Shiva Purana: The Birth of Ganesha (Sanskrit)

  • Ruth Vanita
  • Kumkum Roy


Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, is the son of Shiva and Parvati. The many differing accounts of his birth agree in describing it as occurring outside the womb.2 In some versions he is created by Shiva alone, and in others, from the bodily fluids of Shiva and Parvati mingling outside the body; but in most versions, such as that extracted here, he is created by Parvati alone. A folk etymology of one of his names, Vinayaka (without a nayaka or leader, that is, peerless), relates it to his origin, that is, he is created without a male agent (nayaka). Parvati creates rather than produces him. She fashions him as the Jewish Yahweh creates man out of clay. Her creative role is distinct from the common view of woman as merely a receptacle for the creative male seed.3 She rubs Ganesha out of her body—this recalls the churning action that is so creative in Hindu myth—from the Puranic churning of the ocean to the Vedic friction of the two female firesticks which produces the fire god.


Female Friend Divine Power Bodily Residue Creative Role Animated Discussion 
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  1. 2.
    For an exhaustive account and sensitive interpretation of these stories, see Paul B. Courtright, Ganesha: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Wendy O’Flaherty, Women, Androgynes and Other Mythical Beasts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), reads the outcome of unilateral female creation as “less auspicious” (50) than such creation by males, because Ganesha is created out of dirt (37–38) and a demoness participates in his creation. I disagree with this reading because there could hardly be a more auspicious outcome than Ganesha himself and, further, residues from a divine body are purifying in Hindu tradition, as in cows dung and urine, food offered to gods and consumed as sacred leavings, or the water used to wash icons, which is later drunk by devotees. Kunal Chakrabarti, who views Puranic religion as the outcome of Brahmans’ attempt to reassert their control over lower castes, tribals and women, reads Ganeshas “unnatural” (his term) birth and celibacy as expressive of oedipal and incestuous compulsions but makes no mention of homoerotic ones (“Divine Family and World Maintenance: Ganesa in the Bengal Puranas” in From Myths to Markets: Essays on Gender, ed. Kumkum Sangari and Uma Chakravarti [New Delhi: Manohar, 1999 ], 56–84 ).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruth Vanita
  • Kumkum Roy

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