WHY DOES GANESHA HAVE AN ELEPHANT HEAD: The lesser known puranic story
The ideological bashing of Hindu gods & goddesses has become a fashion. While deriding Hindu culture to take refuge and be accepted into the “cool white” tribe has been a gradual phenomenon over the past few decades, the distortion of the symbolism of Hindu Gods in mainstream and social media is more recent.
The best way to “trend” for a day or two, without any serious repercussions, is to ridicule Hindu Gods & Goddesses. It has two advantages. First, you are instantly getting the attention that you seek to remain relevant. And still better, once people vent out their anger and frustration at the blasphemous act by “trolling”, you can always attribute this backlash to the profligacy of Hindu extremists who are blind to reason and regressive.
It starts like this:
Of course it helps to have champions of liberal thought who cite “freedom of expression” and “creative independence” to justify their anti-Hinduism manifestations of imagination. Specifically, in regards to Lord Ganesha, while one can view Yogesh Master’s work with amusement since it a deliberate attempt to malign the subject, it is highly concerning to see a superficial commentary about Hindu Gods (under the garb of part fiction part Hindu philosophy) become hugely popular. Amish Tripathi, under the pretext of re-interpreting the “myths” has taken liberties and reduced Gods that are revered to caricatures of hip-hop culture.
While we can rationalize the vested interests of western writers like Wendy Doniger, it is a puzzlement to decipher the motivation (money or quick fame maybe?) of our desi writers.
Other conclusions by these well-placed scholars include: Ganesha’s trunk symbolizes a “limp phallus”; his broken tusk is a symbol for the castration-complex of the Hindu male; his large belly is a proof of the Hindu male’s enormous appetite for oral sex. Shiva, is interpreted as a womanizer, who encourages ritual rape, prostitution and murder, and his worship is linked to violence and destruction.
-Excerpt from Wendy Doniger’s best-selling book
So why does Ganesha have an elephant head? Ignorance is dangerous and if you worship Ganesha, it is important to at least know the story that is mentioned in the puranas. Puranas, themselves are classified into sattvic, rajasic and tamasic and most of them have different stories for the same episode.
This puranic story (lesser known) that explains why God Ganesha has an elephant head
FROM THE BRAHMAVAIVARATA PURANA
Part 1: Sage Durvasa and Lord Indra’s meeting
Once Sage Durvasa was travelling from Vaikuntha to Kailasa. He came upon Lord Indra who was spending time with the apsara Rambha. Lord Indra bowed before Sage Durvasa in reverence, and Sage Durvasa getting pleased, handed him a Parijata flower, and spoke the following words:
“O Indra, this is a flower given by the lord which removes all the obstructions and the person whose head it will be placed will be victorious all around. He will be adored by the people first of all and will be the foremost of all gods. Mahalakshmi will not part company from him and follow him like a shadow. He will equate himself with Vishnu in knowledge, lusture, wisdom, prowess. He will be more powerful than all gods and will be valorous like Vishnu.”
Sage Durvasa left after this and Lord Indra, still intoxicated with the presence of Rambha, placed the flower on the head of his elephant. The elephant thus got all the qualities that were ordained by the flower. The elephant then fought and defeated all other elephants and left Lord Indra. Thus destiny resulted in the elephant getting all the advantages associated with the blessings of the Parijata flower. If Indra had accepted the flower, he would have got all the qualities. But destiny, which is also a play of Vishnu, had other plans and it waited for the birth of Ganesha.
Part 2: Lord Shani visits Kailasa on the occasion of Ganesha’s birth
The second story is the occasion of the birth Lord Ganesha and the conversation between Goddess Parvati and Lord Shani.
On the birth of Lord Ganesha, all the other Gods visited Kailasa to see him and bless him. Shani dev also came to Kailasa and requested Goddess Parvati to let him see Lord Ganesha. She granted him permission and Lord Shani stood there, casting his gaze downwards. He did not look at the child and was satisfied with just standing near Lord Ganesha.
Goddess Parvati enquired about the reason why he wasn’t looking at Lord Ganesha and Lord Shani replied the following,
“O Chaste Lady, all the people have to face the result of their deeds. Whatever good or bad deeds are done, they cannot be washed away even after completion of crores of kalpas. The jiva is born as Brahma, Indra and Surya because of his deeds and he is reborn as an animal because of his deeds.
“One achieves hell because of his deeds and also heaven because of his deeds. He comes a great king because of his own deeds and an ordinary servant because of his own deeds. He is born beautiful because of his own deeds and he becomes sick the same way. O mother, because of his own deeds he indulges into vices and by his own deeds he becomes detached from the world.
“The people become rich because of their own deeds and it is due to their own deeds that they become pauper. One gets a loving family because of his own deeds and one gets a bad family because of his own deeds. Because of his own deeds one gets the best of spouse and kids, and because of his own deeds he remains unmarried, or a wicked spouse or remains childless.
O beloved of Shiva, I will tell you a secret story. In my childhood, I was a great devotee of Lord Krishna and I was always devoted to him. I always recited his name. My father married me to the daughter of Citraratha but I was always devoted to Tapas. Once when I engrossed in meditation on Lord Krishna, she came to me seeking attention. I was unaware of her presence, being engrossed in meditation, and hence I kept on performing tapas. She became annoyed and pronounced a curse in anger that whatever I cast my glance on would be destroyed. Thereafter after getting out of meditation, I calmed her and she repented.
O mother, because of the curse, I cannot cast my gaze at anything and in order to save creatures from destruction, I always cast my glance downwards.”
On hearing the words of Lord Shani, Goddess Parvati laughed and all the damsels present also laughed.
Goddess Parvati replied, “The entire universe moves according to the wishes of the Lord more than the moves of destiny. You look at me and my child.”
Lord Shani was in a fix whether to look at the son of Parvati or not; he did not want to offend Goddess Parvati and at the same time did not want to cause any unintended harm. Finally so as not to offend Goddess Parvati, he looked only at Lord Ganesha and not the Goddess. His mind was disturbed and his throat, lips and palate were dried up. With the corner of the right eye, he glanced at the child’s face.
At his gaze, the head of the child was cut-off and Lord Shani closed his eyes at once, looking downwards and stood there.
The severed head of the child went to Golaka and entered the body of Lord Krishna. Goddess Parvati started lamenting and fainted. All the Gods and Goddesses panicked at this turn of events. Therefore, Lord Vishnu mounted on Garuda, went on the northern direction and reached the bank of the Puspabhadra river. There he found the elephant of Indra, who was all powerful virtue of the flower given by Sage Durvasa. Lord Vishnu cut off the head of the elephant by using the Sudarsana-chakra.
Lord Vishnu then brought the dead elephant to life and it was restored to Lord Indra. Lord Vishnu then lifted the elephant head which had been cut off and had special powers. He came back and joined the trunk of the elephant to the body of Lord Ganesha using his divine knowledge and brought the child back to life.
Understanding the story
The Brahmavaivarat Purana states that Lord Ganesha is an ansh (manifestation) of the supreme consciousness. It was destined for an ansh to manifest as remover of obstacles for men and Gods, and become the God of intellect and wisdom.
When we read the Purana, we are amazed at how all incidents in the past come together and lead towards a chosen destiny. The flower was presented to Indra by Sage Durvasa but not utilized by the King of Gods. The elephant temporarily benefited from the powers of the Parijata flower, but it was Lord Ganesha who was destined to be the foremost among Gods and men and known as the remover of obstacles. Thus destiny worked in a way that the attributes of the flower accumulated by the austerities of Sage Durvasa came to Lord Ganesha and that is the reason he has an elephant head.