You will be delighted to know that India is famous not just for snake charmers, peacocks, Basmati rice, and super spicy curry, but it is also famous for its stories, for its ancient mythology that is sprinkled with colorful, royal, brave, and mysterious characters. The incidents described in Indian mythology took place in the Sat-yuga, Treta-yuga, and Dwapara-yuga. In these yugas gods, demons, humans, wise men, maharishis, and animals walked on the earth with ease, and with equal ease, they could shape-shift from one form of being to another. They could also produce progeny that could be half human-half god, half human-half demon, or half god-half demon, and so on. These stories have left an indelible mark on the minds of every Indian.
Even now, in the Kali-yuga, millions of Indians name their children after the mythological characters of Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, Ram, Lakshman, Karthik, Krishna, Balaram, Lakshmi, Parvati, Saraswati, Durga, Radha, and so on. All these names come from the mythological stories, and even today these gods and goddesses are worshiped in homes and temples all across the length and breadth of India. Similarly, there are many towns, cities, and villages that get their names from locations described in mythology. In some quarters, it is believed that the mythology of India is her history, and this rich history has shaped the culture, code of conduct, society, religion, and language of the country. However, this history is so ancient and the events took place so many, many thousands of years ago that presently, these events are considered “stories.”
As long as I lived in India (where I was born and raised) staying immersed in mythological stories was quite natural, normal, and easy for me. When I moved to the USA to start a family, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the Westerners were quite intrigued by deities like Ganesh, Shiva, and Ganga. They could often make out that I am a Hindu Indian and that encouraged them to ask me questions about the gods and goddesses worshiped in India. In supermarkets and farmers’ markets, gas stations and bus stations, libraries and schools, in airplanes and trains, these curious people presented their questions to me.
This unique experience of fielding questions from complete strangers prompted me to write stories about the mythological characters. For this work, I studied the sacred epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana and texts like the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Bhagawatam, Shiva Purana, and Vishnu Purana. I also realized that all the stories that my Mother had told me in my childhood were fresh in my mind. In my childhood, after school, my four older sisters, my older brother, and I did our homework quickly, ate our supper very quickly, and then gathered every evening around our Mother for our story time. She read books to us. She sang large portions of the epics in her sweet and melodious voice, and we sang along with her. As a story teller par-excellence, she regaled us for hours every evening. She was our one and only source of entertainment.
After narrating the stories, she would encourage us to express our point of view and the take-home message for any character we liked or disliked. Without dictating, she wanted us to draw our own conclusions and learn the lessons we needed to learn about the spiritual, social, cultural, ethical, and practical messages conveyed by the mythological characters. I still fondly recall evenings spent on my Mother’s lap listening to stories, and for this unique, electronics-free time, I am profoundly grateful to my first teacher, my Mother. With this personal experience and background, I found that the inspiration for writing stories about the life of the mythological characters came naturally to me.
At the end of every story, significant aspects of the main character are discussed. These stories from India encourage us to seek truth and higher ideals. The characters from these stories tell us how to distinguish between right and wrong, generosity and selfishness, forgiveness and revenge, fear and bravery, weakness and power, demanding and praying, seriousness and playfulness, laziness and industriousness, distraction and focus. When we or our children read these stories--with care and attention--and we try to understand the depth and wisdom of these characters, then our own tendencies and character improve and we become better. These mythological stories from India also convey the essence of India as expressed in the phrases “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam,” the whole world is a family, and “Satyameva Jayate,” only truth wins.
For the present and future of children all over the world, I have written these stories, and I dedicate this book to children with much love.
Vatsala Sperling, MS, PhD, PDHom, CCH, RSHom
How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head
This is the story of Ganesh, a very odd-looking and wonderful god. If you were to visit India, you would be sure to see countless little roadside temples built for him in every village and town. And in those temples you would find bowls of sugarcane, fruit, milk, peanuts, and coconuts--and perhaps, some nice, freshly cut hay! For Ganesh has the body of a chubby little boy, but the head of a baby elephant, and people like to give him the goodies that baby elephants love the best.
Ganesh is known as the god who removes obstacles. Many Hindus ask for his blessing before beginning any undertaking, be it something as big as getting married, or something as small as planting a single seed. Ganesh makes wishes come true--if they are good wishes--and helps people find a way around their difficulties.
You are probably wondering how in the world a little boy wound up with the head of a baby elephant, and what in the world gives him so much power to make things go right. Like Ganesh himself, the story is strange and wonderful. Listen carefully, and I’ll tell it to you.