Myths and legends about Ganesh


Chapter summary

The birth of Ganesh
Ganesh and the Moon
Ganesh and the demon Ravana
Ganesh the scribe
The broken Ganesh tusk
Ganesh and Kubera
Ganesh and the goddess Pârvatî
The Ganesh Wisdom
Ganesh and Lord Shiva
Ganesh and Lord Vishnu
Ganesh and the River Kaveri



The birth of Ganesh

Each Purâna late texts 
(12 th to 14 th century) reporting legends on gods reports a different story to narrate the birth of the god Ganesh. Some legends tell that he was born from the Shiva spirit (mânasika putra) ; others, in fact most of them (Vâmana-Purâna, Matsya-Purâna, Skanda-Purâna), Ganesh is the creation of Pârvatî .

In certain vishnuït stories, Ganesh is considered like a Krishnâ embodiment.

According the very well known Shiva-Purâna version, the Shiva's wife, Pârvatî the Mountaineer, was disturbed once by her husband who entered the house, even though she was taking her bath.

The goddess felt annoyed, because she didn't have any personal servant to guard her door. So, she rub her body skin and, with the perfumed unguents obtained, she molded the shape of a young boy, as glorious as daylight. Then, she granted him life and named him Ganesh, ordering that he should be on guard in front of her house.

When the child intended to impede the great god to enter the house, Shiva enraged, transformed himself in his Rudra form and requested the short swarfs, 
Shiva servants, before they become those of Ganesh to attack Ganesh. In the battle, Ganesh got his head cut off.

Ascertaining the incommensurable disaster striking her son, Pârvatî was inconsolable. Unable to find the child head, Shiva grafted a elephant head on the dead body and gave him life again. Trying to repair his big mistake, he recognized Ganesh as his son and empowered him on all his servants; so he became "Ganapati".

A similar version explains that Nandi was the guard of the Pârvatî's apartments. But, in the mean time, he was also and above all the Shiva's servant. For this reason, he could not be opposed to his Lord' will.

A more detailed version describes Shiva sending his Gana army to attack. But Ganesh defeats them. Shiva request Brahmâ to come; taking the form of a peaceful brâhmane , he tries gently to make the boy listen to reason. Vainly, Ganesh remains intractable.

Then, Shiva asks Kârtikeya Ganesh brother, god 
of war and Indra King of Devâ (Gods), to intervene and to mobilize their armies; Ganesh resists victoriously and routs the armies, thanks to the help of Kâlî Awful and  destructive 
form of Pârvatî, Shakti of Shiva and Durgâ Another Shakti of 
Shiva, often fighting the devils, sent for Pârvatî, raging at the attack against her beloved son...

Finally, Shiva decides to enter himself in the battle; while Ganesh strives against Vishnu , treacherously, he attacks him in the rear and cuts off his head... The revenge of Pârvatî is terrible : she creates innumerable Shakti and order them to devour all the Gana and Devâ . Absolutely terrified, Brahmâ and Vishnu beg her for mercy; in exchange, Pârvatî demands that his son can get life again.

She requests also another reparation : henceforth, his son will be worshipped first, before all other gods.

Shiva sends messengers, ordering them to bring back the first creature's head looking north side; indeed, this direction is well-known to be auspicious and synonymous with wisdom.

The first asleep creature which they find, with the head turned to north side is an elephant. They bring back his head and Shiva replaces it on the child body; then, he gives him life.

Pârvatî is expresses transport of joy; she embraces her son, the elephant-headed boy, named Ganesha by Shiva, i.e. "Lord of the Gana".

J. Herbert remarks an unusual fact in this myth which reports the Ganesh birth from the goddess Pârvatî, without any Shiva intervention. Indeed, Ganesh has been created using the perspiring of the goddess. Accordingly, Pârvatî perspired, whereas Hindu gods, when they take a human form, do not perspire; furthermore, they don't have any shadow and the flowers which adorn them cannot fade. Herbert concludes that Pârvatî, to give birth to her son Ganesh, took a very exceptional woman form...

