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Ganesh Chaturthi is now well underway – a ten day festival which sees one of India’s greatest deities celebrated and culminates with his immersion in the sea.

To understand who Ganesha was and how he was created I will adapt his story, purely because mythology is based around an oral culture and thus the story must be colloquial to my perceived audience. In no way is this out of disrespect to the Lord himself, but out of respect to him and the traditions of story telling.

Ganesha or Ganpati is the elephant headed lord from Peckham, South London. According to legend, Lord Shiva was busying himself away at war like activities. Fighting on the terraces – Millwall v Pompey or something like that. Now his missus, the old growler, ‘er indoors, Parvati, being a tidy sort of squeeze wanted to take some quality bath time. A few candles, bubble bath, Mills and Boom – you picture the scene.

However, she didn’t have anyone to guard her chambers. That’s a posh word for avocado bath suite. So guess what she goes up and does, she only conceives herself a son, for this soul purpose. No Securicor bill, nothing.

Anyway Shiva, pretty riled up from throwing plastic patio chairs, returns home. Forecourt flowers in hand, he fancies a bit of slap and tickle with the missus. But, what’s this, “who is this surly geeza at me missus’s avocado coloured chambers” thinks Shiva lord god of resolution “I’m gonna have myself some resolution here”. So he promptly cuts his brown bread clean off.

Parvati clambers out of her corner bath; pissed that she has been disturbed from page 86 of the Mills and Boom, a page of great sexual insight if you know what I mean;only to discover her newly created son headless. “Feckin ‘ell, where’s ‘is feckin ‘ead – don’t even think ’em feckin’ flowers going to get you out of this one Shiva me lad” she cries.

She is right moody and takes on the form of the Goddess Kali and only goes of and threatens destruction to the three worlds Heaven, Earth and subterranean earth. That’s Rock Steddie Eddie’s cafe, man what sells plants down the market and Stockwell tube to you and me.

Shiva, knowing that she is off on one and realising that it will take him weeks of getting it in the neck, thinks “I better resolve this.” So he sends out his ganas or hordes to the north (direction of wisdom, well Peckham Library) to bring back the head of the of the first living thing they come across.

It being a Sunday morning, living things are few and far between in Peckham, so anyways he’s hanging around, smoking a fag, when the hordes rock up. “What the bloody hell is that.” “An elephant’s head my lord” reply the hordes. “Well I can see its a bloomin elephant’s head can’t I……Couldn’t you have found something smaller” cries Shiva, stubbing out his Marlborough light. “Well it just ‘appens that there was an elephant 20 yards down the road, the owner was none too happy” reply the hordes. “Well stick the thing on that headless body over there, the missus is right on one, stuff about heaven, Earth and the subterranean, I am not going to see any action for weeks less we resolve this”.

So the hordes place the head on the lifeless body and Shiva blows life into him. Parvati is over the moon. The hordes cheer. Shiva names him Ganesha lord of his ganas. Problem solved. And so the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune is born. Dealing with the DHS and family benefits though is completely another story.

And so the celebration of Ganesha Chaturthi is there to celebrate the day when Lord Ganesha is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all of his devotees.

An interesting point is that the festival, a private event in people’s homes, got made into a public event in 1893 by Lokmanya Tilak, an Indian nationalist. He used the event to bond and build unity between all castes against a common enemy, you guessed it the British empire. It was a way of bringing people together when the British had banned all social and political gatherings to exercise control over the population.

For ten days the festival continues, with small statues in homes and larger ones in community areas or brightly decorated mantapas. A ritual of chanting, mantras and offerings is made. Then on various days, but most notably the last day, the statues are taken to the sea and immersed. And here is where they are left.

More stories of deities and historical figures in contemporary context to come.

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