Ganesh is the elephant-headed god of prosperity, wisdom, success, intelligence and good luck. Very popular, particularly in Bombay and southern and western India, he is known as the creator and remover of obstacles, bestower of happiness and the eliminator of sorrow. Hindus pray and make offerings to him before beginning a journey, buying a house, starting a performance or launching a business venture. Even other gods pay tribute to him before they engage in any kind of activity so he can remove obstacles.

Ganesh is the son of Shiva and Parvati. Believed to have evolved from a fertility god, he is often depicted with a huge pot belly, slightly dwarfish, sitting like a Buddha or riding on a five -headed cobra or a rat. He has two or four arms. In one hand he carries rice balls, or sweetmeats (he is fond of eating and especially loves sweets). In another he holds broken pieces of his tusks, with which it said he inscribed the Mahabharata as the sages dictated it to him. Sometimes his trunk rests in a bowl that he hold in one of his hands. Sometimes he carries a trident to indicate his link to Shiva. Other times he carries a noose or an elephant goad. Ganesh’s association with rats comes from the ability of rats to gnaw through anything and remove obstacles.

Ganesha has the head of an elephant but the body of a human. He is also a good scribe. The tiny rat or mouse he rides on who runs very quickly. Ganesha is always worshipped at the beginning of any project or journey, and before a book is written. The sage Vyasa is supposed to have dictated the epic Mahabharata to Ganesha.

Websites and Resources on Hinduism: Hinduism Today hinduismtoday.com ; Heart of Hinduism (Hare Krishna Movement) iskconeducationalservices.org ; India Divine indiadivine.org ; Religious Tolerance Hindu Page religioustolerance.org/hinduism ; Hinduism Index uni-giessen.de/~gk1415/hinduism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Oxford center of Hindu Studies ochs.org.uk ; Hindu Website hinduwebsite.com/hinduindex ; Hindu Gallery hindugallery.com ; Hindusim Today Image Gallery himalayanacademy.com ; Encyclopædia Britannica Online article britannica.com ; International Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Shyam Ranganathan, York University iep.utm.edu/hindu ; Vedic Hinduism SW Jamison and M Witzel, Harvard University people.fas.harvard.edu ; The Hindu Religion, Swami Vivekananda (1894), Wikisource ; Hinduism by Swami Nikhilananda, The Ramakrishna Mission .wikisource.org ; All About Hinduism by Swami Sivananda dlshq.org ; Advaita Vedanta Hinduism by Sangeetha Menon, International Encyclopedia of Philosophy (one of the non-Theistic school of Hindu philosophy) ; Journal of Hindu Studies, Oxford University Press academic.oup.com/jhs ; Hindu Texts: Sanskrit and Prakrit Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Manuscripts Vol. 1 archive.org/stream and Volume 2 archive.org/stream ; Clay Sanskrit Library claysanskritlibrary.org ; Sacred-Texts: Hinduism sacred-texts.com ; Sanskrit Documents Collection: Documents in ITX format of Upanishads, Stotras etc. sanskritdocuments.org ; Ramayana and Mahabharata condensed verse translation by Romesh Chunder Dutt libertyfund.org ; Ramayana as a Monomyth from UC Berkeley web.archive.org ; Ramayana at Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org ; Mahabharata Online (in Sanskrit) sub.uni-goettingen.de ; Mahabharata holybooks.com/mahabharata-all-volumes ; Mahabharata Reading Suggestions, J. L. Fitzgerald, Das Professor of Sanskrit, Department of Classics, Brown University brown.edu/Departments/Sanskrit_in_Classics ; Mahabharata Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org ; Bhagavad Gita (Arnold translation) wikisource.org/wiki/The_Bhagavad_Gita ; Bhagavad Gita at Sacred Texts sacred-texts.com ; Bhagavad Gita gutenberg.org gutenberg.org

Stories About Ganesh

The are several stories explaining how Ganesh obtained his elephant head. According to one he originated directly the body of Shiva’s wife, the goddess Parvati. Parvati created him to protect her while she was bathing when her husband Shiva was away. When Shiva returned and tried to enter Parvati's bath, Ganesh challenged him and attempted to block Shiva from entering a room where Parvati was bathing. The passionate Shiva became angry and cut off Ganesha's human head. After Parvati made a fuss, Shiva promised that he would bring Ganesha back to life. He vowed to bring back the head of the first being he saw and went into the forest, where the first being he met was an elephant. Shiva cut off the head of the elephant, returned home and placed it on Ganesha's shoulders.

