My informant is a bi-racial student at USC who is half white and half Indian. She grew up listening to her mother tell her stories and legends about Indian gods and goddesses and carried those stories with her throughout her life. This was one of her favorites.
“Okay so Ganesha was the son of Shiva and Parvati. And Shiva is the main god in Hinduism. And um, Parvati—his mother—created Ganesha as a little boy out of soap when she was feeling lonely and Shiva was gone. And um, his job was to guard her door and make sure nobody came in without her permission. And so one day Shiva came home—his father—and Ganesha wouldn’t let him in because that’s his job, but he didn’t know who Shiva was…and Shiva in anger cut off his head in anger and killed him. And Parvati was really really sad and when Shiva found out that that was his son he got really sad too. And so he decided to give Ganesha his life back and how he did it was the first living thing he saw, he was gonna cut the head off of and put it on his sons body and restore life back to him. So the first thing he saw was an elephant so he cut off the elephants head and put it on Ganesha’s body and brought him back to life—which is why he’s the Hindu God that has an elephants head. And his main…like what he’s most famous for is um, he has really big ears because he’s really intelligent and listens to all the worlds problems, and he’s considered the force that blocks paths for people and creates troubles but also is the God that can clear paths for people and lead them on the road to success…the end!”
Analysis: The origin story that was presented was one that was told to my informant by her mother. The story behind Ganesha explains why he Is worshipped as a God (having been brought back to life by Shiva) in the Hindu faith. This folk legend also explains why elephants are regarded as sacred to many Hindu’s living in India and throughout the world, because an elephant was chosen as the head of a God. It is interesting to see how religious beliefs and legends are passed amongst family members and the differences and changes in the story when passed from person to person. The story of Ganesha can be found in various texts and the components of the story can change from person to person as there are several “versions” of the story that are told. For example, in another rendition of the story, Parvati creates Ganesha out of dirt while taking a bath and after Shiva revived Ganesha, he also granted him power over all of his troops. For another version of this Hindu legend, refer to the: Mahabarata – a Sanskrit epic poems of India.