Right from my childhood I was always fascinated by the elephant headed deity “Lord Ganesha”. Whenever I saw a Ganesha idol or picture, I would wonder why he has an elephant head? I found the story of birth of Lord Ganesha also very intriguing.
The story goes like this – One time, Lord Shiva’s consort, Devi Parvati wanted to take a bath and there were no attendants around. So she created an idol of a boy out of mud and infused life into it, and thus Ganesha was born. Ma Parvati ordered little Ganesha to sit at the entrance of the house and not allow anyone inside.
Ganesha obediently followed his mother’s orders. After a while, Lord Shiva returned from outside and as he tried to enter the house, Ganesha stopped him. Shiva was infuriated. He told Ganesha who he was, and demanded Ganesha to let him go in. But Ganesha would not listen. Shiva lost his patience and fought a fierce battle with Ganesha in which he severed Ganesha’s head with his powerful Trishul (Trident) and flung it far away. When Parvati came out and saw her son’s lifeless body, she felt so enraged and insulted that she decided to destroy the entire Creation. Lord Shiva then attached an elephant’s head to Ganesha’s body and brought him back to life.
Most stories in ‘Puranas’ are symbolic of a deep meaning. To understand the significance of this story we have to understand the meaning of different characters in this story.
Shiva indicates all-pervading pure consciousness, the substratum of this whole creation (Purusha). He is the most subtle layer of creation which is beyond time and space. He inexpressible. He is unknowable.
Parvati is ‘Shakti’ (Prakruti). Shiva is the un-manifest and Shakti is the manifest form of the same consciousness. The whole creation is a primordial dance of Shiva and Shakti.
Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati. He is the layer of consciousness in between Shiva and Shakti. Ganesha is sitting at the boundary between Prakruti and Purusha the manifest and un-manifest, the expressible and inexpressible, the knowable and unknowable, the gross and the subtle. Ganesha gives us knowledge and understanding.
He can be looked at as the beginning of everything. He is the beginning of the Subtle and beginning of the Gross. One can reach the divinity only through Ganesha. So ‘Ganesh Puja’ has to be carried out at the beginning of every ‘Puja’. Ganesha encompasses all the contradictions in this creation. His vehicle is a ridiculously small, coward mouse at the same time he carries the head of a majestic and calm elephant.
The story of birth of Ganesha is eternally happening in the creation. When Ganesha is having a small human head, he prevents the ‘Shiva-tatwa’ from meeting ‘Shakti’. The real meaning behind this is the small ego and concepts in our mind (mud) prevent us to experience the truth or divinity in its purest form. When the small ego is slain by the grace of divinity (Guru) then the driving force of existence itself vanishes. This may lead to dropping of the physical body. For the world to go on, it is necessary to replace the small ego by big (all encompassing) ego. This is indicated in the story by replacing the small human head by big elephant head. . This is ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ consciousness.
‘Aham Brahmasmi’ consciousness is the benevolent consciousness. With this the human beings seek the good of every one. Life becomes dedicated to service of others. Divinity dawns in life. Life merges with its goal!
Written by: Sanjay Sabnis