Parvati playing with Baby Ganesha

Professor Vinay Lal writes: “ According to a second legend, Shiva slew Aditya, the sun, but was condemned by the Vedic sage Kasyapa to lose the life of his own son in return; and when he replaced his son’s life, Shiva did so with the head of Indra’s elephant. Yet another story about the origins of Ganesh’s elephant head relates how Parvati, admiring of her son’s handsome looks, asked Saturn (Sani, from which is derived sanivar, or Saturday) to gaze at her son. But in so doing she forgot that the effect of Sani’s glance would be to burn the object he gazed at to ashes. In her distress, Parvati went to Brahma, who told her to replace Ganesh’s head with the first head that she could find. The sacred "Om" sign with which Ganesh is often associated points to yet another myth of his birth. According to this myth, one day Parvati saw the "Om" sign, and with her glance she transformed it into two elephants, from whose act of intercourse emerged Ganesh. They then resumed the form of "Om", but ever since "Om" became known as the sign of Ganesh. [Source: Vinay Lal, professor of history, UCLA ==]

A popular Ganesh story that Indian parents like to tell their children goes: Ganesh and his brother were challenged to a foot race three times around the world by their mother. Ganesh’s brother took off around the world with lightning speed but Ganesh won by simply circling his parents three times, saying "you are my world."

In September 1995, there were reports of Ganesh drinking milk in Calcutta and Jersey City within hours of each other. Not long after that there reports of Virgin Mary statutes drinking milk in Cheshire, England and Kuala Lumpur.

Professor Lal writes: “Though all Indian myths are subject to interesting psychoanalytic interpretations, the myths associated with Ganesh particularly lend themselves to some obvious psychoanalytic readings. Ganesh can be seen as competing with his father for his mother, and Parvati is herself, in some myths, seen as casting a far too admiring look at her own son; on the other hand, one can reasonably view Shiva as opposing the apparently incestuous relationship between his wife and their son. Shiva’s conduct towards his son Ganesh is of a piece with his conduct towards others who are viewed as being in sexual competition with him, when one recalls that he burnt Kama with his third eye and beheaded Brahma with the touch of his hand. In some myths, the beheading of Ganesh is replaced by the act of castration. The roots of Shiva’s violent conduct toward his own son may lie in the profound ambivalence he feels towards his own progeny. On the one hand, Shiva stands for fertility, and he is everywhere associated with the lingam or phallus; on the other hand, he is also the presiding god of ascetics. Consequently, Ganesh is, in a manner of speaking, his unwanted offspring.”==

Images of Ganesh

Ganesh on his vahanaa (mount), a rat

Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “With his elephant head and chubby, childlike body, Ganesha is the most beloved of all Hindu deities. He is the remover of all obstacles and so is called upon before the start of all kinds of ventures. But Ganesha has a deeper significance, made clear in a Hindu prayer that begins, “Lead us as a tusker would out of the forest of false ideas to the path of truth.” His animal vehicle is the rat, which, though small by contrast, can gnaw through any obstacle. This comparison suggests that there are two ways to remove obstacles: to be like an elephant who tramples everything in its path, or, like the rat, to find a way through small openings to achieve the same goal. [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York <*>]

“Ganesha is usually shown with four arms. With his trunk he reaches for a bowl of the sweets he so loves and holds a string of prayer beads, an elephant goad, sometimes a snake, and his broken tusk. Sculptures of Ganesha are usually found at the beginning of a sequence of deities on the exterior walls of a Hindu temple, placed there to eliminate obstacles faced by the worshipper in his or her religious quest. <*>

Worship of Ganesh

Ganesh is also known as Ganapati, the Lord of the Ganas (the hosts of Shiva).For most worshipers, Ganesh is the first deity invoked during any ceremony because he is the god of wisdom and remover of obstacles. People worship Ganesh when beginning anything, for example, at the start of a trip or the first day of the new school year. He is often pictured next to his mount, the rat, symbol of the ability to get in anywhere. Ganesh is therefore a clever figure, a trickster in many stories, who presents a benevolent and friendly image to those worshipers who placate him.

