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How Lord Ganesha Got His Head

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat alone at our own table, but were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, she tells the story of how Lord Ganesha, a Hindu god that is distinctly known for his elephant head, got his head. She learned this story from her mother, who told this story to her and her sister as a child. In this transcription of her folklore, where she is identified as P and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

P: Okay, yes, okay, this is story of how… my mom told me how Lord Ganesha got his elephant head.

K: Wait, who?

P: Hinduism [laughs]. Lord Ganesha. So, background: He has the body of a human and the head of an elephant, so the story of how he got his head was his, I guess his mom? Wait wait wait, let me restart.

    Ok, so, Parvati wanted to have a bath. So, she was like “I need someone to guard the door while I’m having this bath,” so she creates this human child out of the earth… to guard the door! [Giggles] So her husband, Lord Shiva, comes and says “Let me in, little boy!” The little boy was like, “No, Parvati’s showering, you can’t go in.” And this man was overcome with anger, that he cuts off the head of this… this boy… this guard boy, who was made from the earth. Anyways, so Parvati comes back outside, and she goes, “What did you just do, you just killed my… ‘guard boy,’ my son…? I don’t know… Um, I need you to fix this!” So she makes Lord Shiva go down to… the earth? Go down I don’t know where, but go down to kill the first animal that he sees and bring the head to her. So the first animal he sees in an elephant, cuts off the head of the elephant, brings it to her, and magically creates Lord Ganesha with the head of the elephant that got killed and the body of a human. Yep, that’s the story [laughs].

K: Did she tell it to you, like in what context?

P: Um, she’d always tell the story if we went to the temple, and we’d walk past Ganesha, and then she’d tell me about the story and everything.

 

Thoughts:

As my informant expressed, this story was most likely told to children to teach them a moral or a lesson. I’ve always been fascinated with how certain cultures and religions have their own special stories to tell to children to help shape their values to be the same as the people that share their culture. After telling the story, my informant told me that her mom often told her this story as a child when she was especially upset or made a rash decision out of anger.

This story seems to serve the purpose of reminding us that we should never let anger overwhelm us or dictate our decisions. For example, I did more research on this story and I read another version where Parvati, upon learning that Shiva had cut off Ganesha’s head from his unreasonable anger, became so enraged she decided to destroy the world. Shiva then realized his mistake and gave Ganesha not only a new life by giving him the elephant head, but also granted him a status of a god just to make Parvati happy again and prevent her from destroying the world. Here, we see that Shiva realizes his anger was unreasonable. He realizes that his rash decision to cut off Ganesha’s head resulted in even the greater consequence of the potential detroyal of the Earth. This story would teach a child to never act on their initial ideas when they’re overcome with anger, because they never know what consequences they may have to face as a result.

 

For other versions of this story, please refer to the citation below:

Cartwright, Mark. “Ganesha.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 23 Apr. 2019, www.ancient.eu/Ganesha/.

Sekar, Radhika. Lord of Beginnings: Stories of the Elephant-Headed Deity, Ganesha. Vakils Feffer & Simons Ltd, 2004.

Sharma, Richa. “Corporate Lessons from Lord Ganesha.” Speakingtree.in, Speaking Tree, 10 Sept. 2018, www.speakingtree.in/allslides/corporate-lessons-from-lord-ganesha.

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