Many variant legends relating to the source of the Ganesh elephant head are described in various texts, more or less ancient :

 At gods' behest who needed a deity able to remove all the obstacles from their path of action and realization Shiva himself was born from the Pârvatî's womb, under his form of Gajânana Gaja : elephant, anana : face.

According to the Linga-Purâna, Ganesh was created by Shiva in order to triumph over the Asura devils, semi-gods and other enemies of gods; indeed, the Devâ supplicated the Allmighty Shiva to lend assistance to them, because they were tormented by the devils.

Shiva agreed and the superb and wonderful image of a child shout out of his mind. He had the head of a powerful elephant, he brandished a trident in one hand (indeed, Ganesh is sometimes represented with a trident). The gods were delighted to see this child, born-from-Shiva's mind, able to protect them from this time forward. Looking at this nice young boy, Pârvatî took him on her lap and made the vow that any human or divine undertaking, should not be successful unless Ganesh would be worshipped first. Then Shiva declared that he would be the Lord of the celestial hosts, the Gana, giving him the name Ganapati, which means Lord of the Gana.

 In another Purâna, the Varâha-Purâna, Ganesh is depicted like a wonderfully handsome young man originating from the glittering forehead of Shiva absorbed in a deep meditation. This mânasika putra, son-born-from the Shiva's mind, was a dazzling human boy. Pârvatî was disappointed that the boy was born without her intervention. So, she wished that his head became the head of an elephant. However, when she saw the elephant-headed child, she loved him immediately, and declared that any human or divine undertaking, should not be successful unless Ganesh/Ganapati, Lord of the Gana, would be worshipped first.

 Another Puranic legend tells that Pârvatî longed for getting a child; she informed Shiva about her desire. He requested her to observe a one-year penance period (tapas or tapasya ) designated as puñyaka. She did. Thus, the Sage Sanatkumara submitted Pârvatî to various severe tests in order to ascertain the force of her will. Afterwards, she heard a voice asking her to proceed to the room and to bring her new-born baby.

She rushed forward, saw the child and could not believe her eyes, since he was more glorious than all the gods assembled and his face shined like the sun at dawn. She felt overcome with joy.

All the gods and goddesses darted to the mount Kailash, the dwelling of the divine parents, to admire this glorious child; they worshipped him and marveled his beauty.

The nine Planets, the Navagraha, came also to congratulate the divine couple and their beloved child. One of them, Shani Saturn did not accept to raise the eyes to look at the baby; Quite the contrary, Shani wanted the child to hang down the head.

Pârvatî was vexed and did not believe him; she requested Shani to do as other gods and admire the baby. So he did and the baby's head was instantaneously separated from the body, flying to the space to the Goloka, the Krishnâ world (indeed, one legend of the Brahmavaivarta-Purâna tells that Ganesha was originally Krishnâ himself, as a human being).

Pârvatî cried, lamented noisily and created a total confusion. Realizing the dramatic situation, Vishnu left immediately on his vehicle Garuda White eagle with a 
human face in search of a new head to replace the lost one.

On the banks of the river Pushpabhadra, he met a herd of sleeping elephants. Choosing a resting animal, whose head was turned northwards, he cut the head and brought it back. According to a version of this legend, this elephant was actually a Gandharva kind of celestial being who desired to obtain the liberation from his terrestrial life. According to another version, one of the elephant Airâvata's sons, the Indra god vehicle, gave his head.

Whatever it was, when Vishnu came back, he put the head on the child's neck. Blowing life energy in the lifeless body, he presented him to Pârvatî who felt delighted to get a child empowered with the elephant's wisdom and power.

Vishnu dressed the child with exquisite ornaments, fitting his beauty; Himavân, the Pârvatî'father, did the same. Vishnu mustered all the heavenly beings, and worshipped the child, giving him the eight names who designate him henceforth :

Vighneshvara, Ganesha, Heramba, Gajânana, Lambodara, Ekadanta, Soorpakarna and Vinâyaka.

 Once upon a time, to amuse herself, Pârvatî molded the form of an elephant-headed child, using sandal paste mixed with her perspiration, then she brought it to the Ganga. As soon as the waters submerged the child, he became a resplendent Being. He was Dvaimatura, the son born-from-two-mothers, because Pârvatî and Gangâ too, believed that he was their child.

