Since my mom asked, here is my abridged and blatantly western version of the Ganesha story. It is the one that my colleagues debated in the car in Bangalore traffic on the way into the HP office a few work-lifetimes ago.
Ganesha was the beloved son of the goddess Parvati. One day, apparently by accident, Shiva chopped off the head of poor Ganesha. Needless to say, Parvati was pissed and screamed at Shiva to do something about it. Being the god of war and conflict, he sent Ganesha off towards the north saying that he would kill the first adversary he ran into cutting off its head in the process and thus regaining a fancy neck ornament. Well, as luck would have it, Ganesha ran into an elephant in a rather bad mood and in the ensuing battle (makes you wonder how he could even fight given no eyes or anything but then this is mythology right?), Ganesha broke off one of the tusks and chopped off its head with an axe. He donned the new head and headed back home triumphant. Upon seeing her now pachydermic son, Parvati threw another fit. Shiva told her to chill out because Ganesha would become the most loved god in India and be a fantastic dancer. Well, of all the millions of gods in India, Ganesha is by far the most popular. He is often depicted dancing and holding the tusk and axe in two of his four hands. He is prayed to regularly for luck, money, and success particularly by students at exam time. I mentioned yesterday that I was lucky enough to experience Ganesha Chaturthi where thousands of villages eat a lot, build a massive Ganesha out of mud and straw, eat some more, parade the Ganesha around town while eating snacks, and eventually take the Ganesha down to the river for yet another meal while Ganesha returns to the earth from whence he came. I found it all fascinating and beautiful from a symbolic point of view.
In modern times, we like to think we are above mythology and think condescending thoughts of those who think otherwise. That being said, we hold many modern myths to be true despite evidence to the contrary: the myths of work harder-earn more, trickle-down economics, clean politicians, business fair play, military intelligence.. At least most traditional mythologies had a great sense of humor – much more than we can say of any of our mudslinging politicians.