The Head of an Elephant: Ganesha's Story


Ganesha did not always don the elephant head. He was born a boy, to a mother, Parvati, who adored him. Her husband, Shiva, worked long hours - eternities, even - meditating in the Himalayan caves or dancing in the forests to keep the worlds spinning.  Out of longing for her husband, delight in her own body, and desire for a child, Parvati created Ganesha with her own two hands.

Years pass and one day while Parvati is taking a bath and Ganesha is guarding the doorway of their house, Shiva finally returns home. He has never met Ganesha before and Ganesha has never met him; they each view the other as an opponent. Shiva, being both fierce and pragmatic, beheads the boy before too many questions can be asked. Parvati comes out of the bath to find her husband home, and her precious child slain, all at once. In her horrific shock, Parvati looks directly to her husband and says, “You must rectify this”.

Shiva gathers his friends and goes out into the streets to find a head for the boy. You see, his former head can no longer be used: what is done is done and cannot be made the same again. It can, however, be transformed. Shiva’s band of men take the first head they find, for that is the rules of restoring a head, and it happens to be the head of an elephant. Elephant head in place, Ganesha resumes the land of the living, but of course, he is no longer the same.

Now, he is both playful boy and royal elephant with all the wisdom and sweetness that could come from this combination. His new head elevates Ganesha to regal status. He has the memory of an elephant and transcribes the story of the world, etching it in stone with his own tusk. His life is blown-up to a grander scale in physical and spiritual proportions.

Of course, no one desires their own beheading, but don't we all have experiences that kill off a part of us, and in the healing require us to become something new? Something new that would be impossible had the old not existed before, and then, because of its existence, been cut off? These are the moments that demarcate our timelines and forever more we refer to our lives as before or after these moments, as though they are different lives themselves.  Yet, the currents of these many lifetimes fuse together to make the singular life we are living.

Ganesha was able to become who he was because of his beheading. This story could have been only of tragedy, but instead, it is one of transformation and what we are able to do when all the pieces of ourselves reconfigure.  

That which breaks us adds to our bounty.  Because now, we are not only what we once were, we are also something brand new.  We are fulfillingness ever fulfilling itself.


Elisabeth McCachren Mitchell is a mama to three small children, a writer, and a postpartum doula living on a small homestead in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC. Her studies in tantric yoga and psychology inform all aspects of her life and provide endless brain fodder.  Follow her as she finds beauty, makes meaning, and honors the work of motherhood @heartcenteredmamas.


Maria Borghoff