Once upon a time the god Shiva was called away from home for a very long time. His wife Parvati became quite lonely in his absence and decided to create a child to keep her company. Using her perspiration to moisten the earth, she fashioned a boy from the mixture. Parvati and her son spent every moment together.
One morning Parvati decided to go for a bath, and instructed her son to guard their home. She told him not to allow anyone to enter. Her son dutifully stood at the gate and watched over the home. It was then that Shiva returned from his journey only. Naturally he didn’t recognize his son, because he’s been created in Shiva’s absence. When the boy refused to allow him to enter, Shiva severed the boy’s head.
Parvati emerged and was horrified at what her husband had done. She cried in grief and explained how she had created the boy from her own sweat. Shiva was filled with regret. He promised Parvati that he would restore the boy to life. Shiva then went from the home, determined to bring back a head for his son. The first creature he encountered was an elephant, so he killed the animal and brought the head home. He fused the elephant’s head to his son’s body, reanimating the boy.
The son of Parvati and Shiva was called Ganesh. This beloved elephant-headed deity is the god of wisdom, good fortune, and auspicious beginnings. His name is invoked at pujas before any new project. The likeness of Ganesh adorns many Indian homes.
This week marks the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of Ganesh. Many Hindus bring a statue of Ganesh (Ganpati) into their homes, a symbol of welcoming good fortune and wisdom. Families perform daily pujas and welcome guests who come to acknowledge the presence of the god at home. The puja period may last longer than a week, at the end of which the family releases the god by submerging the statue in the sea. Many communities perform the puja and submersion in public spaces.