The Origins of Ganesh & His Elephant Head

“Shiva returned and fitted the elephant head on the child’s body and breathed new life into the boy.”

Bronze Parvati statue with her sons Ganesh and Murugan

Bronze Parvati statue with her sons Ganesh and Murugan 36″

In Hindu mythology, traditional stories have been passed down for generations regarding the birth of Ganesh and the reason behind his elephant head. Ganesh is the son of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer and Restorer, and his wife Parvati, an incarnation of the Great Mother Goddess, Devi. They lived high in the Himalaya Mountains, where Lord Shiva was away for many years at a time, creating, destroying, and preserving life. While Shiva was absent, Parvati became very bored and lonely, and her motherly instincts made her yearn for a son.

Legend says that Parvati decided to create a baby by scrubbing her skin with sandal paste and mixed it with clay to mold a figure of a boy. She used her powers to breathe life into the clay mold and instantly fell in love with the boy. One day, while Shiva was still away, Parvati asked her son to guard the entrance to her room and let no one enter, while she took a bath. Unannounced, Lord Shiva returned home and was refused entry by this boy who was a complete stranger. Irritated by the child’s insolence, a battle ensued and Shiva cut off the head of his young son with his trident.

When Parvati discovered her headless son, she was stricken with such grief that she threatened to destroy the heavens and earth. With the balance of the entire Universe at stake, Shiva wanted to console his wife and bring his son back to life. Lord Shiva and his troops set out into the forest to find anyone sleeping with their head facing north (the auspicious direction associated with wisdom). The first living being they came upon was a baby elephant and took its head. Shiva returned and fitted the elephant head on the child’s body and breathed new life into the boy. His wife’s reaction was one of enchantment and she declared this boy was even better than her first creation. They named their son Ganesh. Lord Shiva praised his son for his courage by being made Lord of New Beginnings and guardian of entrances. Ganesh is worshiped at the beginning of any new undertaking to reach success and a safe journey.

Ganesh Chaturthi is the celebration to honor the birthday of the Lord of Beginnings. It falls on the fourth day after the new moon in the month of Bhadrapada (August – September).

Dancing Ganesh Statue at Calgary Zoo

Hindu God Ganesh Dancing Stone Statue

Dancing Ganesh in front of Calgary Zoo

In 2006, the Calgary Zoo, with the help of a private donor, commissioned Lotus Sculpture to custom make a nine-foot tall, 5-ton statue to be displayed in front of their new Elephant Crossing exhibit. The sculpture, which was modeled after the Hindu god Ganesh, was beautifully hand-carved with polished Indian black granite and took approximately one year to complete. The statue’s proportionate size, with the head of an elephant and bulbous trunk, uplifted arm, slight chest, potbelly, huge thighs, and chubby feet fit together with perfection. Much thought, and many fine details were carved into this work of art.

The zoo, with consideration of their guests, removed all of Ganesh’s religious symbols before it was erected. The statue was meant to show the link between elephants and Asian culture, not to represent a religious icon. Once installed, the ‘dancing elephant’ still brought about a ‘handful’ of complaints and unwanted controversy to the exhibit. A Canadian Christian group organized a campaign to protest the statue, citing “selective religious partiality and indoctrination”. Despite the few grievances, the zoo did not remove the sculpture. It still stands peacefully today (for now).

Unfortunately, it was recently announced that the Calgary Zoo will be closing the Elephant Crossing exhibit, where it holds one bull and three female endangered pachyderms. The climate is too cold for the small herd. The time-frame of their departure could take up to five years, as one female is pregnant and not due to give birth until February 2013. Likely, once born, they will not relocate the group to another zoo until the baby is at least four-years-old. The elephants will go away one day, but the $11-million, taxpayer-funded building will remain and house a new species. The zoo anticipates continuing the focus on an Asian theme, with animals that are better suited to the climate of Calgary. Hopefully, with keeping in line of the Asian theme and culture, the beautiful, carefree, and loving Ganesh statue will remain the gatekeeper of the exhibit and for all visitors to enjoy.
Click here to view the stone dancing Ganesh statue

Stone Hindu God Ganesh Statue

Dancing Ganesh Stone Statue

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