20120501-Ganesh_mimarjanam.jpg His image is perhaps the most widespread and public in India, visible in streets and transportation terminals everywhere. The antics of Ganesh and Karttikeya and the interactions of Shiva and Parvati have generated a series of entertaining myths of Shiva as a henpecked husband, who would prefer to keep meditating but instead is drawn into family problems, providing a series of morality tales in households throughout India. *

Ganesh is often the god that people pray for help with their everyday problems. National Geographic nature photographer Frans Lanting wrote that in India: “Statues of Ganesha are everywhere— on car dashboards and in homes. Because of their connections to Ganesh, some people even treat wild elephants that raid their crops with respect. Farmers have even prostrated themselves before a rouge elephant instead of running it off.”

Geeta Anand wrote in the New York Times, “Worship of an elephant in the Indian subcontinent can be traced to about 325 B.C., with Ganesh becoming part of the Hindu pantheon around the fifth century, and then being absorbed into Buddhism and Jainism in the ensuing centuries. In the 17th century, Shivaji, a ruler after whom Mumbai’s train station and airport are named, spread worship of Ganesh to the wider population in his kingdom in western India. [Source: Geeta Anand, New York Times, September 15, 2016 <^>]

Ganesh Worship in Mumbai

Reporting from Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi, a large festival honoring Ganesh’s birth, Geeta Anand wrote in the New York Times, “The couple approached the 14-foot statue of the god Ganesh hands folded, believing with all their hearts in his powers as the one who removes obstacles. They had seen proof of this two years ago, they said, when they prayed during the Ganesh festival for their daughter to become pregnant. The daughter, who lives in Britain, now has a child. [Source: Geeta Anand, New York Times, September 15, 2016 <^>]

“Perhaps not all that miraculous, but enough to convince the couple, Farida and Jimmy Balsara, who are not even Hindu. Every year, along with tens of millions in street festivals across India, they celebrate the power of Ganesh, the elephant-headed God who has been adopted by some of the country’s other faiths. The festival is particularly popular in Mumbai, the megalopolis of 20 million that is India’s industrial and film capital, where it got started in the 19th century as an anticolonial protest.<^>

Ganesh caste

“And so the Balsaras, who, as Parsees, are followers of the Iranian prophet Zoroaster, are among the crowds who pray for Ganesh’s blessing. At the Khetwadi Cha Ganraj, it was time for the evening prayers. As they finished, workers on ladders used peacock feathers to dust Ganesh’s massive arms and pink fingernails. Then they began replacing the deity’s many flower garlands with fresh ones. At that, the Balsaras, until now engaged in deep prayer at the back of the room, rushed forward and shouted to the attendants over the temple music that they wanted to take the discarded garlands home. Mr. Balsara, 77, and Mrs. Balsara, 64, said they had not been able to think of any major family or business problem that needed overcoming, so this year they offered more general prayers, wishing happiness for everyone.” <^>

Vinay Lal, professor of history at UCLA, writes: “Ganesh, also known as Ganapati, is immediately recognizable as the elephant-headed god. He is the god of wisdom and learning, as well as the remover of obstacles, and consequently the sign of auspiciousness. It is customary to begin cultural events, for example, by propitiating Ganesh, and older Sanskrit works invoked his name at their commencement. Ganesh is said to have written down the Mahabharata from the dictation of Vyasa. He is the lord (Isa) of the Ganas or troops of inferior deities, but more well-known as the son of Shiva and Parvati. In the most common representations of Ganesh, he appears as a pot-bellied figure, usually but not always yellow in color. In his four hands, he holds a shell, a discus, a club, and a water lily; his elephant head has only one tusk. Like most other Indian gods, he has a ‘vehicle’, in his case a rat: this rat is usually shown at the foot of the god, but sometimes Ganesh is astride the rat. [Source: Vinay Lal, professor of history, UCLA ==]

“Ganesh remains, in many respects, among the most interesting of the Indian deities. Though the myths and legends attached to the figure of Krishna are immeasurably richer, no other Indian deity is as malleable, so amenable to creative, amusing, ironical, cubist, and three-dimensional representations, whether in painting, literature, or sculpture. There is no medium — stone, glass, cloth, paper, bamboo, wood, bronze, and numerous others — in which artists and craftspersons have not offered representations of Ganesh. He is unquestionably the most lovable and mischievous of the deities with his grandfatherly presence, his protuberant belly, and the twinkle in his eyes. Though there are many festive occasions on which Ganesh is honored, and he has an abiding presence in many Hindu households, his devotees everywhere in India, and most particularly in the state of Maharashtra, celebrate the Ganapati festival with great fanfare. As this festival unequivocally suggests, even Ganesh has been politicized, but seldom is much wisdom shown when this god of wisdom is put to use by ideologues to further the political agendas of militant Hindus.” ==

