There are many auspicious days pooja (prayers), fasting & festivals in the Hindu (religious) calendar. Today is one of them.
It is called `Vinayahar Sathurthi’ where Vonayagar is one of the names for the Elephant-headed Hindu God, also known as Ganesh and Pillayar. Sathurthi’s are special days that happen every month, but the one on this month is the most sacred of all, and belongs to God Ganesh.
Myth of the Elephant-headed God Ganesh.
Ganesh, son of Parvathi (Shakthi) and Shiva (in a manner of speaking) was not born with the elephant head! That came later. He was originally born as a human. Born is the wrong word, as he was `made’ or created by his mother – the great Goddess Shakthi (which means `power’ amongst other things).
The mythology goes that Shakthi was fed up of being intruded by her husband the God Shiva, whenever Shakthi was taking her bath (and he would just walk in). So she set a guard outside. But when the Lord Shiva came through, the guard was hesitant and did not stop him. How could he stop Shiva, who was not only the husband of Parvathi, but also the god of all gods?
Realising that she needs a guard who will not falter, Parvathi set about creating a statue of a boy, using her own skin fragments as clay! She brought this to life (she is Goddess!) and asked him to guard her privacy, and let none through. And so that is what the boy did – when Shiva tried to enter the Chambers.
Initially Shiva’s attempts to talk his way through failed, so he escalated his efforts with force. But the boy was powerful enough to stand against that. Eventually Shiva had to call in all the other gods.. Brahma (the Creator god), Vishnu (the protector God) and more. All joined forces and the conflict became a big battle of magic. The boy defeated all their efforts, and still stood firm. In the end, using diverting tactics, the gods cut the boy’s head off! And rejoiced!
When Parvathi heard this, she was intensely angered. Out of her anger came two fierce war goddesses – Durga and Kali, and they began to destroy not only the gods, but the worlds!
The other gods pleaded with Parvathi for mercy. And she request that her Son be brought back to life! (and Shiva realised who the boy must have been..!) But as the head was missing, Shiva told the others to go in a direction, and bring back the head of the first animal they see. So the other gods travel, and find an elephant, ad brought its head – which Lord Shiva fixed to the headless boy, and brought him back to life. (It often bothers me that the Gods would go kill an innocent animal, but wold mythologies are full of all sorts of such violent acts by the gods!)
Shiva then takes the resurrected boy to his wife Parvathi, and she was semi-pleased. Shiva then proclaimed to all the worlds – that the first prayer in any ceremony or ritual should always go towards the boy, named Ganesh,
This is seen in any hindu ritual to date. People spend the first few minutes or seconds praying to God Ganesh. Sometimes they have images, in other cases, they use `Saani’ (the dung of a sacred cow!) or Tumeric powder-paste to make a small cone, and stick a sacred grass in it. This is treated as a divine symbol of Ganesh, and first prayers and respects are given, before proceeding with the main purpose of any pooja or festivities.
related link. Elephantom Origins – new story by Mani Navasothy