Sri Lankan respect for elders

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Sri Lankan-American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 28, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

My informant grew up in Irvine, California; his parents immigrated to the United States from Sri Lanka. My informant learned this myth from his parents:

“Okay, my parents aren’t very religious, and I didn’t really grow up in a religious environment, but this is a story that like, all Sri Lankans tell their kids. And uh, they kinda tell a similar story to everybody. So a key part of Sri Lankan culture—and I’m sure many other cultures—is there’s a lot of importance placed on respecting your elders. So they tell this story about these two parents, Shiva and Pavarti, who have two children, one of which is Ganesha. He is the famous elephant god that like, represents Hinduism and everybody knows this elephant god. So he’s the son. Um, the two parents Shiva and Pavarti tell their children, ‘We will give our inheritance to the one who will walk around the world and come back to us first.’ So the daughter actually starts walking around the entire world, and it takes her like, five months to come back. But Ganesha walks around his parents and says, ‘You are my world, so I just walked around the world.’ And it’s just a story that my parents used to tell me to teach me to respect my elders and to respect them. And I think it was a story that kinda resonated because I loved the irony in it. And I was a little bit of a smartass growing up, so this little trickster… I don’t know, I related to him a little bit, and I thought it was funny.”

This story has religious origins, but my informant views it as more of a folk myth; he did not learn it in a religious context. It is a well-known story for Hindus, but like many stories from major religions, it has spread beyond the religion itself. This particular story has a cultural relevance that would appeal to people of all faiths; the “respect your elders” message is one that resonates with very diverse populations. My informant postulates that Sri Lankans place more emphasis on the importance of showing respect to one’s elders than Western cultures do. Despite the underlying lecture his parents are delivering when they tell him this story, my informant is aware of what makes it enjoyable for him. He likes the humor and the relatability of the main character. Even so, he is able to appreciate the deeper meaning and the lesson his parents were trying to teach him.

**For an audio recording of this story, listen to Ganesha Walks Around the World by Jai Uttal. It is a published version of this same story recorded in an audio version.