Books: The myths about Ganesh are to be found in numerous puranas, such as Agni, Matsya, Padma, Skanda, and Vamana, but the Brahmavaivarta Purana offers the richest accounts. Secondary Sources: Coomaraswamy, Ananda. "Ganesa." Bulletin of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts 28 (April 1928); O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Ganesh Chaturth: the Ganesh Festivali

Ganesh Chaturthi is a celebration in September honoring the birth of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom and prosperity and destroyer of obstacles. Also known as Ganapati, Ekadanta, Vinayaka, Pillaiyar and Heramba, Ganesh is one of the most popular Hindu deities. Possessing an elephant's head on a human body and the son of Shiva and his wife Parvati, he is particularly sought out and prayed to when people are beginning a new enterprise or starting a new business. At this time, he is believed to bless the Earth with his presence.

In places such as Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, Ganesh Chaturthi is a grand 10-day occasion. Huge clay statues of Ganesha are taken to the streets accompanied by music, dance and merry-making. In other places the occasion is celebrated more modestly at home with hymns sung and offerings made to Ganesh. Sweets are also distributed because in Hindu legend Ganesh liked them. The biggest celebrations are Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. On the fifth day of the festival in Mumbai. Ganesh idols are immersed in the sea. In some places you can see large idols of Ganesh pulled on bullock carts.

In Mumbai (Bombay) and Maharashtra there are large processions with huge crowds that immerse images of Hindu Gods in the Arabian Sea and lakes. Local competitions and other festivities are held. Celebrants often powder their faces and bodies in bright colors. Ganesh Chaturthi falls on the fourth day in the month of Bhadra (August-September). Families and businesses prepare for this festival by purchasing brightly painted images of Ganesh and worshiping them for a number of days. On the festival itself, with great celebration, participants bathe the images (and in most cases permanently dump them) in nearby rivers, lakes, or seas.

Half of Bombay's population turns out for the celebration. Ganesh idols are displayed in houses for ten days. Thousands of brightly painted imaged of Ganesh—made of plaster-of-Paris, wood, mud, coconut hair and spray paint— are paraded through the streets and placed in homes or special shrines. Most are relatively small but some are seven or eight meters feet high. The biggest ones sometimes belong to gangsters and are part of their efforts to win public goodwill. The festival climaxes at Chowpatty Beach where hundreds of thousands people gather, many of them dousing images of Ganesh in the water, "purifying the faithful and sending the Ganesh back to the realm of the gods." The day after celebration the beach looks like a battlefield, with images and limbs of Ganesh sticking out of the water and lying on the beach.

History of Ganesh Chaturthi

The Ganesh festival evolved into present form in the late 19th century as an expression of displeasure towards the British at a time when political rallies were banned but religious festivals weren't. At that time skits often had political messages as freedom fighters attempted to rouse the people. So many Ganesh images are deposited in the water that large numbers of fish die from toxins from the paint and an impermeable layer made by the plaster of Paris exists on the sea floor. Environmentalists have raised a fuss and argued that the practice should be stopped.

Geeta Anand wrote in the New York Times, “In the late 19th century, after the British banned political gatherings, a leader of India’s independence movement got the idea of spreading nationalist sentiment by organizing a street festival around Ganesh.Two followers of that leader, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, lived in Keshavji Naik Chawl, a housing complex in Mumbai of tiny three-room apartments along open-air corridors, a common housing design for middle-class residents at the time, and one still in use today. The Ganesh festival was started in that chawl in the 1890s. “The objective was to create an awakening among the people against British rule,” said Madhukar Keshav Dhavalikar, a former archaeology professor and former director of Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute in Pune, India. [Source: Geeta Anand, New York Times, September 15, 2016 <^>]

“The festival spread across the country, although Mumbai remains its heart and soul. In the same chawl where it all began in the late 19th century, residents, some of whose families have lived there for three generations, keep the tradition alive. They have succeeded in holding onto the tradition’s low-key origins, centered on cultural activities, even as the festival has evolved into an ever-noisier competition for the largest, most beautiful statue.” <^>

