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The Mahabharata Series (cont.)
I was born full-grown from the dew of my mother’s body. We were alone, and Devi told me, “Guard the door. Let no one enter, because I’m going to take a bath.”
Then Shiva, whom I had never seen, came home. I would not let him into his own house.
“Who are you to stop me?” he raged.
And I told him, “No beggars here, so go away!”
“I may be half naked, ” he answered, “but all the world is mine, though I care not for it.”
“Then go drag about your world, but not Parvati’s mountain home! I am Shiva’s son, and guard this door for her with my life!”
“Well,” he said, “you are a great liar. Do you think I don’t know my own sons?”
“Foolishness!” I said. “I was only born today, but I know a rag picker when I see one. Now get on your way.”
He fixed his eyes on me and very calmly asked, “Will you let me in?”
“Ask no more!” I said.
“Then I shall not,” he replied, and with a sharp glance he cut off my head and threw it far away, beyond the Himalayas.
Devi ran out, crying, “You’ll never amount to anything! You’ve killed our son!” She bent over my body and wept. “What good are you for a husband? You wander away and leave me home to do all the work. Because you wander around dreaming all the time, we have to live in poverty with hardly enough to eat.”
The Lord of All the Worlds pacified her; looking around, the first head he saw happened to be an elephant’s, and he set it on my shoulders and restored me to life.
“Paravati was happy again, and that is how I first met my father,” said Ganesha, “long long ago.”
“Alright,” said Vyasa, “now I will begin.” And he began to tell his story to Ganesha, who wrote it on leaves.
William Buck’s “Mahabharata“, pgs 4-5
Explanations and notes follow.
The Mahabharata is told by Vyasa – one of the immortal saints of Hinduism. He choose Ganesh, the elephant-headed boy god, as his scribe (see Hindu Gods). This is the story tells how Ganesh got his elephant head.
Phrases Explained & Explored
1) “the dew of my mother’s body“
In some versions, Paravati forms Ganesh from her sandalwood soap and others from the dirt from her body. Either way, it was a virgin birth. Now, biologically, we know virgin births do happen – “parthenogenesis” . But in mythologies they are simply a vehicle to yell “special !” to the audience. The human mind works similar around the world.
- Ganesh (born from his mother’s slimy sweat)
- Buddha (born from his mother’s arm pit)
- Kabir (born from his mother’s palm) (see my post on Kabir)
- Perseus (Danae impregnated during the shower of gold by Zeus)
- Krishna (born of a virgin)
- Roman Emperor Augustus (mother impregnated by Apollo)
Taking a bit of a tangent, in the Mahabharata, there are even miracles where a woman, even after the carnal act, still have their virginity preserved. Draupadi, for example, marries the five Pandavas (heros later in the story) spent a nuptial night with each of the five brothers in turn and yet she was a virgin for each one of them. Here an intact hymen is what is alluded to. In villages in the past, to prove the virginity of a new wife, the blood stained sheets from a broken hymen are hung out after the wedding night. The red streak down a woman’s parted hair (Sindoor) is a symbol of marriage. I remember hearing that this implies the bleeding upon losing virginity. But all I could find on Wiki was that this is a sign of the Goddess or perhaps that since she now belongs to a man, blood will be shed if she is harmed.
Returning to our story, remember, using dirt to make living creatures is not an ungodly activity:
then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
-Gen 2:7 (NRSV)
Apparently even the word “Adam” is related to the Hebrew word for ground: אדםה (adamah) –> אדם (adam)
“Devi” means “Goddess” in Sanskrit. Ganesh is referring to his mother, Paravati. Paravati is the wife of Shiva, one of the three main Hindu gods. She is the most beautiful women in the world and because her husband (Shiva) was always meditating, far away in the Himalayas, she had many men coming to visit her. So she created Ganesh to guard her privacy.
The female aspect of the Divine is drastically important in Hinduism. This desire to preserve the female aspect of Divinity can be seen in Christian cults of Mary. Important here is the idea of a “god” in Hinduism as opposed to “God” in monotheistic religions. What can not be ignored, or flattened out, is that just as in the Hebrew culture, the notion of the Divine changed over time.
3) “No beggars here, so go away!”
—— “I may be half naked”
Shiva was an ascetic — he cared not for his appearance and thus had matted hair and often appeared to wear rags.
Moral: Do not let appearances deceive.
4) “with a sharp glance he cut off my head”
Shiva’s third eye, when opened fully, would destroy the world. In this story, it only twitches and cuts off Ganesh’s head. God’s use fire throughout all mythologies.
Morals of this Myth
- To teach the steadfast power of dedication to duty
- The awe-inspiring power of a mother’s love for her child
- The gentle power of compassion which holds the world together
Hindus look at their myths much like others. They can find great morals in spite of the negative elements in the story (murder, pride …). They value their old literature. I am curious how those who wrote them thought about them. Here is a site that gave the morals above.
Comparative Religion Summary
- Classical female attributes (compassion, love) are often captured in a religion by women playing roles as divine or heavenly roles. (Paravati and Mary)
- Myths may have complex unsavory elements yet believers see what they desire to value and let the myth speak for itself. Thus even the nonbeliever would benefit from expanding their hermeneutics (method of understanding text).
- Virginity or Miracle births are used to shout “Special” in all faiths
1) Buck, William. 1993. Mahabharata. Meridian Books.
2) Mazumdar, Subash. 1997. Mahabharata is Believable by Subash Mazumdar. Rutlege Books, Inc.