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How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head

Illustrated by Pieter Weltevrede
Published by Bear Cub Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

The magical story of how Ganesh, the son of Shiva and Parvati, was brought back to life with the head of an elephant

• The story of one of the most beloved characters in Indian lore, made accessible for Western children

• Illustrated throughout with paintings from the classic Indian tradition

Any Indian child can tell you how the beloved god Ganesh got his elephant’s head--now American children can know as well. For centuries Indian children have grown up hearing Ganesh’s story--how his mother, Parvati (an incarnation of the great mother goddess), created a small boy from sandalwood soap and commanded that he guard the palace against all intruders while she took her bath. How her husband, Shiva (the fearsome god of destruction), didn’t take kindly to being barred from his own home. How Shiva beheaded the boy during the cosmic war that followed, but then, when he realized that the balance of the entire universe was at stake, brought the boy back to life by grafting an elephant’s head onto his body and made him the people’s intercessor against the powers of destruction.

Ganesh’s timeless story teaches children about the steadfast power of dedication to duty, the awe-inspiring power of a mother’s love for her child, and the gentle power of compassion, which holds the world together. Accompanied by rich, color illustrations prepared according to the traditional Hindu canon, How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head will transport children to a magical world filled with ancient wisdom.

Shiva, God of Destruction, was married to the beautiful mother goddess Parvati. He loved his wife deeply and passionately but he cared nothing for the schedules or dress codes or manners of a household. Clad in a tiger skin, with serpents coiled around his waist and shoulders, and a crescent moon tucked in his long, matted hair, he roamed the wilderness for weeks at a time, with nothing but animals for company.

Parvati loved Shiva anyway, just the way he was. When he appeared unexpectedly at all hours of the day or night, she would welcome him patiently. She tried not to complain about his long absences, his abrupt departures, his unruly ways. The only time she protested was when he interrupted her in her bath. "Shiva," she would cry in exasperation, "have you no respect for privacy? Please, leave me in peace!"

One afternoon after a long day of household duties, Parvati lay soaking in warm tub. Shiva had been gone for weeks. When would she see him next? Would he burst through the door right then and there? The thought of him barging in so rudely made her cranky.

“I know!" she thought. “I'll make myself a little figure of a boy to guard the door." She hopped out of the tub and found a bail of modeling clay With deft fingers she fashioned a head, a cute button nose, big eyes. Working quickly, she gave the child sturdy legs and arms. Really, it looked quite lifelike!

She took a breath, and blew gently all over it. Something stirred in her hand. Suddenly a little boy sprang forth, as strong and handsome as could be. He jumped lightly to the floor and turned to face her. "Dear Mother," the boy said to her, "now that I am here, what can I do to help?"

"Dear son! Please, just stand at the door while I finish my bath, and do not let anyone in." She gave him a little wand to hold. "Here," she said with a smile. "Just wave this at anyone who tries to enter."

The little boy was proud and pleased. He had no idea that Parvati was a goddess or that the stick in his hand was magic. He was happy just to march back and forth, wand in his hand like a baton, prepared to stop anyone who tried to disturb his newfound mother. And so, when Shiva, true to form, strode up to the door, he found a sturdy youngster with a strong voice and determined eyes barring his way.

"Entry denied, sir!" said the boy.

Shiva was puzzled. Who was this child? And why was he, Lord Shiva, God of Destruction, experiencing such difficulty getting past him? He found he couldn't even step forward toward the door! There was some strange, powerful force keeping him hack. As usual, however, he was in a hurry to return to the forest, so he asked his pet bull, Nandi, to investigate for him. The bull, backed up by Shiva's helpers, a band of ruffians called the Shivaganas, lowered his long horns to attack. But the brave little boy waved his wand, once, twice, thrice--and before they knew it, Nandi and his cohorts were in full retreat. They were mortified. This was the very first time anyone had dared to stand up to them. And worse yet, they had been defeated by a pudgy little boy!

They found Shiva wandering in the forest. "I'm sorry, Lord Shiva." Nandi said, hanging his great head in shame. "The boy just waved his wand! We could not advance. It must have been very powerful magic!"

Harish Johari (1934-1999) was a distinguished North Indian author, Tantric scholar, poet, musician, composer, artist, and gemologist who held degrees in philosophy and literature and made it his life's work to introduce the culture of his homeland to the West.
Here is a hot link to a web site dedicated to Harish Johari's work that was set up by his students.

Vatsala Sperling, Ph.D., fluent in a number of Indian languages and Sanskrit, learned these traditional stories at her mother’s feet and enjoys introducing them to children of the Western world. Before marrying and moving to the United States, she was the chief of Clinical Microbiological Services at the largest children’s hospital in India. The author of Classic Tales from India, she lives in Vermont with her husband and son.

Pieter Weltevrede began his artistic studies with Harish Johari in 1977 and also studied with Shri Chandra Bal. He lives in the Netherlands with his wife and two children and travels to India annually.

  • Publisher: Bear Cub Books (October 8, 2003)
  • Length: 32 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781591430216

"Ganesh's timeless story teaches children about the power of dedication to duty, and how compassion holds the world together."

– AZNetNews, December-January 2004

". . . a beautiful retelling of a classic Indian tale."

– In the Library Reviews, May 8, 2005

"Entertaining, enjoyable, and clearly written. . . . will share with readers very important themes in Hindu culture."

–, Oct 21, 2005

"Although this book is meant for children aged 6 - 9, my daughter and I have enjoyed this book immensely. It is a very entertaining story with great introduction to Indian Gods. . . . I'll definitely be buying more children's books by these authors."

– Amanda Bugeaud, Timeless Spirit Magazine, July 2007

"The story embodies ancient and magical themes that are not common in Western literature."

– Spirit of Change, May/June 2004

More books from this illustrator: Pieter Weltevrede