The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore.
I’ll tell you a little story about Ganesh. His mother was taking a bath and she told him that, “You know what, I’m taking a bath, don’t let anybody come in here, because I don’t want anybody to come in.”
In the meantime, his father, Shiva, comes to visit, and Ganesh says, “You can’t come in,” because, apparently, he’s never seen his father before.
His father, also a god, says “Of course I can go in, that’s my house.”
And Ganesh said, “No, you cannot go in! My mom said I’m supposed to be guarding the door and I won’t let you in.” The father gets very upset and looks at Ganesh with so much anger, that his head falls off his shoulder.
The mother comes out and sees what’s happened, and is like, “Why did you just do that to our little boy?”
So by that time, his anger has kind of subsided, and he’s like, “Oh my god, we can’t have him without a head. We have to find a new head!” So apparently, he sends people all over the world, saying, “Go find me the first living creature who’s sleeping with its head facing the East. Cut off its head and bring it to me.” So everybody goes everywhere and can’t find someone, because, apparently in India you can’t sleep with your head towards the East, since the sun rises in the East. They go all over the world, and they find this elephant. So what they do is, they cut off its head and they bring it.
And the mother goes, “What the heck! I can’t put that head on my little baby!”
The father says, “Well, I can’t change the rule, I said the first living being with its head facing the East,” so he puts the head on the child, and the child is alive.
The mother goes, “No one is going to worship him! Everyone will make fun of him! Nobody is going to respect him.” So now it is written that, before any prayer or any celebration, – anything – you have to first pray to Ganesh before you can do any official celebration. So now in every part of India, before prayer, or any celebration – a wedding, anything – you must first pray to Ganesh. Ganesh is also the God of removing obstacles, so he’s become a very popular symbol. I have a Ganesh in my house; I think your mom has a Ganesh in your house, too.
I was raised around a lot of Indian/Hindu culture, so I’d, of course, heard of Ganesh, but it was really fun to learn the creation myth of Ganesh himself. I’ve heard and read much less detailed versions of this same story, but it was really fascinating to hear this version from someone who is an active participant in the Hindu religion/culture. From some brief research, it seems that there are variations in which Ganesh’s head is physically cut off, and some stories omit the detail about the requirement for the head facing East.