 The Suprabhedâgama describes the birth of Ganesh. When Shiva and Pârvatî were visiting the deep forests in the Himalaya range, saw a couple of elephants having sexual intercourse. For fun, they decided at once to do likewise. Adopting the form of these animals, they had sex together. Thus was born elephant-headed Ganesh .

Shiva did not play any role in the birth Ganesh whose creation in only due to Pârvatî; however, the Shiva intervention allows Ganesh to get an elephant head. Shiva recognizes Ganesh as his elder son, but only after the events which gave him the elephant head. Nevertheless, Kârtikeya was already born...

The pre-vidic origin of Ganesh must be examined to understand the meaning of this legend. In fact, before the Aryans, the dravidian society was matriachal, and people worshipped a feminine idol of God, the Divine Mother. This concept characterizing the dravidian civilization was not specifically Indian : it was also in force in the Middle-East before the Hebraic doctrine which imposed a male and fatherly God pattern.

In the Ganesh legend, Pârvatî, a native pre-vedic goddess, is the Divine Mother form who occupies a prominent place, even as regards Shiva.

On the other hand, the events leading to bestow on Ganesh an elephant head has converted a violent and irritable boy into a being of wisdom and spirituality. And we see that Shiva, the Yoga Lord, presides over this wonderful transformation. To discover this elephant head, Shiva sends his servants northward. But, we know that the north direction (uttaram) is a beneficial one. The northward journey means a journey towards illumination (devayana = path of the gods). The elephant head brought back by the servants has only on tusk : this means that after the northward journey, this head has achieved the non-dual state.

Ganesh and the river Kaveri

In order to supply water to the arid southern regions, the Sage Agastya, with the blessings of Brahmâ, got from Shiva a few sacred water which filled his kamandalu copper pot of the 
errant ascetic to carry the Ganga sacred water.

He journeyed to southern regions of the country, hoping to find a suitable place to create a high flow river. Thus he reached the Kodagu (Coorg) mountains.

On the way, he hailed a young boy who was passing by. In fact, the boy was Ganesh disguised. The Sage requested the boy to carry carefully his water pot, because he wanted to find an isolated toilet place.

Ganesh was aware that Agastya expected to create a river; the place where they were seemed to be favorable. So, he put the kamandalu on the ground.

A crow, passing by, landed on the pot edge. When he came back, Agastya expelled the bird which, taking off, spilled the kamandalu (photo ). When it poured, this small quantity of water became the Kaveri river.

The place, still considered as a sacred one, is known as Talakaveri.

Ganesh and Kubera

Kubera, the god of wealth, was very proud of his boundless fortune. One day, he organized a gorgeous dinner; among other famous guests, the divine couple, Shiva and Pârvatî, with their son Ganesh, were present.

The later, still a child, started to eat and he appeared quickly to be insatiable. Soon, the other guests found plates and dishes empty. Alas ! Not satisfied with all the available food, Ganesh started to devour plates an dishes, the furniture and all the content of Alakâpuri, the main city of Kubera.

When he achieved to gulp down the whole, the child Ganesh threatened to swallow Kubera himself. Frightened, the god of wealth rushed forward to Shiva's feet to implore his help, since the Ganesh voracious appetite seemed to be unlimited.

The remedy was simple but spectacular : Shiva gave his son a handful of roasted cereal grains. Ganesh ate it and, wonderfully, his hunger stopped immediately.

This legend teaches us that a handful of common food, given with love, and eaten with devotion, is more important and more sustaining that the banquet offered by Kubera to impress the gods. From a different angle, this story shows that properties cannot bring peace and satisfaction to anybody. The only path to self-realization requires to burn our vasana our unmanifested wishes . The destruction of the vasana is symbolized by the consumption of the grilled rice; indeed, when the rice has been cooked, he loses his germinative capacity. Moreover, the seeds of our hidden desires lose strength and possibility to come back further.

Ganesh and the Moon

One day, Ganesh was given a lot of sweets by his devotees. Indeed, everybody is aware of his greediness. He swallowed the sweets forthwith.

