Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why Does Ganesha Have an Elephant Head?

This week was not as crazy in terms of traveling around: we mainly stayed in the area, and it was a welcome relaxation because Hampi was amazing, but quite tiring! This last Saturday, we all went to see a Ganapathi, or statue of Ganesha, as the celebration of his birth was this last weekend. The holiday is called Ganesh Chaturthi, and is widely celebrated around India. Ganesha is the Remover of Obstacles and is the first god prayed to during a pooja (prayer). How did Ganesha get an elephant head? Monasi, our dance teacher, detailed the story to us:

Parvati, a goddess and the wife of Shiva, was cleaning the dust and dirt off of her skin one day and decided to create a statue from it. What she ended up creating was a small boy of whom she wanted to be real. With her magic, she made him a living boy and declared him as her son. Because she was tired dirty from all of this dust, she told the boy to wait in her house and to not let anyone in. Obeying his mother and creator to the tee, the boy let no one in the house. At one point, Nandi, Shiva's cow (transport), tried entering, but was refused by the boy. He complained to his lord, and Shiva went to investigate. There, the boy refused Shiva entry. Shiva was deeply offended that he, a great god, was refused by a small boy! So, he cut his head off with a trident. Parvati heard her boy's screams and came rushing from the river. Shocked and angered by Shiva's act, she set the world off balance and caused mass disruption upon seeing her dead son. All of the gods approached Parvati and tried to calm her, but she said she would only be calmed if her son returned to her. Shiva, being the cause of this, decided to remedy the problem by saying that the first animal they saw would sacrifice its head for as the boy's new head. As an elephant was the only animal in sight, its head was cut off and placed on the boy's. Delighted that he came to, Parvati became happy again and balance was restored. Gajanana, as he is sometimes called, literally translates to "head of an elephant" and Ganesha can be interpreted to as "the first of Shiva's servants". Ganesha loves sweets and eating, so he is quite large, yet his transport is a mouse (see the lower left corner of Ganesha statue in above picture). As you can also make out, his right tusk is broken. This is because one day, Ganesha was traveling on his mouse, and being his big self, fell off and broke his stomach (he did not die and recovered immediately). However, the moon was watching him and laughed at Ganesha; Ganesha was so angry that he broke a piece of his tusk off and threw it right into the moon, which set a curse. Ganesha is one of the main deity's worshipped in Hinduism and is a very important god in understanding this religion.

I think one of the things I really appreciate about Hindu mythology is that none of the gods are perfect and they admit their mistakes. Having these qualities makes these gods much more relatable, yet their unparalleled powers and wisdom sets them apart from any human.

After learning about Ganesha and seeing a Ganapathi, we tried some banana buns, which are delicious because the dough kind of reminded me of an Eastern European dessert my aunties always make called Pampushkies.
After that, we went saree shopping, which was overwhelming (at least for me). I ended up finding one that I really liked, and tons of kudos to Smriti for putting up with my indecisiveness and helping me pick out the final one!
As a final stop on our day trip, we ventured to Kapu Beach. About 30 minutes from Manipal, this relatively secluded strip of sand, palm, and sea offered a quiet place for us all to relax. The waves crashing on the rocks was such a powerful, yet calming sight. A black-and-white striped lighthouse sat perched atop an outcrop of rocks, and I ended up napping on top of some surprisingly comfortable boulders! Pictures below:

Kapu Beach

The Kapu Beach lighthouse!

Where the ocean met a river...a quiet cove of paradise

Where I napped!

A beachside snack place where Smriti treated us to ice cream. I feel like I use the phrase "where Smriti treated us to ice cream" too often for my own health...
When not traveling and discovering more of India on the weekends, I am still learning in my classes and everyday experiences:

In the Ayurveda Practical this week, Shirodhara was performed. This involves the mixing of buttermilk, milk, and gooseberry (or other medicated herbs) and pouring it into a funnel that slowly pours onto the patient's forehead and hair. If done in regiments of 7, 14, or 21 days, Shirodhara is known to relieve headaches, decrease wrinkles, decrease anxiety, and improve sleep patterns. In the picture below, Tanzeela experiments, wait I mean treats, Emilie.

Tanzeela (left) treating Emilie (on bed).

In general, Ayurveda seeks to prevent so that treatment never has to occur, but also has thousands of treatments for any kind of ailment. Ayurveda goes back 5,000 years and is one of the oldest, if not oldest, form of medicine. Ayurveda is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In Contemporary Indian Culture, we are learning a lot about India's Freedom Movement. Because of its very extensive,intricate, and complex history, I do not have time to detail it here. However, I provided a link under "(More) Useful Links" if you are interested! I think the things I like most about this class is that my professor is a very intelligent person who thinks very much about something before forming an opinion, the fact that I am learning the history of a country I barely knew anything about before, and the interpretations of world events, such as WWII, are taught in a very different light than in the US! In short, I am learning a lot.
In Hindi, we are learning the basics of conversation, reading, and writing. Hindi is avery phonetic language and to get good, our instructor, Jeeva, makes us use a workbook that resembles the letter book I used in Kindergarten. You have to start somewhere I guess...
Epidemiology and Maternal and Child Health (MCH) are public health classes to their very core and I love them both because I love pubic health! I expected to enjoy epidemiology before taking the class, and it is not falling short. I am liking MCH much more than I expected and learning a lot about how to ensure the health of a mother and child during the most vulnerable times in their life together. (See "(More) Useful Links" for a description of what epidemiology is!).
Field Visits have been very informative and eye-opening to public health in India so far, and this week was no exception! We visited a milk pasteurization plant right in Manipal and got to witness public health in action. Milk pasteurization is very important to preventing diseases such as Bovine TB, Salmonella, and Listeria. Safe milk also provides essential nutrition to children (and adults). Picture below:

Me, holding a complementary lassi in front of the milk pasteurization plant! All the machines reminded me of all the engineers in my family...

Here's to another healthy and happy week for all!

Thank you for reading.


(The answer to the last quiz was: An Indian Classical Dance is: Bharatanatyam).


  1. Glad you attended the ganesha festivities. I believe Ganesha and his form represents wisdom, understanding, and intellect.My go-to diety in times of distress..calms me down with soothign eyes. Did you know,they had a 15 feet Ganesha idol installed in Bay area this year..thousands attended!

    The Kapu beach photos are so scenic! To nap on the beach is a real bliss, lucky you Kara :)

    Have had a shirodhaara once in Kerala long time back and I recall stepping out feeling like a changed person...feeling light and blissful. It has to be understood and done right, that's all.

    Good luck with all your classes and research work. Kudos to your enthusiasm and eagerness to learn . Keep growing! :)

    1. Ashwini, I look forward to your comment every time! :) You always add new insight to my experiences...I think that it is awesome there was a Ganesh idol in San Fransisco area, that must have been fun! Thank you as always and keep on commenting :)

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