We are all familiar with the popular myths around the birth of Ganesha and his elephant head, but here is one that is not often told.
One day, after her daily bathing ritual, Parvati threw the water used to wash herself in the river Ganga. This water was consumed by the elephant-goddess, Malini who, not aware of the power of Parvati’s bath-water, was unaware of the consequences of her action. But she soon realised when she conceived immediately after consuming the water and gave birth to a boy with five elephant heads.
Upon learning about the birth of such a child, Parvati went to the banks of the river Ganga. She saw Malini with the child. The child was wailing and Malini was trying to soothe him. Parvati felt that there was something amiss and asked her how she got the child. Malini confessed that she had conceived it out of Parvati’s bath-water. Parvati immediately staked claim to the boy saying since the child was born out of her dirt, the child is hers.
Not wanting an argument, Malini was about to hand over her boy when Ganga emerged from the waters and claimed that the child was hers. It was through her waters that the dirt was transported into Malini and thus she too had a claim on the child. This led to an argument and none wanted to move from her position. Needless to say Malini had no say in the matter, even though she had given birth to the child.
The matter was taken to Shiva for arbitration. Now he was close to both Parvati and Ganga and asked both lay out the arguments in favour of their custodianship of the child. The entire argument was repeated and Ganga started to explain how she was the rightful mother as she had carried Parvati’s dirt through her waters into Malini.
While the arguments went back and forth, Shiva was caught in a bind over the two women. He did not want to anger either and was taking his time coming to a decision. Parvati was increasingly getting angry at the slow pace of the proceedings and she took control of the entire gathering and said that it was from her dirt and thus the child was from her flesh and where was the confusion at all.
Shiva proclaimed that the boy with the five elephant heads was indeed Parvati’s child and thus it was decided that the child would stay with Parvati. He also merged the five heads into one and named the child Vignesha.
This is an interesting story that omits the beheading of the child and the further beheading of an elephant to give the head to Ganesha. Also, the elephant head is explained very simply by making Ganesha the child of the elephant-goddess Malini, but staying true to the original story of Ganesha being born out of the dirt of Parvati. What is also interesting is that nowhere do we have Malini claim the child, though she gives birth to the child.
Story Collected By: Utkarsh Patel
Source: Vayu Purana
Image: Original pata-chitra scroll painting Ganesha