Why does Ganesha have the head of an elephant?
There were two questions above everything else that I remember perplexing me when I was in my late teens. These were :
- If Hinduism believed in one God why did all Hindu learned people insist that any prayer must commence by offering prayers to Ganesha?
- Why does Ganesha have the head of an elephant?
In answer to the first question, I got mumbled responses or a deliberately equivocal response, depending on the educational level of the person answering the question, but the most disturbing thing was the consistency of the answers to the second question.
Everyone I asked had the same response (with minor variations). I also read various Hindu texts and even read the story in comic form. These days there are even DVD versions of the story. The story goes along these lines:
Mother Parvathy asked her son, Ganesha, to stand guard at the entrance to a bathing area while she took a bath. Lord Shiva returned from a hunting trip and wanted to enter the area but the little Ganesha refused to alloh him entry.
In a rage, he chopped off the little boy’s head.
When Partvathy emerged from the bathing area, she saw her son, decapitated and her sadness was replaced with rage when she realized that Lord Shiva was responsible.
She demanded that he bring Ganesha back to life and to find him a head.
Lord Shiva then killed an elephant and used the head on Ganesha and brought him back to life and THAT is the reason he has the head of an elephant.
Personally, I don’t know of anyone who would seriously believe a story like this. It is difficult to find even one iota of logic in it and yet the “learned” people who spoke to me said that it was a sin to doubt the authenticity of the story. I stubbornly refused to believe it and, in the prevailing state of rebellion, I began to doubt not only the story but also the religion I had been born in
How many others had felt this and how many others are still grappling with accepting a story like this as fact.
If this is not the fact, how did the story come about and why DOES Ganesha have the head of an elephant?
Secondly, why is it important to pray first to Ganesha???
Ganesha with the head of an elephant is not a biological reality! It is a metaphoric representation.
In order to achieve Divine wisdom one needs to gain control of the mind and then of the senses. This powerful act of discipline is only possible through the practice of Yoga.
One cannot skip stages in Yoga and jump to the end of the Yogic levels called Chakras. One must start from the beginning and follow each step methodically.
The first Chakra or level is known as the Muladhara Chakra. One can only be initiated into Yoga by mastering the Muladhara Chakra. This Chakra is represented by Ganesha. Look at the shape of Ganesha and you will see that the shape is the same as the primeval sound “om”, the chanting of which helps in clearing the mind in readiness for the other stages of Yoga.
LINK TO THE STORY
The story told in comics and other Hindu books does have a religious base. One cannot enter the world of spirituality without passing through Ganesha.
The insistence on going through Ganesha suggests that true wisdom is revealed from within and not from external sources. The day we can tap into this wisdom is the day we would have reached spiritual understanding and experience the peace that every soul is aspiring to.
Is Hinduism still relevant to the modern and questioning mind?
Can a system of thought so steeped in rituals still have a scientific base?
Do the philosophies and beliefs of Hinduism correspond with the findings of modern science?
Does Hinduism provide a sound basis for people who not of Indian origin?
The answers to all these questions is a resounding “YES”.
WHAT IS HINDUISM?
The word “Hinduism” is being used for the lack of a suitable alternative. The word does not denote a geographic or linguistic limitation but merely indicates a system of philosophy about life. It is therefore not a religion in the traditional sense for the following reasons:
- Hinduism has no founder
- Hinduism is not based on a single text or brand of philosophy
- Hinduism is highly tolerant and recognizes all religions as being valid paths to God
- Hinduism does not condemn other religions or beliefs
- Hinduism does not use fear and threats to frighten people into doing the correct thing
- There are no rules to be a Hindu
- There is no formal conversion procedure to become a Hindu.
- The concept of God and spirituality in Hinduism is vastly different from those of conventional religions
As Sathya Sai Baba repeatedly told devotees; Spirituality is all about becoming more sincere in what you believe and what you practice; that the aim should be that the Christian should become a better Christian, a Muslim a better Muslim, etc.
ESSENCE OF HINDUISM
It is true that a lot of the essence of Hinduism has been clouded by myths, legends, parables and illustrative stories. Sometimes, it is easy to become misguided and take these metaphors too literally and that is when one would begin to question the logical or scientific basis.
There are reasons for every ritual. Some of them are mere rituals of habit, while others have a strong scientific base. Identifying which applies to which ritual is part of the challenge.
Will this blog answer all your questions?
It would be foolish and egotistical to claim that it would. However, it will provide sound and often disturbing foundations for the many beliefs in this complex system called Hinduism.
It will share with you the questions, dilemmas and challenges I asked myself as I was growing up. In particular, it will not shy away from those issues that truly troubled me as a teenager. Issues like:
- Why do some Hindu Temples have statues that border on erotica?
- Is the Lingam a phallic symbol?
- Does Hinduism REALLY believe in ONE God or is that a ploy to make Hinduism seem like the other religions. If Hindus do believe in ONE God, where is there a need for so many deities?
- Why do good people seem to suffer greatly while those who sin seem to prosper?
These are burning issues that greatly troubled me when I was a teenager. I am sure that many others of all ages have at some time pondered on these issues.
Let us look at them together and find the answers that we will all be satisfied with.