The delightful feminism behind Ganesha’s birth

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Ganesh Chathurthi aka Ganesha Habba invokes the usual reverential cliches from devotees—remover of obstacles, provider of solace, omen of good hope, etc. The media, too, can scarcely go beyond amplifying the established caricature of a playful and potbellied but elastic l’il fella.

USHA K.R., the Bangalore-based writer whose book A Girl and a River won the Crossword Prize in 2007 and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize last year, provides a welcome (feminist) edge to the debate, in Deccan Herald:

“When I grew older and outgrew my childhood need for instant gratification and entered the world of ideas and ideology, I was delighted to find Feminism right in my backyard — the Feminist twist to the creation of Ganesha was most satisfying. Here was Parvati indulging in the most homely of activities, having a bath, and she needed someone to guard the door to her inner chambers while she bathed. And who could be more trustworthy to perform this task than her own son. So, combining the resourcefulness and the literal mind of a housewife with the nonchalance of a Goddess, she brought forth a child from her own body. No natal complications here — she simply scraped off the dirt and the sweat and the pre-bath unguents she had plastered over herself, and fashioned a little boy as if out of plasticine. Then, she breathed life into him and set him by her door, asking him not to let anyone in till she was done. And the boy did just that, with a single mindedness and valour that would bring a secret gladness to every mother’s heart.

“When Shiva arrived just then, after his many wanderings, (with the unerringly bad sense of timing that husbands have, even when they are Gods) and demanded to be let into his wife’s inner chambers, the boy said, Who are you? I recognise only my mother! But I am the Lord of the World, Shiva begged. Nobody says no to me. At which the boy reached for his weapons.

“When Parvati emerged from her bath, she found the world a-tremble, her lord perspiring, stretched in battle, while her newly-born son lay beheaded on the ground. What have you done, she cried. Restore my son to life at once. At which Shiva, instead of saying — What son? Pray how did you come by an eight-year-old so suddenly — was immediately contrite and sent his assistants in haste to return with the first life form that crossed their path.

“They came back with the head of an elephant (Shiva, of course, gave the elephant a new head, as my mother was always careful to tell me) which was fixed on the boy’s head, and there sprang to life Ganesha! But he looks so funny, people will laugh at my son, Parvati persisted, pushing her luck. Then I will make sure he is worshipped first, before all other Gods, Shiva, the good husband, said. And to make sure, he decreed that Ganesha would be Vighneshwara, the remover of obstacles, who would have to be propitiated first, before people ventured on anything.”

Read the full article: Bringing home hope

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News; The Hindu

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