Ancient Stories, Modern Telling: How Ganesha Got His Elephant Head

As far as Western yoga strays from the path of tradition, teachers still drop polysyllabic Sanskrit bombs in class like a casual sneeze. Even in modern practices, poses and pose names owe their origin to the ancient language and history of yoga. In fact, yoga shares some of the same foundational texts of Hinduism. This isn't to say yoga is a religious practice, just a really old one. And what's something ancient without a little mythology? With that, we give you: How Ganesha Got His Elephant Head. 


Ganesha is the elephant-headed god of the present and a mover of obstacles. He is the older of two sons. He's smarter (maybe even the god of wisdom), a lil' more sly, and a good bit chubbier. Any depiction of Ganesha shows one of his four arms holding sweets... in the picture above, it's a basket of them. The kid loves cake like a fat kid loves cake. He also rides around on a mouse, because they're basically zero-carbon emission. You can see his magic mouse in the corner. 

ANYWAY, Ganesha didn't always have an elephant head. He had a "normal" head. Not that I have any idea what a normal deity looks like. His parents are Shiva, "The Auspicious One." The Destroyer, with a Capital D. Then there's Parvati, the goddess of divine creativity. Very low-key childhood.

 Power couple, obviously (via  Pinterest )

Power couple, obviously (via Pinterest)

So one day, Ganesha and his mom, Parvati, are chillin' at home on Mt. Kailash, when she says, "I need a spa day... bath time." She was not kidding about the R&R, so she told Ganesha, "Guard the door like a Do Not Disturb sign."

All this time, Shiva had been off doing warrior things with his army. However, he decided to come home while Ganesha was standing guard the door.

"Move, boy," Shiva says to Ganesha.

"Sorry, can't let you in. Mom's takin' a bath," replied Ganesha. 

"Are you kidding?" says Shiva, getting totally and immediately royally pissed. He sent his army to remove Ganesha, but being no ordinary boy, he had no trouble fighting them off.

"Sorry, mom said no one could come in." Ganesha replied casually. 

"Who is this twerp throwing shade in front of my entire crew?" thought Shiva. And with that, he lopped off Ganesha's head.

 It's all going down on Mt. Kailash in Tibet (via  Pinterest )

It's all going down on Mt. Kailash in Tibet (via Pinterest)

How dare some kid try to embarrass the Lord Shiva in front of his whole clique? "Not today, hell nah..." Shiva thought. 

Hearing the commotion, Parvati leapt from the bath to find her decapitated son at the feet of her husband. Having been away doing Destroyer god things for so long, Shiva didn't even realize what he'd done.

Being heartbroken and enraged, Parvati does the natural thing and FLIPS OUT.

She decides to destroy the entire Creation (with a Capital C) unless Ganesha can be brought back even better than he was before. Shiva, realizing there's no free pass on this one, sends his army out to find an elephant head to place onto Ganesha's body. Shiva breathed new life into Ganesha, and as a way of saying "honey, I'm sorry," to Parvati, made Ganesha the god to worship before all other gods.

 ...and everyone lived happily ever after (via  Pinterest )

...and everyone lived happily ever after (via Pinterest)


As my first teacher said, "There is the history, and there is the mystery, of yoga." This is just one of many renditions told about Ganesha... I like to think that the other existing versions of this story keep the mystery alive.