Then Ganesh went back home, riding his mouse. It was sunset and in the darkness, it came to pass that the mouse suddenly stumbled over a snake. Ganesh fell to the ground.

But he had so much eaten that his over-filled stomach burst and the cakes poured out.

Ganesh collected and replaced them in his widely open belly (don't try to find any rational meaning to that story !). By way of belt, he caught the snake who had caused the disturbance and tied him around the waist (one can see this girdle made-of-a-snake on many Ganesh representations).

Looking at this funny performance, the Moon, Chandra, bursts out laughing.

Ganesh was very annoyed, and thought that jeer had offended him. Resentful, he removed his right tusk and threw it to the moon face (generally Ganesh is depicted with a broken right tusk).

At the same time, he put a curse on her, so that she stops to shine at night and disappears from the sky. At that time, the legend tells that the moon used to shine every night.

Since then, the moon being missing, there was neither moonlight neither twilight. Young lovers lamented and bewailed; old people grumbled. They could not sleep, because the sun brightened even nightly.

Without the moon, the gods found the heavenly life as unbearable as the men found on earth. So, they hurled themselves at Ganesh house, supplicating him to manage the situation.

Everyone knows that Ganesh is basically full of indulgence; thus, he complied with their urgent requirement but, nevertheless, decided that the moon would not be allowed to shine every night as she did before.

Henceforth, she was sentenced to wax and wane, alternating a shining fortnight and a dark fortnight, each of these periods ending by the full moon and the new moon.

This is the reason why people think unauspicious to look at the moon on the Ganesh birthday, the Ganesh Chaturthî (which corresponds to the forth day of the wax), during the Bhâdrapad month (in august or early september). On says that people taking no notice of that, will probably get big problems...

This belief is still running nowadays and people carefully avoid to glance at the moon on the Ganesh Chaturthî day. Some people, very superstitious, abstain from looking at the very moon every fourth day of the waxing moon, to be sure not to mistake !

And if any unlucky man sees the moon on that particular day, he has to throw stones quickly on the next house, so that the injuries sent by his neighbors in return unprime the god's anger !

The meaning of this legend, or at least an interpretation which we could accept is the following : Ganesh riding his rat represents the Truth Seeker, the Man of Perfection who, by means of his body, his mind and his understanding, tries to reach his spiritual goal to finally convey the unlimited Truth.

Body, Mind and Intellect are limited realities. They are not able to explain what is Atman individual dot of the 
Ultimate Reality, a man without his ego.

The one who is seeking after the Supreme Reality knows that it is nearly impossible to share his experience by "ordinary" means and words. ordiniries". This is why we find strange and inscrutable the speeches and actions of the spiritual teachers.

The intellect of a man unengaged in this type of spiritual search is unable to understand what is the ultimate Truth, what is the ultimate Reality. The moon is the deity which governs the human mind. The moon laughing at Ganapati riding his rat reminds us the ignorant person who mocks spiritual seeker's efforts to reach the Truth.

Similarly, when somebody tries to ridicule the spiritual Teachers, the Sages who teach the Truth and their talks, this is detrimental to the Humanity.

In another legend, narrated in the Brahmânda-Purâna, the Moon had lost her brightness because of a god's curse.

In order to help the Moon to recover her light, Ganesh put her on his forehead as an ornament (tilaka ); under this form named Bhâlachandra ( "The One whose forehead is adorned with the Moon"), god Ganesh is particularly worshipped by esoteric sects.

Ganesh and the goddess Pârvatî

One day, the child Ganesh diverted himself in tormenting a cat, pulling his tail and rolling him on the ground. All of us know that children are able to injure animals but are not aware to act badly.

Just a moment after, he left the cat peaceful and went away. He even did not think about what he had done. He arrived at mount Kailash to meet again his mother Pârvatî. He found her badly suffering, covered with wounds and dust.

He asked her about what happened; she replied that he was responsible of this situation. Indeed, she was, just before, that cat tormented by Ganesh.

This story teaches us that all the living beings are of divine essence. If we injure a living creature, one of our companions, human or animal, we injure God Himself.

