eliot & drew bike through india for 3 months, trying to inconspicuously do some good in the world.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

sticks and stones

you've probably seen / made fun of this guy:

that's Ganesh and, point of fact, a super-important deity in hinduism.  hinduism's gods are amazing both in number and depth of meaning.  you know how christians have that the big guy and his kid and a ghost that want you to be nice to each other and help the poor?  Hindus have like 3 million more, including this guy who is fat and has an elephant's head. But i'm getting ahead of myself.

for now what you need to know is that there are alot of stories as to how ol pachyderm-head got that way.  the most widespread one is that Parvati (the embodiment of feminine Shaki - man this is going to get complicated. Look, for now just think of Shakti like the Force from Star Wars, okay?) got it on with Shiva (lord of destruction - not necessarily a bad thing) and the offspring was Ganesh.  Later on, Parvati self-immolated out of shame because her dad, Daksha, did not approve of her marriage.  Shiva got bummed out and lost interest in worldly matters (and took up drinking) (not really) (maybe?).

Anyway, one day Ganesh came between Mom and Pop and Shiva lopped his noodle off. It's up to interpretation but there is an implication of Oedipal son-lovin' going on here.  In another version, Parvati keeps Ganesh secret from Shiva so he doesn't recognize him and think he's a would-be usurper to Parvati's love - reverse Oedipal style! Anyway, Shiva feels bad about killing his kid so he brings him back to life (MAGIC!) and then replaces his head with that of an elephant because "that's all he could find." I find it hard to believe that a guy who can bring people back from the dead and destroy the whole universe can't find a human head for his own kid but, you know, whatever. In other stories it's Vishnu, the four-handed blue-skinned god of preservation who finds the elephant head.

In a totally different version, Shiva laughed so hard that Ganesh came flying out of his belly.  Shiva thought he was too pretty looking so he gave him a big belly and an elephant head to spite him.  Shiva is a jerk, apparently.

In what is undoubtably the BEST version of the story, Parvati is showing off her baby to the other gods and Saturn accidentally looks at him with HIS LASER BLASTING EYES and blows up his head. I am not making this up.

Anyway, so then Ganesh had an Elephant head, which is SUPPOSED to look silly.  This is really important.  See, Ganesh is seen as the friend of businessmen (and travellers!) because he is "The Remover of Obstacles." He's also the "Lord of Beginnings" and people envoke his name at the beginning of everything from long trips to religious ceremonies. He starts things off and makes sure things go smoothly, in other words.

Why? Well, much like the western popularized "Elephant Man", Ganesh got dealt a crummy hand - smoked by his own dad and made into a freak of nature (or blown up by some random dude's laser vision, take your pick).  Originally his name meant "one tusk" because his other one got broken off.  So from the start, Ganesh has been an ugly, fat, broken dude. But Ganesh kept it cool and went on with life because he's got a good outlook.

Incidentally, most of the Gods in Hinduism come with a  mount (or "vehicle" - just like M.A.S.K.! ), and usually (like in other mythologies) this is their faithful companion and helper. There are awesome dogs, tigers, even birds and dragons. Ganesh? He has a rat.  Rats are thieves, scavengers and disease-carrying little hairballs, right? Yup, just like elephant-headed gods can't possible be taken seriously. See, in Hinduism everyone has vighna or an impediment they need to get over. Ganesh has an elephant head.  Rat-Dude has a bad rep. Deep down, their both just who they are, greater than their reputations and just working through their karma, regardless of what people say or think. 

See, Ganesh is all about getting over and around things. Somebody blows your head off, don't sweat it.  Trouble at work with your boss? Keep it cool, baby.  Blow a tire on a poorly-maintained Indian road? Time to put a spare on and keep trucking.  Trying to find enlightenment (or reach salvation)  by reading stuffy old books, falling on your knees and staring at your navel?

Check out the goofy elephant-headed god; maybe you're taking things too seriously.


  1. Serve it up, nice and hot.

    Maybe things aren't as bad as you thought.

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3q-hWEaQMRc&feature=PlayList&p=E7455D5A7DBC8909&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=20