Cultures & Traditions

Ganesha

Shiva’s son Ganesha is the elephant-headed deity. He is a god who brings success and prosperity to his worshippers. He is the Lord of Obstacles, able to both place and remove them.

Today, Ganesha’s unusual anatomy is explained by the myth of his birth; however, it is likely he was originally a tribal animal totem absorbed into the larger Shaiva (worship of Shiva as supreme deity) tradition. In the most common story, Ganesha was created by Parvati from dirt on her legs as she washed. She animated the small model of the male figure she had made, bringing it to life as her son Ganesha. At the time of Ganesha’s “birth,” Shiva was away from home. When he arrived home from a long journey he became enraged when a young man unknown to him denied him entry to Parvati’s quarters. Not realizing the youth was his son, Shiva decapitated Ganesha. Parvati urged Shiva to correct his mistake. He replaced the head with that of the first being he met, an elephant, and Ganesha was returned to life.

Another equally common myth of Ganesha’s birth says that Parvati eventually talked Shiva into sleeping with her, and from that union Ganesha was born.

Images of Ganesha are located at the entrance to the shrine of the main deity. Ganesha must be propitiated first because he controls a positive or negative outcome. He can also place difficulties in the way of the smooth running of everyday activity. As a result of being the god of success and good luck, he has devotees in almost every household in India and is evoked by them upon waking every morning.

Adapted from

  • A. Levosky, DMA Unpublished material, 2014.

Web Resources

  • Khan Academy
    Watch a short video about the origin of the Hindu deity Ganesha.

  • YouTube
    Watch an animated short about the birth of Ganesha.