Birth of Ganesha The Elephant Headed God
Throughout the world there are many people who are interested in the amazing Lord Shiva. This popularity has given rise to a very keen interest in Shiva and his family. Shiva is a god who balances both the life of an ascetic and that of a married man with children, very well. Through meditation he has found the power to destroy ego and bring balance to his life, that is filled with dichotomies.
As a householder, Shiva has two wives, Sati and Parvati, and two sons, Ganesha and Skanda or Kartikeya. Of the two sons, Ganesha is the most popular. In fact, Ganesha is easily one of the most popular gods from the Hindu pantheon. He is very easily identified due to the fact that he has the head of an elephant. He is one of the five prime deities of the Hindu pantheon- a group that includes Surya, Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti (Durga). Lord Ganesha is worshipped across the world as “Remover of Obstacles”. He is also known as the “Lord of Beginnings” and the “Lord of Obstacles”. His name is uttered at the beginning of every prayer no matter which god is being worshipped. He is also the god every businessman will pray to prior to undertaking any new enterprise.
Ganesha however was not always this popular. While he has been around since pre-Vedic times, it was only during the era of The Guptas that he started to gain popularity and had soon become one of the most widely worshiped gods in the Hindu Pantheon. Before his rise in popularity, his brother Kartikeya was the one who was worshipped throughout North and South India. With Kartikeya’s loss in popularity came Ganesha’s rise to prominence.
While there have been many stories told and written about the great god Ganesha, it is his birth that has always been the topic of much scholarly debate. There are numerous mentions about Ganesha’s birth in the sacred Hindu texts, but each story has a different account of his birth.
One of the most famous and widely accepted stories of Ganesha’s birth, which is also mentioned in the Shiva Puranas, is the one of Parvati creating Ganesha from the dirt of her body. According to many legends, after Shiva married his second consort, the goddess Parvati, in great pomp and celebration, they made their home in Mount Kailash. All was great in the beginning. But after a time, Shiva went back to his ascetic ways and started disappearing off to his secluded cave in the mountains to meditate. Parvati was very unhappy with this. After all who would like to be left all alone with no one to love or give company? Tired of being left alone again and again, the goddess Parvati desperately wanted a child. She pleaded with Shiva over and over but he refused to have any children. Shiva liked his life as an ascetic and refused to have any material or emotional attachments that would distract him from his intense meditation. Shiva knew that having a child with Parvati would change all that. But Parvati, who was lonely and longed for some company would not listen, she cried and cried but to no avail. On this one topic Shiva refused to give in.
video source: Youtube
Once when Shiva had done his disappearing act again, Parvati wanted to take a bath.
Wanting to make sure she would not be disturbed during her bath, she took a bit of the turmeric paste that she had rubbed all over her body and created an idol of a boy from it and brought it to life. She instructed the boy no matter what happens, her bath was not to be interrupted. Then she went in for a long and leisurely bath. While she was bathing, her husband, the great lord Shiva, came back from meditation in his cave on the mountains. Upon realizing that his wife was in the bath-house he went to greet her. He was surprised to see an unknown boy standing at the entrance to her bath. When he tried to go in, this young boy refused to let him enter. Over and over Shiva tried and over and over the boy refused. Finally, in a fit of rage, Shiva took up his trishul and with one mighty sweep he chopped off the boy’s head. Hearing the racket outside her bath-house Parvati came to see what had happened. On seeing the headless torso of her son, she broke down and grew inconsolable. Not knowing what to do, but wanting to pacify his beloved wife, Shiva sent his Ganas or attendants to fetch the head of the first living thing the say whose head is pointing in a Northerly direction. Soon the Ganas returned with the head of an elephant, which Shiva attached to the lifeless torso of his son and gave him life. To placate his wife even further, Shiva made his elephant headed son the leader of his Ganas. Thus, Ganapati was born. Ganapati is another name for lord Ganesha where Gana means attendants and Pati means lord ie. Lord of the Ganas. He also bestowed upon Ganesha the boon that before every new venture and every prayer, people would always invoke the name of lord Ganesha first and foremost.
Parvati and Sati
Another less popular story of lord Ganesha’s birth as written in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana. Eager to have a son, Parvati decided that she would keep a year-long fast to appease lord Vishnu. At the end of her fast lord Vishnu was duly appeased and gave her the boon of a son. In some stories, the son is a reincarnation of lord Krishna, another prominent Hindu deity. On the joyous occasion of the birth of their son, whom they named Ganesha, Shiva and Parvati invited all the gods to their abode in Mount Kailash to look upon the baby. While all the gods bestowed the young lord Ganesha with gifts, there was one god who refused to look at the child. This was the god Shani, son of the god Surya. The gaze of Shani is said to cast a bad omen on which it is directed. So Shani had a very good reason to not look at Ganesha. But Parvati insisted that Shani must look at the face of his ‘nephew’. Very reluctantly, Shani finally agreed and cast a quick look towards the young lord Ganesha. Almost immediately the child’s head fell off, in some stories it turns to ashes. Parvati was devastated and it was lord Vishnu who came to her rescue. In one quick movement, he had mounted his vahana and had gone to fetch a replacement head. Returning with the head of a young elephant he had found of the banks of a river, lord Vishnu placed the head on the lifeless torso of the boy. The boy was brought back to life to the joy and utmost relief of both Shiva and Parvati. And so the naughty, fun loving god Ganesha was born.
