USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘elephant’
Childhood
general
Myths
Narrative

The Race Around the World with Kartikeya and Lord Ganesha

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 a traditional Hindi story about a race between Kartikeya, the god of war, and Lord Ganesha, the lord of obstacles, learning, and the people. She learned this story from her mother, who told this story to my informant and my informant’s sister to “make sure we respect her, cause’ parents are our world.” In this transcription of her folklore, she is identified as P and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

P: So this is the folklore of Ganesha and his brother, um Kartikeya’s, race around the world. So basically, [laughs], ok, so basically, um, one day, his parents were like, “We want you to race for this mango!” And, um, there was two songs and one mango, so they decided to have a race for that one mango. So both boys really wanted to win this mango [giggles], but they had to race around the world and be the first one to finish, so, so Ganesha picked his trusty steed of a mouse. And, his brother, Kartikeya, picked a peacock. So, Ganesha was a little chubby boy, and he had a mouse, which isn’t the fastest… And… well aren’t elephants scared of mice? Is that a thing?

 

K: Yeah, I’ve heard that before too.

 

P: So maybe that’s like also a thing, I don’t know. Um, so people were like “Eh, he’s not gonna win.” And his brother had the peacock, which is a lot faster, and he’s like a slim boy [laughs]. So anyways, the race starts, Kartikeya books it on his peacock, circling the world, but Lord Ganesha, smart boy, he doesn’t start. Instead, he goes to his parents, sits them down, and then goes on his mouse and circles them, because to him, his parents are his world.

 

K: Awwwww!

 

P: So he got the mango! [laughs]

 

K: Where did you learn that story?

 

P: Um, my mother told me that story. I think it’s also to make sure we respect her, cause parents are our world.

 

K: Ok that’s fair. Did it teach you that? Did it actually serve its purpose?

 

P: Um, I don’t it taught me to respect my parents because it’s just some thing you do as a human being… as a good person, but I think it like, was a cute way to look at it. Does that make sense?

 

K: Do you plan on continuing telling this story?

 

P: Okay, honestly, I don’t know, just because it’s a religious story and I’m not very religious. But, it’s like a good moral story, I mean aside from the whole parent thing, it just shows that like, you don’t need to be the fastest or the slimmest to win a race, you need your wits and intelligence! You don’t need a peacock, you just need a mouse to get your mango. The mango of life.

Thoughts:

This story is particularly interesting because melds to forms of folklore together: a cultural story with the concept or phrase of “you are my world.” My informant told me that a large part of Indian culture is respecting your parents and recognizing that you’re parents have done so much for you. By having Ganesha express that his parents are his whole world, this story is ultimately a very endearing and wholesome way to teach children that their parents should be the center of their love because they are where they are because of their parents. The mango also seems to represent the idea that if you give your parents your love and respect, they will always reward you in return with theirs.

For another version of this story, please refer to the citation below:

Krithika, R. “Race around the World.” The Hindu, The Hindu, 17 Dec. 2015, www.thehindu.com/features/kids/why-were-ganesha-and-karthikeya-keen-on-winning-the-race/article8000267.ece.

 

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Myths
Narrative

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.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Elephant and the Jackal

Informant: There is one tale that I remember from when I was like… super young. Like an Indian folktale.

 

Interviewer: Yeah sure, let’s hear it.

 

Informant: It’s called The Elephant and the Jackal. There was once an Elephant that was a monster, and like, he would rampage across the forests destroying trees, and that would also destroy like, bird nests and stuff. Not even the Lions or Tigers wanted to mess with it.

One day, the Elephant destroyed the Jackal’s nest during one of his rampages. The animals finally decided to call a meeting to figure out how to kill it but, no one stepped up because they were afraid of the Elephant and his massive size.

The Jackals were really pissed about the nest, so they held another meeting. They had decided to take out the Elephant once and for all, but failed to come up with a plan. But then, an Old Jackal said he knew what to do.

The next day, the Old Jackal went to the Elephant, and like, bowed and revered him, and told him “Oh great Elephant! The other animals and I held a meeting and decided that someone as big and powerful as you should be the King of all animals.” The Elephant didn’t think much of it, and let the Jackal keep praising him. The Jackal then told the Elephant that all the other animals were like, a bunch of animals were waiting for his coronation ceremony, and that he should come with.

 

Interviewer: So the Elephant took the bait completely…

 

Informant: Yeah, like. The Elephant, drunk in his ego, followed the Jackal deep into the forest, where the trees were thick and it was like, hard to see for the Elephant. The Jackal then led the Elephant through a patch of quicksand, but since the Jackal was old and light, he could get through. When the Elephant stepped into the quicksand though, he like, got stuck and started sinking very fast. The Elephant cried out and asked the Jackal to help him, but the Jackal told him that he had been a massive **** and had destroyed the lives and homes of many animals, and like, someone like him didn’t deserve any help. The Jackal left to tell the other animal, while the Elephant sunk to his death in the quicksand.

