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How Ganesh Got The Head of an Elephant
by Kumud Biswas
Original in Bengali by Upendrakishore Raychaudhury
Translated

After Parvati married Shiva she came to the mount of Kailash to manage his household. Shiva was a very eccentric fellow. On top of that he lived with a large party of bhoots (ghosts) who didn’t know how to behave themselves, particularly in households where there were womenfolk. Shiva did not care to give his attention to this problem. Without any notice he used to come to the house with these unruly bhoots whenever he liked and the privacy of Parvati and her friends got frequently disturbed. The bull Nandi was there to guard the gate it is true, but none paid any heed when he refused them admission.

Parvati’s friends, Jaya and Vijaya, told her that as Nandi himself was one of them he could be easily overruled by those bhoots. “We should have someone whom we could trust and who would obey us,” they said.

So Parvati made a beautiful boy with clay and she called him Ganesh. She placed him at the gate.

“What am I supposed to do sitting here?” asked Ganesh.
“You will be the gatekeeper, my dear. Don t allow anybody in,” said Parvati.

Having said so Parvati kissed him again and again and left for her bath. Now Shiva appeared there with all his bhoots. But Ganesh refused to open the gate.

“Where are you going? All of you stop there, mother is taking her bath inside,” with these words he raised his club.
“I am Shiva, don’t you know?” said Shiva in surprise.
“Who is Shiva? What business you have got in this house?” Ganesh demanded.
“You are a very stubborn fellow, I see. I am Parvati,s husband,” replied Shiva and tried getting in.

Ganesh struck him on his back heavily with his club. There was a pandemonium. Shiva called his bhoots who began to threaten Ganesh. But their uncouth appearance failed to frighten him.

“What a sight you are! Leave this place at once,” Ganesh shouted.

The bhoots found themselves in a fix. They felt very amused. They were also enraged yet afraid. They went to Shiva and on being rebuked by him they returned to frighten Ganesh with their gestures. And when Ganesh brandished his club and chased them they ran back to Shiva.

Ultimately the words of Shiva gave them courage and they began to fight with Ganesh. When Nandi and Bhringi tried to trip him he struck them very hard with his palms. And with the bolts of the door he gave the bhoots a sound thrashing.

In the meantime Narad muni went to the gods and gave them the news of this fight. All the gods Brahma, Vishnu, Indra and others and all the munis and apsaras etc rushed to the spot.

Shiva requested Brahma to talk to the boy and pacify him. But when Brahma approached him Ganesh took him to be another bhoot and started to pull out his long beard. In great pain the more Brahma cried, “I have not come to fight you,” the more vigorously Ganesh tore out his beard. Not satisfied with this he took the door-bolt and rushed at him. After this none of the gods had the courage to stay there anymore and all of them ran away to Shiva.

Thereafter all the gods and the bhoots joined together and started to fight with Ganesh.

Parvati saw that Ganesh was in grave danger and it was no longer of any use to fight only with a club or a door-bolt. She therefore made two powerful weapons (shakti) for him. One of them could swallow things even as big as mountains. The other one was as bright as lightning and had innumerable hands. All the gods and bhoots had to take to their heels to save their lives. They had seen and fought many battles but they had never found themselves in such great danger before.

Now Shiva and Brahma conspired to kill the boy by some stratagem. One would keep him engaged fighting from the front while the other would kill him from the back. Vishnu made both these weapons of Ganesh inactive by his magic. But undaunted by this Ganesh threw his club at him with such force that Vishnu found it very difficult to keep standing on his feet. This enraged Shiva greatly and he took out his trident. But when Ganesh struck with his club the trident fell down from his hand. Shiva then took up his bow (pinak). That also fell down from his hand when struck by the club of his opponent. When Ganesh threw his club at Vishnu again it was broken into bits by the god’s discus (chakra). And just at that moment Shiva cut Ganesh’s head with his trident.

Parvati’s sorrow was great and she lost her temper. She made thousands of terrible weapons which were about to destroy everything. They broke the waist of Shiva and began to kill the other gods one by one. None of them could gather enough courage to approach her but begged her mercy from afar. At last she agreed to pardon them if they brought Ganesh back to life and he got the offerings before all other gods.

Shiva told the gods to do as she said. So all became busy in restoring Ganesh to life. But now a problem arose the head of Ganesh was not found. Shiva advised them to go north and asked them to cut and bring the head of anyone they met first and then fix it on the shoulder of Ganesh. At once they rushed to the north. They however found a white elephant. But they had no choice. So they cut its head and fixed it on the shoulder of Ganesh. This is how Ganesh got the head of an elephant and this is how it became the custom to give puja offerings to him before invoking all other gods.  

Original in Bengali by Upendrakishore Raychaudhury
Translated by Kumud Biswas

Upendrakishore Raychaudhury was the grandfather of famous film maker Satyajit Ray.

1-Jan-2006
 
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