Ganesha’s mother Parvati asked him to guard the entrance to their house, while she was getting ready. She told Ganesha to not allow anyone to come inside the house, until she came out to see him. Ganesha stood guard outside while Parvati went in. Shiva, Ganesha’s father, came home. Ganesha refused to let Shiva go in because he was obeying his mother. Shiva got angry and there was a fight between the two of them. In the fight, Shiva beheaded Ganesha with his trident. When Parvati came out and saw this, she was enraged and cursed that the entire universe will be destroyed. Shiva regretted killing Ganesha. To bring Ganesha back to life, Shiva asked another god, Brahma, to bring him the head of the first animal that he sees. The first animal that Brahma saw was an elephant. So Brahma got the head of the elephant and gave it to Shiva. Shiva placed the elephant’s head on Ganesha and brought him back to life. This is how Ganesha has the head of an elephant and the body of a human.
JG is 59 years old and my mother. She grew up in India with a very religious Hindu family, before immigrating to the USA. She still practices Hinduism to this day, and follows all of the religion’s traditions, observes the festivals, and believes in its myths to this day. She tried to pass this on to me as a child, but her religious beliefs never really connected with me. She agreed to retell this myth to me for this assignment.
After telling me the story, JG explained to me that Parvati symbolizes the soul and Shiva symbolizes the mind. When Ganesha stopped Shiva from going into the house, he unknowingly stopped the mind from meeting the soul. The elephant head symbolizes memory and realization. Once Ganesha had the elephant head, he realized what he had done. Ganesha also symbolizes the removal of obstacles.
I remember from my upbringing that Ganesha is the first god you’re supposed to pray to before starting anything major. This makes sense because essentially, what this folktale is telling you is that praying to Ganesha connects your mind and soul, and allows you to remember things correctly. This myth probably comes from the Indus River civilization, where the origins of Hinduism can be traced to. This story remains as something that’s told to children, to entertain them and to familiarize them with the basics of Hinduism from a young age.