March 7, 2016

Ganesh

By Debu Majumdar

My friend Kristen Gazaway, who is jokingly writing about running for the U.S. President as an independent candidate, has asked me why I didn’t name the boy in “Viku and the Elephant” Ganesh. Ganesh or Ganesha is very well known in India as the elephant-headed god. He is worshipped by Hindus at the beginning of all ceremonies because he is the god of success. Before every worship service, every day before businessmen open their shops, and before starting a journey, Hindus pay homage to Ganesh first.

Having the elephant head and the body of a human, Ganesh should understand elephants extremely well, which is what the boy in the story does. Why didn’t I then name him after Ganesh? Viku is an ordinary boy in a poor laborer family. I could say that they would not think of naming their son after a god. Here people would not name a son after Jesus although there is no barrier to that. But that is not true in India and in some Spanish cultures. Indians often name their children after gods and goddesses. However, I think, subconsciously the mythological story of how Ganesh received his elephant head stopped me. Let me tell you a gist of the legend.

While the great god, Lord Shiva, was away, with her divine power his wife, the goddess mother of the world, created a handsome son for company. She asked him to guard the house and not let anyone in until she was done with her bath. In the mean time and without any notice, Lord Shiva showed up at the door and wanted to come in, but her son, Ganesh, guarded the door. Shiva didn’t recognize Ganesh and was naturally annoyed at the impudent boy and asked for entrance again. Ganesh told him his mother had ordered him to guard the door and he would not let anyone in so long as he was alive. At this Shiva became so angry that he chopped off Ganesh’s head and barged in to the house. When the goddess mother saw what Shiva had done, she was very angry and demanded that Shiva restore her son’s life. In order to placate his angry wife, Shiva asked his attendant to get the head of a living being immediately – whoever he could find first. The attendant met an elephant and brought its head to Shiva. Shiva then restored the boy’s life with the elephant’s head and, to make up for the mess he had created, gave Ganesh the blessing that he would be revered as the god who removes obstacles and be worshipped first – before all other gods. To this day, all Hindu worship services begin with prayers to Ganesh.

This is a tall story and I wanted to write a simple tale of an ordinary boy. So the thought did not occur to me to associate my little boy with the important god of India who also happens to be the patron deity of all writers.

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