In another story mentioned in one of the various Hindu texts the first born son of Shiva and Parvati was born from the musical laughter of Shiva. When he beheld his infant child, Shiva was displeased to see such a stunningly beautiful child. Shiva feared that this beauty would get to his son’s head as he grew up. In order to make his less appealing, the great lord cursed lord Ganesha with the head of an elephant and a giant protruding belly.
Shiva and Kashyapa
Yet another story mentions a completely different reason for the birth and subsequent replacement of Lord Ganesha’s head with that of a young elephant. But in this case the story starts a little differently. Aditya was one of the sons of the great sage Kashyapa, one of the seven great Rishi or sages. According to the story, Shiva, in a mistake, slew Aditya by cutting off his head. Kashyapa cursed the great lord Shiva that the same fate would befall the first born son of Shiva and when that happened, the child’s head would be replaced by the head of Indra’s elephant. And so, Ganesha, the elephant headed god was born. In another twist to the same tale, when Shiva cut off the head of Aditya, He replaced it with Indra’s elephant’s head and brought him back to life. Kashyapa was very incensed by Shiva’s act and he put a curse on Shiva. According to the curse, the first born child of lord Shiva would be born with an elephant head. In the case of this particular story, Ganesha was already born with an elephant head unlike other stories where he acquires his elephant head later.
Yet another tale tells of how Ganesha got his elephant head. There was a demon named Gajamukhasura who was born with the head of an elephant and the body of an Asura. Gajamukhasura lived his life as an ascetic and prayed to lord Shiva. For years he followed this rigorous practice till Shiva finally appeared before him and promised to grant him anything he might wish. Gajamukhasura immediately asked the great lord Shiva to grant him the boon of invincibility and that no celestial, human or animal being may kill him. Furthermore, he asked to be blessed with a boon such that no weapon of any kind may manage to kill him. Shiva granted him both these boons. But this was not enough for Gajamukhasura. For he still had one entity that could defeat him- Shiva himself. To remedy this situation Gajamukhasura continued to live his life as an ascetic and performed much more severe penance in the honour of the Mighty Lord. Much like the last time, Shiva appeared before him and offered to grant him a boon. This time Gajamukhasura asked Lord Shiva to reside in his stomach. Shiva is widely known to grant any boon sought by an ardent devotee. So Shiva complied and took up residence in the Asuras stomach. Now, finally,Gajamukhasura was invincible! As a result, he could rein terror upon the inhabitants of both heaven and earth! When Shiva did not return, the goddess Parvati, his wife, went to Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu was The Preserver of the world and could locate anybody he wished. So he went to Gajamukhasura in the guise of a celestial flutist and took Shiva’s aide, the bull god Nandi, with him. He enchanted the demon Gajamukhasura by playing a beautiful melody from his flute while Nandi danced to the music. The Asura was immensely pleased and out of arrogance told the flutist (who he did not know was Lord Vishnu) that he could have anything he wanted. The flutist-Vishnu told Gajamukhasura that he, Gajamukhasura, could not fulfill the wish that the flutist wanted. At this Gajamukhasura grew agitated and told the flutist-Vishnu to ask whatever he could possibly care to ask for and would be obliged with the same. Quick as lightening, the flutist-Vishnu asked Gajamukhasura to release lord Shiva who was residing in his belly. Gajamukhasura immediately recognised the flutist to be Lord Vishnu, for no one else could have known where Shiva was. True to his word though, the Asura released lord Shiva. In doing so, the Asura died. Before he died however, he asked Shiva to help his head to be remembered always; Shiva honoured this last wish by giving the head to his eldest son Lord Ganesha.
Elephant Form of Shiva
In another story, Lord Shiva and the goddess Parvati decide to take the form of wild elephants and roam the forests. The result of a union between the two was a young Ganesha who was born with an elephant head. This is another story in which Ganesha is born with the head of a young elephant instead of acquiring it later.
Parvati and Ganga
One of the least known stories is that of the goddess Parvati and the goddess Ganga. In this story, Parvati is had taken a bath at the banks of the river Ganga. After she had finished her bath, the used water is thrown into the flowing river. This very water is then gulped down by the elephant headed goddess, Malini who gave birth to a boy with the head of five elephants. The goddess Ganga, claimed this multiple elephant headed infant as her own. The goddess Parvati had also decided to stake her claim on the child. They took the issue to Lord Shiva and asked him for a solution, for lord Shiva is also known as Kailash or “One who Bestows Peace”. Shiva solved the issue by proclaiming Parvati as the mother of this infant with five elephant heads. He then combined the five heads into one and named the child Vignesh or the “Remover of Obstacles”.
Lord Ganesha is one of the most popular gods in the Hindu Pantheon. In one branch of Hinduism, he is one of the Sacred Five along with Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti and Surya. He is the brother of Kartikeya who is also the god of war and the leader of the divine army. Lord Ganesha is known by many names like Ganapati, Vinayaka, Pillaiyar, Vigneshwara, to name a few. His followers are called the Ganapatya and the scriptures that are dedicated to this elephant headed Lord are the Ganesha Purana, the Mudgala Purana and the Ganapati Atharvashirsa.