Tales of the Elephant God

Tales of the Elephant God Cover Image

Ganesha is many a person’s favourite God, with his large elephant head, little mouse carrier and his portly tummy thanks to his love of good food and sweets. Here are a few tales about the remover of obstacles that have been passed on down through the generations that are sure to make him a favourite with the next generation as well!

Ganesha is one of the most loved deities, not only in India, but also in major countries of the Far East- like Malaysia, Indonesia and Indo China. As we approach His birthday this 27th of August, as per our lunar calendar, it is a fitting time to go over some interesting episodes associated with his life- starting from his very birth itself.

The Head of an Elephant

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Ganesha was created when his mother Parvati felt the need for someone who would head a protection force of her own. She used her boundless powers to mould an idol out of clay and turmeric, and infused life into it to create a very handsome boy whom she took as her own son. He became utterly devoted to the mother and her every wish became his absolute command.

He was told by his mother to guard the front door one day. Lord Shiva, who did not know of Parvatis’s creation, returned unexpectedly from his travels and was about to enter the chambers. Little Ganesha stopped him. Shiva used every power through his guards but Ganesha defeated every one of them. Parvati deployed her Shaktis – Durga and Kali to support little Ganesha. Shiva deployed all the major Gods to get even with the boy. When nothing succeeded, Shiva, in a moment of rage, beheaded the young boy with one stroke of his trident.

Parvati became furious at this and wanted to destroy the entire universe. All the Gods were agitated and begged Shiva to find a way out. Shiva asked his men to hurry and bring back the head of the first living being they could find with head facing in a particular direction. It so happened that the first creature they came across was an elephant! Its head was brought back – the Lord attached it and brought life back to Parvati’s son. Parvati was pacified, but demanded that her son be made the head of all fighting forces (called ‘Gana’s) and also be given the power to grant success to anyone who prayed to him.

That is how he became known as Ganesha- the Lord of all the Ganas. He is also the very first God we all pray to when we start anything – even to start a prayer! Legend has it, that even the mightiest of Gods had to invoke Ganesha first, otherwise their work would fail!

A Mouse for a Carrier

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There was an evil demon called Gajasura, with the head of an elephant and a very dark body. He decided to please Lord Shiva by praying to him with single-minded determination. Shiva was pleased and granted him a wish. Gajasura wanted that nobody, except someone darker than himself should be able to kill him.

Armed with this power, Gajasura became a menace to the entire world torturing everyone with his cruel and evil actions. All the Gods turned to Ganesha for help and so he challenged Gajasura to a fight. The demon laughed saying that a small boy like him had no chance. However, Ganesha showed Gajasura his might and overpowered him completely. The frightened demon turned into a mouse and tried to run away, but Ganesha was able to catch him. The demon pleaded for mercy and promised that he would serve Ganesha forever as a servant. Ganesha made him his carrier from then on.

Around the World for a Mango

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Shiva and Parvati had another son, Karthikeya (or Muruga). Ganesha and Kartikeya grew up as brothers, loved by their parents. One day, Shiva received a sacred mango, which he wanted to give to his sons. However, he had only one fruit. He saw that they were playing together and decided to put them through a competition to decide who should get it. “I want you to travel around the world three times and whoever is the first to return will get the fruit”, he said. Karthikeya set off immediately on his peacock carrier.

Ganesha kept wondering how he would do better than his brother, since his carrier was a mouse, which was no match for the speedy peacock! Suddenly, he had an idea. He went around his parents who were sitting together. Shiva and Parvati were wondering what he was doing without setting out to compete. Ganesha then stood before them and said, “You, my dear parents, are the whole world to me. I have completed the three rounds around my world!”

Shiva and Parvati were touched at his devotion and Shiva had no hesitation in declaring him the winner!

Grounding the Gods

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Ganesha would take the shape of a young boy very frequently and outwit many stronger people. Rama was returning from Lanka after rescuing Sita and had requested Vibhishana to carry his personal pooja idol of Vasudeva, his deity. Rama instructed him never to place it on the ground, since it would get fixed to the earth. While Vibhishana was passing over the river Kaveri, he felt like having a bath in the cool waters. He found a young boy (who was actually Ganesha in disguise) and asked him to hold the idol, while he bathed. No sooner than he plunged into the water, Ganesha placed the idol on the ground. It got set in the earth and no amount of tugging could get it out!

Vibhishana could only chase the little boy who had outwitted him. Ganesha ran and climbed the steep hill nearby and reached the top. When Vibhishana caught up with him, he had already turned into a stone murti. Vibhishana had to return empty handed. The idols of Vasudeva and Ganesha can be seen in Srirangam and Trichinopoly in South India even today!

Ganesha is believed to have played the same trick with Ravana, the evil king of Lanka, who managed to obtain a Shiva Linga with enormous powers. It had been granted by Shiva due to the devotion with which he had prayed for it. Knowing that Ravana would put the powers of the Linga to evil purposes, the Gods had prayed to Ganesha to ensure that Ravana did not return to Lanka with it. Ganesha played a similar trick to ensure that the Shiva Linga was embedded in the ground. Legend has it that this is the Linga at Gokarna, near Mangalore.

Curse upon the Moon

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Ganesha just had a great birthday party. Everyone had brought lots of food and sweets and Ganesha could not resist eating them all up. His stomach became so full that he was barely able to move! While he struggled along to reach home, the moon came out of the clouds and burst out laughing at the sight of Ganesha in that condition. He was insulted and flung a curse, that anyone who looked at the moon on Ganesha’s birthday would get punished and blamed for even things they never did.

Chandra, the moon, begged forgiveness and prayed to be spared from this harsh curse. Although Ganesha was pacified, he could not take back the curse. However, he relented and said,” If anyone who has seen you on my birthday looks at you the next night as well, he will be spared from my curse!” Chandra was really grateful for this act of kindness.

Wisdom for the Ages

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The greatest gift Ganesha has given to all of us is the Mahabharata, which was written by Ganesha when it was dictated non-stop by Vedavyasa. Vyasa had a condition that he would recite the epic continuously without any break and that whoever wrote it had to understand each and every word. Vyasa approached every God, but was told that nobody but Ganesha would have the necessary intelligence and the ability to keep up to the speed with which it would be recited. Ganesha broke his right tusk and used it as a pen to write the whole 18 Parvas of the Mahabharata- the
longest epic ever written in the world!

In Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, we celebrate the fourth day after the New Moon in the Indian Lunar month of Bhadrapadha as his birthday. A clay replica is brought home and worshipped with all the love and devotion for about a week by the whole family. He is given a send off after this period with a fond request that he return the next year- a little earlier please if he can!

I do not know why, but Ganesha always gives me a feeling as if he is an elder brother, who will always be there for me when I need Him and who readily excuses me whenever I fail to make a scheduled visit to His altar. Everyone seems to have similar equation with this universally loved God.

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