How did Lord Ganesh get his elephant head?
The author of Looking for Lord Ganesh, Mahtab Narsimhan, retells this traditional story.
Lord Shiva and his wife, Parvati, were powerful Gods who lived in their home on Mt. Kailash. One day Lord Shiva left home to attend to some work.
Goddess Parvati wanted to have a bath and she asked her husband’s bull, Nandi, to guard the door and let no one enter. When Shiva returned, Nandi, being loyal to his master, let him enter the house.
Parvati was annoyed that Nandi did not obey her and was keen to have someone who was loyal to her and not her husband. And so, she created a little boy out of clay and breathed life into him. She told the young boy to stand guard at the door while she had a bath.
“Do not let any stranger into the house, Ganesh,” she said.
“Yes, Mother,” said the brave little boy and took up his position by the door.
No sooner had he taken up the post when Lord Shiva returned. He wanted to enter his home but found a small but determined boy blocking his path.
“Step aside and let me in,” said Shiva.
“My mother has instructed me not to let any strangers into the house. You cannot enter.”
This went on for a while with Shiva getting angrier by the second. He roared his final warning. “Step aside or else!”
Ganesh stood his ground.
Shiva took up his trident and lopped off the boy’s head with such force that it flew to the ends of the earth. The boy’s body lay on the ground, lifeless.
Parvati came running out and screamed. “You’ve killed our son!”
Shiva was shocked. “When did we have a son?”
Parvati was inconsolable and wanted her son back. Shiva took his son’s lifeless body to Lord Brahma, the Creator, and begged for his help in bringing the child back to life.
Lord Brahma asked Lord Shiva to bring him the boy’s head but it could not be found. Then Brahma asked Shiva to bring him the head of any other animal in the forest who was laying with its head facing north. Shiva sent his men into the forest where they found a strong elephant. They brought his head to Shiva. Brahma joined the elephant’s head to the boy’s body and brought him back to life.
Lord Ganesh grew up with an elephant’s head on a man’s body. All the qualities of an elephant – wisdom, knowledge, a good memory, kindness were imbued in this God who is extremely popular among the Hindus.
What is Ganesh Chathurti?
Here are six fun facts about the festival that is celebrated every year to mark Lord Ganesh’s birthday.
- The festival, like Easter, falls on a different day every year. There are twelve months in the Hindu lunar calendar, and the festival of Chathurti is celebrated in the sixth one, Bhadra, which runs between August and September. Specifically, Ganesh Chathurti falls on the fourth day of the waxing moon period in Bhadra, or in other words, the fourth day on which the moon is getting smaller, during this month.
- In certain places in India, Hindus bring idols (mini statues) of Lord Ganesh to their homes and worship them for ten days, as part of the Chathurti festival.
- On the eleventh day, the idol is taken by a procession through the streets and then immersed (dunked) in water near a sea coast or river bank. During the immersion, the gathered watchers shout, “Ganapati Bappa Morya, Purcha Varshi Laukariya,” which asks the god to come back early next year.
- The longest immersion process is that held in Mumbai’s Lalbaugcha Raja, which lasts nearly twenty-four hours!
- According to statistics, the number of Ganesh idols bought home by Hindus is over one million, and this rises every year!
- It is said that during the festival, one shouldn’t look at the moon. This is all to do with a legend that once upon a time, on Charhurti moon day, the lord of the stars made fun of Ganesh and his bulging belly. Of course, Ganesh got angry at this and so put a curse on anybody who looked at the moon on this day.
In 2016, Ganesh Chathurti is on the 5th of September.
The picture of Ganesh Chathurti on this page is courtesy of Srivatsan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
The picture of Ganesh was taken by Rachel Hinman and is available from from Flickr (www.flickr.com/photos/rhinman/3220608477).