Ganesh learned this lesson and we also must learn it during our lifetime.

Ganesh and Râvana the demon

One day, the devil Râvana undertook very difficult tapas ascetic observances 
undertaken under the guidance of a Spiritual Teacher.

As a consequence, Shiva appeared to him. Râvana requested a favor. He wanted that his kingdom and himself could never be damaged or destroyed. As a present, Shiva gave him a Shiva Lingam , the symbol of Shiva; he ordered to bring it back to his kingdom and to place it in a temple after adequate rituals.

After that, he would become unconquerable. But there was a prerequisite : whatever happened, he ought not to lay down the Lingam on the floor, under pain of not be able to displace it later.

Overjoyed, Râvana welcomed the Lingam. However, the Devâ (Gods) felt afraid of the power that Râvana; could obtain. They invoked Ganesh before any action.

Then, Varuna , the god of Waters, penetrated into the Râvana's abdomen, causing him troubles which forced him to stop on his way. Râvana was convulsed with pain, but careful not to lay down the Lingam on the ground, as requested expressly by Shiva. Râvana called a young Brahman coming that way; he asked him to keep the stone Lingam just for a moment.

As soon as Râvana entrusted him the Lingam, the boy cried out for help three times. Getting no reply, he put the Lingam on the ground.

When Râvan came back, he was very angry and he dismissed the boy who just appeared to be Ganesh in reality. But Râvana had the power of the Lingam. Then Ganesh could easily subdue the devil, kicking to the sky (photo ).

Râvana realized his limitations and admitted the huge power of Ganesh (photo ).

The place where the Lingam was deposited is called Gokarna, and is located on the Karnataka western coast; it is a worshipping place till nowadays.

This story teaches that the demon is always defeated at the very end, specially when he thinks himself very powerful.

The wisdom of Ganesh

Shiva et Pârvatî used to play with two sons, Ganesh and Kârtikeya.

The gods had given them a marvelous fruit. Each boy wanted to get it for him alone.

Their parents explained them that the nectar of the Supreme Knowledge and of Immortality was hidden in that fruit. To get the fruit, both had to compete. The winner should run three times around the world and come back first.

Kârtikeya left at once. Riding his peacock, he flew in the sky, stopping at every sacred place on his way, praying and worshipping the gods.

Ganesh was fully aware of his stout body; it slackened off him badly. The rat, his vehicle, was rather slow and would not be able to beat Kârtikeya.

But his wisdom suggested him the right solution. He turned round his parents, Shiva and Pârvatî, showing a deep devotion. When they asked him why he did not start his journey around the world, he replied :

"My parents Shiva and Shakti are the Whole Universe. In Them is located the World. He do not need to go farther".

Of course, he won the contest, ... and the fruit (photo ).

This legend emphasizes the importance of cleverness; Ganesh is a strong symbol of this quality which is always the best against force, speed or physical strength.

Ganesh, the scribe

A very interesting story about Ganesh is the belief according to which he has been the writer of the Mahâbhârata One of the two main 
Indian epics, written about 14 centuries ago.

The Sage Vyâsa , the author of this epic, was meditating on Brahmâ. The god told him to request Ganesh to be the scribe for the dictation of this epic in verses.

Ganesh appeared immediately in the presence of Brahmâ and gave his agreement. However, he demanded that Vyâsa should talk without any stop.

Vyâsa dictated his own request : before starting to write, Ganesh had to understand each word, each thought, with all the significations they had.

Every time Vyâsa observed that Ganesh (photo ) had finished to write a verse (he used his broken tusk as a pen), he dictated another verse, as much complicated as possible. So, Ganesh was obliged to stop to write. That short period was enough to make Vyâsa able to mentally compose the following verses... and to tell them when Ganesh was ready.

This legend teaches us that the Mahâbhârata should not be read quickly. One must understand all the meanings of the story, and it is necessary to digest it. One must also listen to it carefully, and meditate about.

Actually, a belief says that the Mahâbhârata should not be read. We should listen to it every day, little by little. By this method, we may understand progressively the deep meaning of this story.

