Episode 2 - Ganesha, the God with an Elephant Head

Episode 2 - Ganesha, the God with an Elephant Head

Hello listeners. This is Krishna with HinduLit, a podcast where I narrate to YOU, the listener, stories from Indian literature including legends, mythologies, and history.

Today's story is a two-part story about the half-man, half elephant god named Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati. We talk briefly about a festival called Ganesh Chathurthi that Indian's across the world celebrate in honor of the elephant god.

Shiva - the destroyer, is one of the Trimurti, one of the three principal dieties in Hindu literature. He is said to live on a mountain called Kailasa in the Himalayan mountain range. Shiva lived as an ascetic in the caves of Mount

Kailasa - away from the material life of the common people, kings, and kingdoms of the day.

Parvati was the daughter of the King Himavat. She resolved to marry Shiva and pursued him. After Shiva married Parvati, she moved away from the palace to Mount Kailasa to live with Shiva.

Parvati was born and raised a princess. Adjusting to the ascetic life of Shiva had its challenges. One day, when Shiva was away, Parvati decided to take a bath while her husband was away. As she was taking her bath, Shiva suddenly returned and found her in a compromising position.

Parvati was embarrassed & displeased by this. After her bath, she spoke with some of her female friends and expressed her frustration. Her friends suggested that she appoint a guard to watch outside so that people wouldn't be let in when she was taking a bath.

Parvati liked this idea, so she asked Nandi, Shiva's gate-guardian and stead, to stand watch and prevent anyone from entering while she took a bath. Nandi agreed to stand watch when Parvati needed it.

One day, when Parvati was taking a bath and Nandi was standing watch, Shiva returned home and wished to enter. Nandi knew that Parvati was taking a bath; however, he believed that Shiva, who was after all only entering his own home, was an exception. He was also afraid to bar entry to Shiva out of fear of being obliterated as Shiva was known for a short temper. Nandi therefore permitted Shiva through.

Shiva entered his home, and once again, Shiva caught Parvati again taking her bath and in an immodest position. Parvati, further embarrassed, became furious at Shiva and Nandi. She realized that she could not depend on Nandi or any of the other servants of Shiva to guard her door and would have to find some other means to preserve her privacy.

One day, she used a balm made of sandal paste mixed with turmeric that she normally applied topically on her body as a form of skin care and formed some clay like material. She used this clay-like material to make a sculpture of a young boy.

Using her spiritual powers, she imparted life to the sculpture. The boy born of Parvati was her son and she his mother. The boy was cute and sweet. Parvati immediately took a liking to him and asked the young boy to stand guard and prevent anyone from entering while she was taking her bath.

The young boy agreed and diligently stood guard with a spear.

Once again, Shiva arrived home and saw the boy standing guard. The boy told Shiva that he may not enter. Shiva asked the boy who he was. The boy said that he was Parvati's son. Shiva was incredulous as he knew that he had not borne a child with Parvati. Shiva then proceeded to dismiss the boy and attempted to force entry into his home.

The young boy immediately attacked Shiva and pushed him back, preventing entry into the home. Angered, Shiva commanded his servants, the Ganas, to remove the boy from his presence. The boy fought back all of Shiva's servants with ease. This only served to further anger Shiva. He used his trident and decapitated the boy with immeasurable force such that the boy’s head flew far, never to be found again.

Parvati finished her bath and stepped out. Seeing Shiva with his trident, dripping with blood, and then seeing the body of her son without his head, she screamed and wept - distraught. She asked Shiva in anger, why he had killed her son. Shiva had no response and stood nonplussed.

Parvati's grief at her son's death and resulting anger caused tremors in all the realms. Parvati was a great spiritual woman, and her spiritual state was as such that she could affect her surroundings. The devas, rishis, and

other spiritual beings rushed to Shiva and begged him to do something to contain Parvati's anger. As Shiva had cast the boy's head with his immense force to an unknown location, he could not restore life to the boy as is. So, he commanded his servants to look for the first animal that they could find and bring back its head.

The servants ran down the mountain and found a dead elephant. They removed the head of the elephant and brought it back. Shiva took the elephant's head and attached it to the dead boy's body. With his spiritual powers, Shiva granted the boy life.

Parvati was overjoyed that her son was alive again. She told Shiva that this was THEIR son and then she had commanded him to stand guard when she took her bath. Shiva, pleased with the boy's determination appointed him the leader of his ganas and thus the boy came to be called Ganesha.

This is the story of how Ganesha came to be.

[Long Pause]

Many people in India pray to Ganesha. He has many names. Ganesha (the leader of the ganas), Gajanand (one with an elephant face), Vigneshwara (Lord of Obstacles) are some of the popular ones. He is a god who destroys obstacles. People pray to him as he is said to destroy obstacles and pave way to move forward in life.

In India, people celebrate a colorful festival called Ganesha Chathurthi. They make a clay idol of Ganesha, decorate him with flowers, make sweet meats and at the end of the festival. The clay represents the fact that he was made from Sandal paste and turmeric forming a clay like object.

One practice of Ganesha Chathurhi is that people don't see the moon on that day. It is believed that any person who sees the moon on Ganesha Chathurthi will have some calamity or evil event that will occur to them. This is because of the curse on the moon. I will cover that story and some of the customs and practices from it in the next podcast.

An editorial note for the listener. For the sake of brevity and simplicity of storytelling, I characterized the ganas as Shiva's servants. The concept of a servant in this context is more nuanced then the modern colloquial usage. The word gana in Sanskrit means tribe. Generally, the ganas can be thought of as disciples and practitioners of Shiva who work and live with him under his guidance and attend to his needs. There was no monetary payment, merely the imparting of wisdom, knowledge or spiritual growth.

Another note, the dead elephant in this story is in fact a demon Gajasura, who Shiva killed some time earlier. I have set aside the specifics of that story here. I will hopefully cover that another day in a separate podcast.

I hope you liked this story of Ganesha's birth. See you next time.



  1. Cartwright, Mark. Ancient History Encyclopedia, pub. 25 November 2012. Accessed Feb 8th 2021.

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