My informant, NT, is my roommate and good friend. She is a junior at USC and she is Hindu. The reason she shared this story with me was actually very random. She has a small statue of a Hindu god in our room, but for most of the semester it was covered by her makeup bag on her desk. When we were cleaning, she said, “OH NO, I’ve accidently had a god hidden, no wonder I’m not thriving,” in a completely humorous and sarcastic manor. This led me to ask why the statue had an elephant head.
NT’s summary- The Goddess Parvati created her son Ganesha so that he could always guard her chamber, and never let anyone in no matter who they were. One time, Ganesha didn’t allow the Goddess’ husband, Shiva, in the chamber. Shiva freaked out and was so angry that he chopped Ganesha’s head off; this enraged the Goddess so much that she threatened to destroy the world, he was not brought back to life. So, Shiva saw an elephant, cut its head off and gave it to Ganesha. The Goddess was still unforgiving, so Shiva bestowed a great amount of divinity to Ganesha and made it a rule that everyone had to pray to him before any other god.
Interviewer: So why is this the god you choose to have a statue of Ganesha, is there personal significance behind it?
NT- When I was a little girl, my mom took me on my first trip to India. I really didn’t know much about my own culture, which was kind of sad. I would always pray with my parents and repeat what they said but I never really understood what any of it meant. So, when we were in India, my mom decided to buy me a bunch of kid’s books about all the stories of the gods so that I could understand the myths behind each one and why we pray to them. I had probably like 20 of them, but my favorite one was always the one about Ganesha. He’s definitely the most well-known god among people who don’t know anything about Hinduism, mostly because he has an elephant head. But I was always taught (even though I didn’t understand) that we needed to pray to Ganesha first before ANY other god, even if it was a holiday celebrating a different god. I always thought it was so weird, but then i read the story of how ganesha came to be and what happened to him (how his father cut off his head lol) and that was the story that really got me into my culture. so now i even have an idol/statue thing of ganesha in my room because not only is he the remover of obstacles but he also brought me closer to my culture.
NT shared with me a myth from her religion; by her very easy recall of details, it’s obvious that it holds a special and sacred place in her heart. A very common motif amongst religious myths is the creation factor, hence the creation story for the god of obstacles. Using Levi-Strauss’ paradigmatic approach, myths can be analyzed by how they relate to the underlying patterns in life. People can use myths as a guide for what to do on earth, so Ganesha’s perseverance can be translated into one’s own challenges in the real world. Being able to find commonality and comfort in myths is a reason that people hold them so sacred.