It's Ganesha's Birthday!


By Mrudula Govindaraju and Blythe Robbins
A Pronunciation Guide and Glossary can be found at the end of the post.

 

Parvati the Goddess lives with her husband God Shiva in Kailasha, a great mountain in the Himalayan mountain range in Asia.  Parvati also has another name: Shakthi. Shakthi means power. Parvati is a Goddess with enormous power.

One day, Parvati had just returned home from war and she wanted to celebrate her victory with Shiva.

“Is Lord Shiva home?” She asked her dasi as she entered her bedroom.
“He has gone to war, Devi.” Dasi spoke respectfully.
“I am going for a swim, then.” Parvati told dasi, as she removed her armor. “I am dirty from war and need to clean off.” She placed her weapons on a table next to the bed.  It's important for a warrior to always clean her own weapons, but first, she would go for a refreshing swim.

Parvati walked out of her bedroom along a garden pathway that led down to the beautiful Lake Manasarovar. Even though Mount Kailasha is surrounded by magnificent snow-covered peaks, Lake Manasarovar never froze over: it was ice-free all year long! Mount Kailasha is so magical that it is called the House of Shiva and Parvati.

 Parvati’s path led her to a bathhouse that sat on the edge of the lake. As she climbed the steps to the bathhouse, she turned and looked at the cool, clear water, which always made her feel happy. But today, after the loudness of war, the stillness of the water felt too quiet. She longed for the sound of a child laughing to break the silence. Suddenly she laughed out loud to herself as a thought began to grow until she danced a little dance in excitement of her idea:  She would create a child! A grown boy whom she would love and who would love her back.

In the bathhouse, Parvati took a large bowl and began to add the powders she used when taking a bath: besan went into the bowl, followed by a generous portion of turmeric. To this she added a handful of sandalwood and gently mixed them all in the bowl. Parvati thought for a moment about what the last ingredient should be, and she decided to use rosewater. Parvati poured rosewater until the powders in the bowl combined to form a paste. She smiled.

Parvati first applied the paste on her face, then her arms and legs. She waited for it to dry and began to gently rub her face, arms, and her legs. As she rubbed the dried paste it began to crumble and fall on the floor. Parvati rubbed the paste on herself until the bowl was empty. When she stood up the mound of crumble was waist high. She smiled happily. Parvati sat down on the floor and began to knead the crumble and shape it.

She first made the boy’s face, then his body, and finally his arms and legs. She gave him clothes, and a magnificent sword because he was the son of a powerful Goddess. And finally, she closed her eyes and poured life into him. He was beautiful. He would grow up to be a handsome and strong man.

Amma.” The boy uttered softly as he opened his eyes and looked at his mother.
“My son.” Parvati hugged him and kissed his forehead. He was a strong lad of thirteen years, fierce like his mother. Parvati was eager to spend time with him, but she wanted to wash the dirt of war from her body.

“My son.” Parvati held him by his shoulders. “I am still dirty from war. I am going to bathe in the lake. Please go and guard the gates of Kailasha. Don’t let anyone inside until I finish my swim.” The boy nodded and ran to the gates of Kailasha. He would guard it with his life. He gave his word to his mother.

Lord Shiva, leading his large army victorious from war, was eager to go home to Kailasha. When he neared the gates of his home, he saw a strong boy with his sword drawn. The boy shouted at the top of his lungs:
“Stop! You cannot pass through these gates.”
“Who are you?” Shiva the God thundered, as he held up his trident for the boy to see.
“You do not belong here! Who are you?” the boy called back. Shiva’s army let out a collective gasp. They could not believe that someone would speak that way to Lord Shiva. Shiva was surprised but impressed at the defiance of the brave boy.
“My son. Give way. This is my house. I don’t want to fight with you. I have returned from battle and I am tired.”
“This is not your home, and I am not your son,” the boy replied.
“Don’t annoy me. Give way before I force you to.” Shiva held on to his temper by a very thin thread because he was not used to being challenged.
“I am the Guardian of the Gates of Kailasha. I don’t have permission to allow anyone to enter these gates.”
“How dare you use that title. It is mine to give.” Shiva tightened his hold on the trident.
“My mother gave it to me.” The boy shouted in triumph.
“Liar.” Outraged, Shiva flung his trident and cut off the boy’s head. The boy didn’t stand a chance against God Shiva, the Destroyer.

