth to a child with the dirt of her body. She named him Ganesha and assigned him the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom. Ganesha took the task at hand and would only let someone in when Parvati allowed it.

Whilst showering, Shiva, Parvatis Husband returned and was surprised to find a stranger who denied him access to her wife. Annoyed with this, he cut off the boy’s head with rage. When Parvati found out, she was left broken hearted by the pain and very furious at Shiva for not thinking twice before beheading Ganesha.

Shiva, although the most powerful of the universe, wanted to calm Parvati and immediatly sent his army in search of the head of any being that slept looking towards the north. The company found an elephant asleep and brought back its severed head. Shiva then restored his life with the head of the elephant and made him the leader (pati) of his troops. Hence its name ‘Ganapati’. Shiva also gave him a blessing in which people will worship and invoke his name before embarking on any journey as Ganesha had show dedication in the matter of protecting Parvati till death. Having protected the entrance to his house, Ganesha is usually found at the door of houses, businesses, etc.

Ganesha, the destroyer of pride

Ganesha is also the destroyer of vanity, selfishness and pride. He is the personification of the material universe in all its different magnificent manifestations. “All Hindus worship Ganesha, regardless of their sectarian belief,” says DN Singh in a study of Hinduism. “He is the principle of religion and the meeting point for all Hindus.”

Along with all things, Ganesha symbolizes purity. He swore never to marry. The great author Vyasa thought so well of him and of his power of memory (“an elephant never forgets”), that he convinced Ganesha to write in his dictation the longest poem in the world, the epic Mahabharata.

Symbolism of Ganesha

Growing in this way, Ganesha became “the one who removes obstacles”, watches over the principles of things such as books, performances, the construction of a house, weddings, etc. Therefore in India when people start these things, they appeal to the immortal Ganesha to give them a good start. As big as he is, he weighs very little and this makes it possible for him to travel mounted on a rat. Many wonder, why mounted on a rat? What you need to understand is that a rat can enter all the small places where Ganesha can not, which helps him in his work of problem solving and the elimination of difficulties.

Ganesha is revered throughout the South India too. The statues and paintings show him as a dwarf, chubby, with four arms and of course with two fangs, but one of the fangs is always broken. This is because one day he was protecting his house while his father was inside. An enemy of his father came in search of another enemy he was after and found Ganesha at the door. Ganesha skewered the warrior and spun him on one of the fangs! The man was so humiliated and furious that he threw his ax at Ganesha, breaking his fang.

Ganesha broken fang

So you see, its not just a kid with an elephant head, its a symbol that servers as a reminder of dedication, purity, ability to overcome obstacles and more. The stories I have mentioned as in their most basic form, ofcourse there are more events that take place and give a richer moral to the story.

Associated Holidays – Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated by Hindus from all over the world as Ganesha’s birthday and lasts for 10 days

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