The Divine Mother looked at the sun rising from her palace on mount Kailash. The sun god always paid a humble salutation to the timeless Lord Shiva before beginning his journey every day. The gentle beams of the sun caressed the top of the proud peaks that jutted from the bosom of mother earth. Ma Parvathi smiled as she saw the clouds clinging to the cliffs of Kailash while the wind tried to hustle them along.
She closed her eyes and felt the whole mountain range gently vibrate. The frequency of the vibration never changed. Very few beings could sense it, and almost nobody could identify it. She started rocking gently, and “OM” started resonating in her consciousness. The word filled every pore of her body, and if she did not hold back, she would be lost in its vibrations for eternity. She gathered her consciousness and opened her eyes. Today was a special day. Shiva – her spouse- the eternal yogi was coming back to Kailash today. Mother Parvati wanted to bathe and get ready to welcome the lord home. She mentally summoned Nandi – the head of Shiva’s ganas – and ordered him to guard the gate while she got ready. She explicitly asked him not to allow anyone inside. Nandi dutifully went to the gate and stood guard.
Mother walked down from her bedroom to the serene lake lapping the steps of her palace. A bowl of sandalwood paste and a bottle of jasmine essence rested on the steps as mother slipped off her robes and glided into the water. The water sparkled around her and clung to her divine presence as she gently scrubbed herself. She crooned a song about the magnificence of her blue-throated god and closed her eyes, experiencing the most profound state of bliss. She could sense her body, the individual droplets of water, the lake, the mountain, and the entire universe rhythmically sway to her tune. Suddenly she felt her bliss multiply infinitely, and her Ajna chakra throbbed. This only happened when Kailashnath – the master of mount Kailash was nearby. His very presence amplified the energy of every living and non-living entity around him.
Mother got out of the lake and gracefully climbed the steps of her palace. She started dressing up slowly, knowing that Nandi would never disobey her. She pleated her saree gracefully, applied kohl in her eyes, and dabbed some jasmine fragrance. She turned around to select a pearl nose ring and saw the blue-throated Mahadeva smiling at her from her bedroom door. She was startled and squealed with surprise. “You were supposed to stop outside. Didn’t Nandi stop you,” she murmured. His eyes lit up as he smiled. She could already feel herself getting lost in them. She had looked into them once and seen the creation and destruction of the whole universe. Today, there were shining like two black holes absorbing every bit of light from the room. “I am Mahakala,” her lord replied, smiling quizzically. “How can he stop me?”
Mother Parvati hid the tiny murmur of disappointment she felt in her heart and welcome her Mahamrityunjaya home by singing his aarti. Bholenath stayed for a while and then left for his next meditation sadhana.
Mother was lonely again. Nandi, her trusted companion, had left her down. She realized that his devotion would always be towards Lord Pashupati. She could not blame him for that. However, for the first time in eternity, she felt the need to have someone loyal to only her. He would be her champion in this world.
The next time the divine mother took a bath, she used the sandalwood and dead skin of her body to create a young boy’s sculpture. She spent an eternity crafting every single detail − an expansive torso, muscular arms, a handsome face, broad shoulders, and burly legs − she has built the perfect young boy. Mother stood back, admired her work – and sighed with satisfaction. She was ready. She closed her eyes, chanted a mantra, blew on the young boy, and watched as he came to life. Her son blinked, smiled at her, brought his hands together in a perfect namaskar, and bowed down. “How can I serve you, mother?” he asked in the sweetest of voices. “ I want you to guard the house,” mother whispered lovingly. “ “Don’t allow anyone inside till I instruct you.”
The boy nodded lovingly, bowed down, grabbed a staff from the weapons room, and marched out. He stood alone, his back straight like a rod, looking at a distance, without blinking. Surya Deva and his white horses slowed down every day to marvel as this young man who stood unblinking without water and food starting into infinity until one day the boy raised an eyebrow.
A deep hum with ever-increasing intensity started resonating off every single rock in the mountain. The boy’s eyes widened, and he dug his heels in. The vibrations were so strong that they were thrusting him backward, and he knew that even a momentary slip in focus would send him flying back into the palace. He closed his eyes, steadied his breath, and focused on the form of his mother. He saw her lotus eyes, her almond shape face, her divine smile and felt the strength in his body multiple infinitely.
He smiled and opened his eyes, ready to meet and, if necessary, challenge the first visitor to his mother’s palace. A man stood before him. His body seemed to be chiseled from granite. His feet were firmly planted in the ground, and the mountain itself seemed to sink under his weight. He carried a double-sided axe, which seemed sharp enough to cleave the mountain into small pieces. When he opened his mouth to speak, Ganesh was surprised by the gentle tenderness in his voice.
“Who are you, child, and why do you stand outside the house of Someshwara? Do you have a message for him? Quickly deliver it and go. Mahadeva is not even a Yojana away”.
Nandi’s gentle smile turned into a scowl when the boy gazed expressionlessly into his eyes. The faint anger he felt was mixed with a trace of awe. Most people could not meet Nandi’s eye because his face kept alternating between a human and a bull.
