The Vinayaka Story – A Bloody Origin No One Asked For
Before I go on my thought provoking rant, one thing that I want to clear off the bat is that it is not the religious faith or belief system behind celebrating Vinayaka Chavithi that I am questioning here. My muse here is just the lazy backstory that has been given to the origin, ascension and appointment of Lord Vinayaka by the writers who made it up. It’s a story which I’ve heard at least 26 times in my 30 years of lifetime. It’s a story which we are forcibly made to hear, no matter what, and that too on an empty stomach. And no I am not here to say that I fail to see the sense in repeatedly listening to the same story year after year, but well maybe I am. My problem, precisely articulated is the ridiculousness with which the story of Vinayaka has been drafted up.
Yes, agreed, it’s all supposed to be fantastical. Why should I have a problem with this story, when I don’t have a bone to pick with Lord of The Rings, Game Of Thrones, Ramayana or my favourite Mahabharatha. You see, it’s not the way the story is told that frustrates me. It’s that there is no story at all. Or to put it clearly, there is no story, no reasoning, that actually tells us why we pray to Vinayaka? The story serves absolutely no purpose in establishing his glory, his power, his idealism or his philosophy.
What it does, however, is something diametrically opposite. It shows him as weak, victimized, a bit of a lazy spoilt fellow with all the need for constant pampering. Now if that is what you yearn for in a God, then be my guest. But in years of literary evolution, and by the way we boast of incredible storytelling skills, we still couldn’t find a proper origin story for Vinayaka. This in itself is both appalling and amusing at the same time. Again, it’s not the belief I am questioning, but the story from which we derive our belief from.
Fade In – A Man Sees A Child And Kills Him – Scene One – Vinayaka’s Birth
So let’s get to the start of this. And I am skipping the intro scenes of Shiva and an asura by the name Gajasura. To cut the long story short, Lord Shiva stays within Gajasura’s belly as a result of a boon sought by Gajasura, to have the Lord stay with him forever. As her husband goes missing from the face of the earth, Goddess Parvati pleads with Lord Vishnu to help find him. Eventually, Lord Vishnu helps Lord Shiva escape from the demon’s belly.
Till this point, even though highly fantastical, the story seems to have some form and flow to it. Now we get to the part where Parvati, now aware that her husband is finally on his way back home, in her joy, make a boy’s sculpture from her bathing sandalwood. And then gives this boy-form, life. The weird part comes around when Shiva comes home to find this little boy guarding his house and doesn’t allow Lord Shiva to pass through. So, Lord Shiva kills him. Yup. Literally, slashes the boy’s neck away and passes through.
Now, let’s ponder over this moment here. A Man, rather a God no less, a part of the holy trinity of Vishnu-Brahma-Shiva, and someone who is timeless and boundless, Lord Shiva kills a little boy in a horrific manner. Isn’t that weird? What are we implying there? Are we implying that it was common for us to beat children or even kill them if they irritate us too much? And by telling this story repeatedly, without a strand of questioning going on, are we threatening our children? Telling them subliminally that we shall beat or kill them if they come in our way? Where’s the moral idealism in that?
Many years back, in my pondering over this question, I found perhaps a subtle context to this scenario in a socio-political movement which engulfed India in the early 12th century. The persistent wars between the Aryans and Dravidians. Culturally, this divide was palpable. You see, the Aryan civilization over the northern Indian kingdoms was one basing its existence on the categorical ‘Brahmanical’ way of life.
Dravidians followed a contrary theory, as some academicians would term it as the ‘Asura’ way of life. The Brahmanical way of life consisted of agriculture, cattle rearing, knowledge procurement through defined guidelines, and more. The Asura way of life consisted of hunting, fishing, clanship, hard work, scouting, and practical day jobs not exclusive to Agriculture.
Although this is a layman’s differentiation, the answer why Lord Shiva killed a child is perhaps hidden in this distinction. You see, the story of Vinayaka was supposed to serve as a bridge between Aryans and Dravidians. Now, as the Dravidians became the ardent followers of Shiva philosophy, and Aryans became the specific followers of Vishnu, a disparity of belief became the reason for continuous wars between the two clans. There needed to be a God, who could bridge the beliefs of both the systems.
In this context, the problem that the religious heads and the Godmen faced was, how could they merge both the philosophies. A child of an Aryan would be an Aryan. A child of a Dravidian would be a Dravidian. There could not be a mix of blood, because that would be counterproductive. This is where the Godmen and centuries of hard-argued Folklore came up with a solution. They invented a boy who was not “born” from either of the clans. A random child. To give the child a harmonious colour, the storytellers, brought the boy to the family of Shiva, the God of Dravidians, and got him killed by it. But the incident was immediately nullified by a “head-transplant” which made him literally half Dravidian and half Aryan. A bridge was thus established.
