There are many stories of the origin of Ganesha, who is a son of Shiva and his wife Parvati. The most common one tells that Parvati was lonely as Shiva often went off the mountains to meditate by himself. One day she decided to create a child out of clay and the scrapings of her body. He was a charming young boy and brought her much happiness. One day when Parvati had stationed him outside her bath to protect her privacy, Shiva came home and demanded that the boy step aside to let him in. The boy refused because he did not know who Shiva was, and Parvati had told him not to let anyone disturb her. Shiva got very angry and cut off the boy’s head. Poor Parvati was so distraught when she saw what Shiva had done to her child that Shiva promised to get a new head for the boy. An elephant was found and its head placed on the boy’s body, bringing him back to life. Parvati was delighted with his new form and that the child now belonged to both of them.
The elephant head gave Ganesha a special kind of wisdom. Elephants were much revered in ancient India as well as today. They are impressive, intelligent, long-lived animals, that can be trained to be very helpful to men. Airavata, the elephant mount or vehicle of Indra, the Vedic King of the Gods, was associated with the clouds and rain, bringing life to earth from the heavens. Elephants are also found in art bathing the goddess with water from a lotus pond, in an act of reverence and purification.
The name Ganesha means lord of the Ganas. Ganas are different kinds of demi-gods who had been worshipped since ancient times and have become Shivaís attendants.