“I need you to step away now,” Nandi said, infusing urgency into his voice because he could feel that Natraja had covered half a yojana in a few steps.
When the boy did not respond, Nandi extended his hand to remove him forcefully. The boy gently raised his staff, blocked Nandi’s arm, and used his other hand to push Nandi back. Nandi gasped in surprise as he flew back in a parabolic arc and crashed into a host of ganas that accompanied Shiva.
The gentle cacophony of birds and animals, the gurgle of the river, and all the other sounds that sprang from Mount Kailash suddenly died out. The only thing the boy could hear was a feral roar as a host of ganas descended on him. Men or rather creatures of all shapes and sizes, bearing an assortment of weapons attacked in a coordinated flurry that would have petrified the bravest armies of devaloka. The boy grimly smiled and swung his staff in an oval arc around his body. His hands went high over his head, dropped diagonally across his chest, and rose again in a clockwise motion. This simple action was repeated at such speed that blur of staff was all the ganas could see as it knocked them senseless. In just a few seconds, the roar of the ganas was replaced by moans, groans, and crunches of bones being shattered. The universe itself seemed to be revolving around the boy’s staff as the ganas saw miniature suns, planets, and asteroids, get created and destroyed as the boy kept revolving his staff.
This is the scene Lord Pashupathi witnessed as he climbed up the final bends of Mount Kailash.
The boy who barely perceived the ganas suddenly felt a gradual paralysis taking over his body. His arms movements slowed down, his breathing became heavy, and his forehead was throbbing. He barely witnessed the trident as it cut through the miniature universe, the sun, the planets, and the staff itself. He barely felt the trident as it touched his neck and beheaded him. He smiled as he uttered his mother’s name. He had fulfilled his duty to his last breath.
The next time he wore up, he felt different. A mindful calmness had replaced the youthful anger, the eyes seemed to see much further, and the smells seemed amplified. He could smell sandalwood, jasmine, and a gentle fragrance that reminded him of lilies that grew in the valley adjacent to the palace. This was strange because he had seen them from afar as he guarded the palace gates but never smelt them.
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As he opened his eyes fully saw his mother smiling at and next to her stood Bhairava. He could see how his mother looked at the man to realize who he was. The boy bowed his hands and lowered his head. His head seemed bigger and heavier. His parents smiled, and his mother said, “Rise, my son Ganesha.” He would also be called Gajanan, Ekdanta, and Vinayaka, among other names, but he always loved Ganesha.
Nandi told him later how mother had descended the palace steps just in time to see the lord Pashupati sever his head. A single tear rolled down her cheek and rolled down the steps to splash at Mahadeva’s feet. He gazed up at her blazing eyes and, in the deathly silence, understood everything that had transpired. A flick of a finger summoned the Lord Bramha, who accompanied the ganas to find a suitable replacement for a severed head. They returned with a baby elephant’s head, which Mahadev palaced on him as he chanted a single mantra. They say the remnants of that manta still resonates in the universe, and any true Yogi can hear snatches of it at Mahashivratri.
Ganesha heard Nandi’s story and looked at his reflection on the Mansarovar lake. He could still see himself in the same form as the divine mother created him, but everyone else seemed to see an elephant’s head. He smiled, shrugged, and walked back to the palace to meet his mother.
The Hidden Meaning of the Story
I wrote this story inspired by a talk from my guru Om Swami. In this section, I have transcribed his explanation of this Pauranic story.
Many of us have questions when they hear Lord Ganesha’s story. Why would Lord Shiva – the divine yogi – the one who knew everything in the universe – cut off his own son’s head? Why would he replace it with an elephant’s head?
Do you know that our Pauranic stories were never meant to be written down? Our Gurus would teach these stories in their gurukuls and discuss the hidden meaning behind these stories. Let’s learn about the hidden meaning of this story.
Parvati, the divine mother, made Ganesha from her dead skin, which is residue. The residue signifies desires that you cannot abandon. This residue becomes the greatest barrier that stops you from realizing your true potential. The storyteller tells you that since mother divine created Ganesha from her residue, she is attached to him. To destroy those attachments, you need the help of a great yogi such as Shiva – the first and the greatest yogi. A Yogi does not destroy actually destroy attachments because attachments are a form of energy. Lord Shiva could have transformed Ganesha into ashes, but if you turn energy into ashes, you will have nothing to work it. Hence, Lord Shiva destroyed Ganesha with a trident. A trident has three heads representing three modes of material energy – Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. You need to use all three modes of energy to understand your attachments and get rid of them. Lord Shiva cut off the head because that’s where all our attachments and desires are rooted.
Lord Shiva discovers that he actually needs Ganesha to keep the divine mother happy after cutting off the head. It’s symbolic because the author tells you that every human being has both masculine and feminine energy − a perfect balance of emotion and logic. You need to balance both energies to lead a happy life.
Lord Shiva placates the divine mother by placing an elephant’s head because the elephant depicts mindfulness in our scriptures. When we are mindful, then passions and desires cannot overcome us. We can transform them into productive energy and achieve our goals. That’s why Ganesha is worshiped before you start any task. You are praying to him to be mindful of all your actions and find success in your endeavors.