My problem is this. If the storytellers had to make him half Aryan and half Dravidian, they could have just made a union between them. An Aryo-Dravidian couple per se. It was their lack of courage to make that union happen, that made the story every bit stranger. Because although they wanted a bridge, they didn’t want to cut their ego for it. So they went with a rather Horrifying Killing, Of A Small Child By The Mightiest Of Gods, Just So They Could Do A Literal Transplant On The Kid. Kudos.
Fade In – The Lazy One Wins; The Hard Worker Is Ignored – Scene Two
When you write a story, you are inclined to give your protagonist challenges to overcome, with his wit, grit and dexterity. Yes? That makes for an origin story, which is both aspirational and exciting. Look at Ramayana. Lord Ram had all the hurdles any man could ever face, and he overcame them, with minor scathing. His strength and valour were tested, and so was his morality. His choices had terrible repercussions, and yet his ideal philosophy made for a great story altogether. Now, look at the origin story of Vinayaka. Other things aside, let’s get to the part where Vinayaka gets his throne, without even participating in a competition.
So you see, as the story goes, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, a few years after the successful “head-transplant” scenario, give birth to Karthikeya. In time to come, a question arises for the union of Gods and other Celestial Beings as to the worthy successor to Shiva as the God of Gods. The heir apparent if you will. In this scenario, it is known and agreed in all the scriptures right from Skanda Purana to the Mahabharata, that Karthikeya seemed to be more agile, powerful and tactful than the Elephant God, Vinayaka. Vinayaka, as it is confirmed by the above Aryan logic, is the elder one.
The conundrum that everyone faces is that, should a God who can protect the honour of a throne be given the throne or one who clearly lacks the skillset be given it purely through lineage. And of course, there’s the factor that Ganesha wasn’t naturally born to the Gods. So that made him a DemiGod, and Kartikeya a proper God material. To unravel this complexity the Gods counsel with Shiva and decide to come up with a challenge for the two of them. The contest was simple. One who could take a dip in thirteen thousand lakes across the world and circumambulate the universe the quickest shall be awarded the throne.
It is clear that the challenge was an incredibly testing one, where perseverance and hard work could come into play. As the challenge starts, Kartikeya takes off on his celestial vehicle, that is a Peacock, and Vinayaka stays back. He does not partake in the challenge. Instead, he just stays back whiling his time away. And then he starts to plead with his parents to help him out. In the story, and I am not making this up, the parents tell him that by circling them and praying to them he shall get the throne. And lo and behold laziness gets rewarded. The parents, Gods no less, offer him the throne because he prayed to them. All the challenges, all the eligibility tests, perseverance and hard work, literally gets thrown out of the window.
So here we come to the modern day, where we are telling this story to our kids, about how they don’t have to push their limits, how they don’t have to care a damn about the challenges of life, and how they will be handed over all the things they so desire on a silver platter, if they were to devote their lives to their parents and lose their individuality in the process.
When you think of the reason, one could track it back to the 5th century, where based on the teachings of Shaiva scriptures and Buddhist apostles, a man was denied the status of a fulfilling manhood if he didn’t leave the home of his parents and found his own path in the world. A Sanyasi was a level of manhood which was to be attained, and young men started making their own paths away.
However, as ancient India plunged into the Aryan Vs Dravidian era, there was a huge competition in procuring and preserving knowledge across the fields of education, medicine and engineering. To preserve that, the youth of the Aryan race was to be incentivized by a fiction, asking them to stay home and devote their lives to learning from their parents.
The knowledge preservation tactic was vividly described in Vinayaka’s ascension to the throne. In some ways, the intent of hard labour, fairness in competition and travelling across the world was undermined. Perhaps the writers, majorly belonging to the Brahmanical belief system, forged Vinayaka to reflect their own sedentary lifestyle. In doing so, they made him win by basically doing nothing. Not a great way to build a character arch, you know.
Fade In – Body Shaming And The Brahmanical Way Of Life – Scene Three
Till now, we, who are listening to the story of Vinayaka, have come across nothing heroic, nor super endearing. Yes, devout followers might say that the ‘sandalwood boy’ fought Shiva for hours together, and in the process of war, he died. My question is, how does that change anything? Yes, devout followers might say that the ‘Elephant God’ proved that he was wiser by staying back and seeking help from his parents, much like the recommendation candidature in present days, that was his smartness. My question is, how does it change anything?
And so as the story progresses, the Elephant God is slowly turning as a mirror reflection for the Aryan/Brahmanical way of life. It is clear, that he isn’t from the Shiva lineage. The evidence you ask? He is short and portly. Wears a Brahman thread across his belly and eats only vegetarian food. He is known for knowledge. Not valour, not heroism, not his battle skills, but knowledge. One wonders how a child of Shiva eventuated into a Brahman god. And so the ‘bridge’ that was established, leaned slowly towards more of an Aryan influence than a Dravidian influence. Or should I put it this way? More of Vaishnava influence, than a Shaiva influence.