 

 

Context

During one of my club meetings, I brought up the Collection Project, and amongst the responses I got, the informant told me some interesting Indian folklore.

 

Analysis

This was just a simple märchen with a simple message. Bad things happen to bad people. I guess there is also a secondary message that with age comes knowledge, seen as it was an old jackal that managed to bring down the elephant, out of all the animals. Could even be stretched to a brain over brawn analogy too, seeing as not even the lions or tigers dared to face the elephant.

 

Childhood
Gestures
Musical

“Rare Bog, Rattlin’ Bog,” A Camp Song

“Rare Bog, Rattlin’ Bog,” A Camp Song

Chorus (clapping)

Rare bog, rattlin’ bog, way down in the valley-o

Rare bog, rattlin’ bog, way down in the valley-o

And in this bog

There was a tree [arms in front of you in a circle]

A rare tree! [swing arms to left and right]

A rattlin’ tree [shake arms down and right]

[clapping]: And the tree was in the bog, and the bog’s down in the valley-o!

Chorus

And on this tree

There was a branch [stick one arm out]

A rare branch [swing arm back and forth]

A rattlin’ branch [shake arm down]

And the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog, and the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And on this branch

There was a twig [stick one finger out]

A rare twig [swing arm back and forth]

A rattlin’ twig [shake arm down]

And the twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog, and

the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And on this twig

There was a nest [make hand into a fist]

A rare nest [swing back and forth]

A rattlin’ nest [shake arm down]

And the nest was on the twig, and the twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree and

the tree was in the bog and the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And in this nest

There was a bird [repeat nest gesture]

A rare bird [repeat]

A rattlin’ bird [repeat]

And the bird was in the nest and the nest was on the twig, and the twig was on the branch, and

the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog and the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And on that bird

There was a feather [stick finger out]

A rare feather [swing arm]

A rattlin’ feather [shake arm down]

And the feather was on the bird and the bird was in the nest and the nest was on the twig, and the

twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog and the bog’s

down in the valley-o

Chorus

 

The informant is a young woman who attended many years of camp, being immersed in American campfire traditions. Thus, this piece was learned from others of her camp. She admits that very few of her friends and family remember this specific song, and when asked to recall it, she had to take many moments to write it out herself to solidify the tune in her mind.

So many characteristics of the piece indicate that it is suited for children: it’s rhythmic, repetitious, and physical, allowing children to learn quickly and engage with others in a performative way.

Folk Beliefs
general

Superstition

Superstition

If you get an elephant as a gift and its trunk is down you can’t accept it.

Jasmine learned this superstition from her mother when she was a little girl, when she was probably 10 years old. She remembers her mother telling her to never accept an elephant with his trunk down when her mother received a porcelain elephant as a gift. Jasmine was unsure of the meaning behind this superstition she sated, “All I know is that you are not supposed to accept elephants with their trunk down cuz its bad luck.” (See also Field Guide to Luck: How to Use and Interpret Charms, Signs, and Superstitions.)

I was able to find the historic meaning behind this superstition in which Jasmine was unsure about. According to the article Lucky Elephant by Catherine Yronwode, this belief originates from the “lucky elephant” which is a charm used for wishing good luck. The belief of an elephant being a symbol of good luck derived from the Hindu religion of India. The origination of this good luck symbol came from the god Ganesha (the god of luck, protection, and religious devotion) who was the elephant-headed son of Siva (the creator and destroyer of the universe) and the goddess Parvati (the mountain goddess). An elephant as a good luck symbol didn’t reach America until the 19th century when many elephant charms were imported to the United States from India. Yronwode’s believes the “trunk up” belief has no apparent origin in Africa, India, or South East Asia where elephants are native, but is widespread in the USA, and many Asian and African amulet and statuary makers now produce trunk-up elephant statues for American buyers. It may have originated in the west-British and Irish belief that a lucky horseshoe must face upward or “the luck will run out.”

The diffusion of Hindu belief has been embraced by other cultures. This reflects the importance of how diffusion of ideas overtime can determine how folklore is perceived in later years and the incredible capability for one piece of folklore to branch off into various forms over time. It’s amazing to see how the belief in Ganesha went from being a religious practice to becoming manifested in a good luck charm that is now sold in stores across America.  This also shows how globalization has had an impact on the diffusion of folklore amongst different ethnic groups.

Annotated:

Yablon, Alys R. Field Guide to Luck: How to Use and Interpret Charms, Signs, and Superstitions. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2008. pp 73-74.

Yronwode, Catherine. “The Lucky Elephant.” The Luck “W” Amulet Archive. 25 Apr. 2008 <http://www.luckymojo.com/elephant.html>.

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