 

Parvati, on hearing the racket at the gate, appeared in full armor. When she saw her son on the ground, she unleashed her wrath.
“Who killed my son?” She screamed in deadly anger.
“I didn’t know we had a son.” Shiva replied in confusion.
I created him. I shaped him from my being. How dare you kill him.” Parvati’s voice shook the surrounding Himalayan mountains. “Even if you didn’t know he was my son, you had no right to take his life.”

Shiva walked towards Parvati, “Devi, forgive me. I acted in anger. How can I make amends for this act?” Shiva asked sadly.
“Bring him back to life!” Parvati stopped him at arm’s length.
“Even I can’t do that.” Shiva said softly.
“What gives you the right to take life when you don’t have the ability to give it?” Parvati yelled, unable to calm down. Shiva bowed his head asking for forgiveness.
“I won’t let you enter the gates of Kailasha until you give my son his life.” Parvati shut the gates with a clang of finality and stood guard over the body of her dead son. 

Shiva realized that he had made a huge mistake. He closed his eyes and summoned the God Brahma, the Creator, who had the power to give life.
Brahma asked Shiva to go forth into the forest in the foothills of the Himalayas and get the head of the first creature he sets his eyes on.  When Shiva went into the forest, he saw an elephant. Without a second thought Shiva killed the elephant, cut its head, and brought it to God Brahma.

Parvati, still upset, did not move from her position close to her son. She watched Shiva give the head of an elephant to Brahma.
“What have you brought? How can my son wear the head of an elephant?” Parvati’s eyes were glowing like hot embers.
“Devi,” Brahma said in a calm voice. “It is meant to be this way. I may be the God of Creation, but I can’t replicate what you have created.”
“Neither can I,” said Parvati.
“I can only repair and try and fix it.” Brahma added.

Brahma attached the elephant’s head to the boy’s body and gave it life. The boy opened his eyes, wearing the head of an elephant, and looked straight at Shiva.
“I didn’t know you are my son. I wouldn’t have been so quick to lose my temper.” Shiva held out his hand and lifted him up. “You are a very brave boy. Not everyone can stand up to me and defy my orders.”
“You have to do more than that to make things right.” Parvati told Shiva
“I name you Ganesha.” Shiva put his palms over Ganesha’s head and blessed him. Parvati nodded in approval.
“I appoint you Commander-in-Chief of my army.” Shiva proclaimed loudly.  “Ganesha, my son.” Shiva hugged him. “I bestow upon you the gift of knowledge. You will be the first God people will call upon for all occasions and festivals.”
 
And from then on, whatever the occasion, people first pray to Ganesha. Ganesha’s large elephant ears allow him to better hear the needs of his people! And so it is to Ganesha people pray to before any other God: at festivals, before exams, on the first day at school, when they marry or buy a house, or before starting a new adventure.
Ganesha helps us overcome barriers that threaten to set us back on our journey through life. He helps us with new beginnings. Happy birthday Ganesha!

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Pronunciation Guide


Parvathi or Parvati - pahr-vuh-thee

Kailasha or Kailash - kahy-lah-suh 

Ganesha -  guh-ney-shuh 

Brahma - brah-muh

Glossary

Dasi: (daasi) servant

Besan: (baysun) chickpea flour that is also used as a body scrub in the Indian Subcontinent.

Turmeric: a bright yellow powder made from the dried root of a plant that belongs to the same family as ginger. It is widely used in Asian cooking. It is also used as a body scrub mixed with chickpea flour in the Indian Subcontinent.

Sandalwood: a tree found and grown in India. Its bark has a lovely fragrance. Powder and oil made from its bark are used in perfume and incense sticks. Sandalwood powder is mixed with chickpea flour and used as a body scrub.

Rosewater: scented water made with rose petals.

Amma: mom, mother

Trident: a spear that has three pointed ends, like a fork. It is the weapon of God Shiva. (Like Poseidon’s in Greek Mythology).

Blessed: when someone utters powerful words that will give the person who receives the blessing power and favor from the God.