Ganesh and Lord Shiva

One says that neither peace nor war action, nor daily business can succeed unless Ganesh has previously been worshipped.

This is not only true for human beings, but also for celestial creatures.

When Ganesh appeared, as the son born from Shiva's mind, the later decided that Ganesh should be worshipped by anybody wishing to get success. Even worshipping other gods would be inefficient if prior worship to Ganesh had not been achieved.

Thus, when Shiva left to fight the demons of the Tripura city, he forgot his own rule and rushed to the battle. However, when he embarked on his carriage, the wheel peg broke and the car was stopped.

Abashed that such an accident could happen to him, Shiva realized that he had forgotten to pray Ganesh before his departure, and this was the cause of the obstacle... Thus, he worshipped his son's name and could proceed to the Tripurâtanka battle which he won successfully.

The broken Ganesh tusk

Several legends explain how Ganesh broke his right tusk, which gives him the name of Ekadanta "The Lord who has only one tusk".

 The first legend (in the Brahmânda-Purâna) is related to a battle between Ganesh and Parashurâma. Parashurâma was one of the Vishnu incarnations (avatâra), born on earth to teach wisdom to the governing class, the Kshatriya Cast of warriors, 
holders of the temporal power, who had become arrogant and oppressed people. Parashurâma meditated on Shiva and got the divine axe, Parashu. This axe helped him to fight against all the corrupted princes, inspired by devils.

Deeply grateful to Shiva, he went to Mount Kailash to bow to his guru. But Ganesh, who was guarding the entrance of the palace, did not allow him to proceed. Ganesh told him to wait for the Shiva permission.

Parashurâma thought : "I am a Shiva devotee, such a rule cannot be applied to me".

Ganesh persisting to bar the way, Parashurâma, usually peppery, stroke violently the Ganesh tusk with his axe and broke it.

Then Shiva and Pârvatî arrived and blamed Parashurâma who bowed down before Ganesh and supplicated to obtain his forgiveness and blessing. Then Ganesh was named Ekadanta "The Lord with one tusk".

 According to another legend, Ganesh broke himself his tusk during the battle against Gajamukhâsura (the elephant-headed Asura demons). Taking the advice of Shukrâchârya, the Asura guru, this demon followed severe penances. Thus, he got unconquerable powers from Shiva. But he misused those powers to harass the gods who went to Ganesh and requested his help.

Ganesh did not hesitate to give battle to this demon. During the fight, he understood that the demon could not defeated, because of his particular powers. Then, Ganesh broke his right tusk and threw it to Gajamukhâsura. He pursued him and converted him in a mouse. Then he rode this mouse, which he used as a mount, keeping it under control.

 According to another Purâna story, the Ganesh rat was actually the Gandharva heavenly musicians Krauncha. One day, at the Indra Court, Krauncha insulted the Sage Vâmadeva who revenged himself, making him a big rat. This rat, as all the rats do, went in the ashram of the Sage Parâchara and caused a lot of damages in the house. The Rishi In ancient times, a 
great Sage invoked Vinâyaka (an other name for Ganesh) to safeguard his modest dwelling. Ganesh appeared, rode the rat as his vehicle and mastered it.

 A Purâna legend imputes the loss of the tusk to a fight between Ganesh and Shiva himself.

 Finally, there is the story between Ganesh and the Moon narrated above.

Whatever the version of these puranic stories, Ganesh chose the rat as a vehicle for an obvious reason : this animal is really a detrimental one and Ganesh was able to keep it under his strict control.

Ganesh and Lord Vishnu

One day, Vishnu found out that his Valamburi Shankha had disappeared. He felt himself very annoyed. After some time, he heard the typical sound of a conch far away and recognized immediately that it was his own instrument. The sound came from the Mount Kailash.

He meditated on Lord Shiva who came in front of him and declared that if he wanted to get his conch back, he had first to address a invocation to god Valamburi Ganesh (a Ganesh form with a right-turned trunk).

Thus, Vishnu performed the puja and Ganesh sent back the conch to his owner who was very happy to recover it.

One can surely find other legends. If you know any new one, please let us know it !


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