Yes, the Brahmanical way is not particular to any caste, just the set of practices and beliefs taken up by a group of individuals. But in today’s context, it’s hard not to see a ‘caste’ influence in Vinayaka specifically. Perhaps his origin story is to be blamed for stripping him of his ‘clan’ neutrality. Why am I stressing this point over and over again? Well, one because every incidence within the story subtly points at what is actually happening here. You see, you are to treat Vinayaka as you would any other Brahman. This applies to his physical stance as well. It is known through the story that Vinayaka is mocked and laughed at because of his fat body and his bulging belly. These insults make Vinayaka all the sadder, and as per the story, his belly erupts.
Goddess Parvati, then curses Chandra, The Moon God, for laughing at Vinayaka’s form and stature. She curses that whosoever dares to look at The Moon God, shall be the victim of ill-fortune. Let’s pause here for a second. Yes, body shaming is bad. And so is mocking at someone’s disabilities or lack of agility. Vinayaka by this time has been throned the God of Gods for heaven’s sake, literally. And what does he do with all his mighty knowledge, the basis upon which he has been crowned? He just accepts pleasantries and tasty ghee made sweets from everyone. He needs to be pampered to a fault, and his mother, Goddess Parvati, wants the whole world to bow down to him, and accept him with all his flaws. Now my argument is two point here.
Firstly, the story writer here means to imply that, well, Vinayaka is a Brahman boy who will just consume food, sit on the throne, and impart knowledge, but you shouldn’t say anything to him. Goddess Parvati could’ve just resurrected him and asked him to work on himself. For a moment, imagine it was your kid. Body shaming notwithstanding, would you just go on scolding the whole world because your kid is obese, or work on improving your kid’s health. If your answer is former, then have fun parenting.
And the second point is, are we telling the children of our generation that you can’t deal with your things anymore? Must Mother dearest come to the rescue? Now in doing so, Vinayaka comes across as this weak and vulnerable person, who has unnecessary tragedy in his life. Would you say that this is how we want to inspire our children? And no Vinayaka wasn’t exactly the artsy boy of his family. So that’s that. He just demands attention, because well he knows something.
Fade In – Krishna’s Key And Nothing Short Of A Crossover – Scene Four
So, to put everything in context, there is not one thing which projects Vinayaka as the inspirational hero, a man for the world, or a person for the society kind of an individual. We get to the fourth act here. Now why is this part included in Vinayaka story, no one knows. For literature sakes, Vinayaka doesn’t even make an appearance in this part. So the story goes, as we progress through the festival, as an aftereffect of Parvati’s curse on The Moon God, one who sees the Moon on the coronation day of Vinayaka shall seek all the misfortune for himself.
As it so happens, Lord Krishna, a celestial being, in Dwapara Yuga, indirectly looks at the reflection of the moon on the said auspicious day. This is the premise. From here the storytellers bring a battle for Samanthakamani between Lord Krishna and a beast named Jambavanth. Eventually, Lord Krishna emerges as the victor, and Jambavanth hands over the Samanthakamani to him, along with, his infant daughter as a ‘gift’. Again I am just quoting from the beloved story, and nothing is my fiction. Lord Krishna, by that time at least at the age of fifty, is married to an infant, who is a mere 2 or 3-year-old.
A father gifts his daughter to a complete stranger. And no I’m not buying that Lord Krishna is Lord Rama stuff. Even if that is the case, what exactly was Jambavanth thinking when he offered his daughter to Lord Rama’s new incarnation. Wrong on all accounts, wouldn’t you say? And how do we explain this to our generation’s woke kids? Where is the progression in this? And yes, Vinayaka doesn’t even appear in this chapter. If you were to ask me, going by the mythology, perhaps it might’ve been the infant child who would’ve seen the Moon on a cursed day. She got sent off in marriage with a man, five decades elder to her.
And this is the machismo of Vinayaka. The legend of the Elephant God, and his brilliantly flawed origin story. Yes, I do realize he fought some demons, got one of his tusks broken, but to what effect. Helping whom, may I ask? My understanding of this Brahamanical worship might be totally misplaced. Perhaps, I question too much? Or perhaps I might be too ignorant to understand the ways of divinity.
But one thing is clear, I can no longer see Vinayaka as a hero. He is not my hero at least. But then as Goddess Parvati, says, if I don’t read the irrelevant bordering on the non-sensical, story of Vinayaka Chavithi, chances are my life would be screwed over real bad. You know who else says that – The “Om Sai Ram” message you get. Forward it to 100 people, otherwise, you are gone for good. Great way of selling sloppy literature you see. We are a mess because our stories are a mess. And the more you think about it, the more you realise it. Every God is flawed, but every human is vulnerable. And till either of them is fixed, a religious unison seems an impossible task, on Earth and in the great skies beyond.