Hindu mythology is a timeless collection of folklore and legends from the many regions of India that have come down to us through an oral tradition. As a result,
they have evolved in many different forms and vary from household to household and region to region.
For example, there are several versions as to how Ganesha received an elephant’s head and why his right tusk is broken. In Maharashtra, Ganesha is depicted as
having two wives: Siddhi and Buddhi, while in Tamil Nadu he is an inveterate bachelor waiting for the perfect bride.
All Hindu deities have vahanams––means of transportation––who serve not only as conveyance but also to assist them in various ways. Shiva’s vahanam is the
bull, Nandi, Vishnu has the eagle/man, Garuda, the goddess Durga sits astride a lion or tiger, and Ganesha’s brother, Murugan, files a peacock. Ganesha’s
vahanam is Mushaka the mouse. In these stories, I use the word “assistant” to refer to vahanam, rather than the more awkward phrase “means of transportation”.
It must also be remembered that these legends originated in an era when conquests were glorified and heroism was measured on the battlefield. As such, they
contain a fair amount of aggression. In the original version of Ganesha’s birth, a fierce battle ensues between Parvati’s son and Shiva’s ganas (forest spirits) in
which a host of other gods participate until finally Shiva himself enters the foray and unceremoniously chops off the boy’s head with his mighty axe! Similarly,
Parvati seems to have no qualms about chopping off the elephant’s head for her son.
While such offhand aggression was passively accepted by previous generations, the current one now questions it. Many young mothers admit to me their
reluctance to tell children these stories because of the cruelty they contain. “Shiva chops off the little boy’s head! How can we teach our children non-violence if
the gods themselves behave so aggressively?” they ask.
Fortunately, oral tradition lends itself to modifications and the storyteller is allowed the prerogative to craft the stories in his/her own manner and according to
the audience. I have, therefore, rendered these stories in a gentler, less gruesome manner so that the children of this generation may continue to enjoy this integral
part of their heritage.
Born in India, Radhika has lived in Canada since 1974. She holds a PhD in Religious Studies and taught course on Hinduism at Carleton University and
University of Ottawa. She has now turned her interests to creative writing.
Radhika points out that the Hindu religion in not structured in the same manner as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, where children are formally taught their
scriptures. Hindu children learn through practice, observation, and storytelling. This is easy in India where the predominant culture is Hindu. she heard many of
these stories as a child from her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles ayah, chowkidar, (watchman)––in fact, any adult who had time to spare. But in minority
situations like Canada, a conscious effort has to be made to teach religion to the young and it was whole bringing up her two children in such a situation that she
realized the need for books on Hindu legends and themes. She hopes that this book and others in the Kaleidoscope Books series will fill that void and encourage
children of all backgrounds and ages to learn more about Hindu culture.
Forthcoming titles in the series are: Legends of Divali, Krishna, Stories from the Vedas and, The Book of Asuras.
Radhika now resides in Ottawa with her husband.
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