Ganesh Chaturthi in Khetwadi, Mumbai

Geeta Anand wrote in the New York Times, “The giant plaster-of-paris statue of Ganesh...is the most famous in Khetwadi, one of Mumbai’s oldest, densest neighborhoods, near where the festival was first celebrated. Almost every alley features yet another wildly decorated, ardently worshiped Ganesh. But this one, Khetwadi Cha Ganraj, or the Ganesh of Khetwadi, often wins awards as the most beautiful. That fame drew the Balsaras and thousands of others on Wednesday, the last day before the deity would join about 50,000 other statues across the city in a procession of dancing crowds to the ocean, where the idols will be gently lowered into the water. “More than 160,000 Ganesh statues had already been dropped in the city’s waterways, some just a foot tall and worshiped in people’s homes, others close to 30 feet high, paid for by politicians and businessmen as centers for worship and merriment at the festival. [Source: Geeta Anand, New York Times, September 15, 2016 <^>]

Ganesh immersion

“Despite the surrounding city, the community has maintained its village feel. On Wednesday, the courtyard in the chawl was an oasis of calm in the midst of all the urban hustle. Children ran in and out of the apartments, most of which had their doors wide open; women wearing saris cooked dinner; and men in shorts napped and watched TV. “You can just enter anyone’s room,” said Vinod Satpute, a 58-year-old flight attendant with Air India, whose parents moved to the chawl decades ago. “It doesn’t matter if he’s eating or sleeping. That’s his problem.” <^>

“A few streets down, vast crowds gathered around the Khetwadi Cha Ganraj. The first statue went up here in the neighborhood’s Lane No. 12 in 1959, and this year’s celebration cost close to $75,000, financed in large part by corporate donations. The costs cover not just the giant, elaborately painted and dressed Ganesh, but also the themed room that holds the deity — this year, a “Rome and Rajasthan palace.” Two huge chandeliers hang overhead as 12 speakers boom temple music at a deafening volume. A crane holds a video camera that beams live footage to a smartphone app and to a YouTube site. In addition to many flower garlands, this Ganesh wears a 33-pound necklace of pure gold, the gift of an anonymous donor in 2008, said Ganesh Mathur, who was among those in charge of the Khetwadi Cha Ganraj this year. <^>

“Along the street, almost every alley has been transformed into a tent with an enormous Ganesh inside. Crowds throng, buying cotton candy, toys, tea and watermelon slices, as couples and families make a day of visiting the idols. Lines snake around almost every tent, inside of which crowds gape at the latest iteration of the revered god. At the Khetwadi Cha Ganraj, it was time for the evening prayers. As they finished, workers on ladders used peacock feathers to dust Ganesh’s massive arms and pink fingernails. Then they began replacing the deity’s many flower garlands with fresh ones. At that, the Balsaras, until now engaged in deep prayer at the back of the room, rushed forward and shouted to the attendants over the temple music that they wanted to take the discarded garlands home. In minutes, they were weaving their way through the motorcycles and street vendors outside, arms buried in red and white flowers, convinced that another great year lay in store for them and for everyone else.” <^>


Hanuman hug
Hanuman, the monkey god and general, is a helper of Rama and popular in villages and rural India. Regarded as brave and loyal, he is worshiped as a symbol of strength and intelligence. He was once associated mostly with Sri Lanka but now is revered all over India as well as in Southeast Asia. Images of Hanuman are often placed at the entrances of temples because of his reputation for fiercely defending his territory against invaders.

Hanuman is said to be the son of the wind god Vayi and is well known for his ability to change his appearance. He is often depicted as a warrior hero dressed in armor and carrying a mace and/or a dagger, weapons he used to defeat the demon Ravana, and is frequently connected with Vishnu because of his connection with Rama, one of Vishnu’s incarnations.

Hanuman is particularly popular in northern India. In January 1997, when a balloon carrying the adventurer Steve Fosset landed near the northern Indian village of Ninkhar, local people thought the balloon was Hanuman’s floating temple cart. Monkeys are given special respect by Hindus and allow to roam around temples because of their connection with Hanuman. One famous temple in Thailand hosts a huge banquet for monkeys in part to win the approval of Hanuman.

According to the BBC: Hanuman is worshipped for his unyielding devotion to Rama and is remembered for his selfless dedication to him. He also considered the living embodiment of the Karma Yogi (one whose meditation and devotion are demonstrated through hard work or service). Hanuman said "I am a humble messenger of Sri Rama. I have come here to serve Rama, to do His work. By the command of Lord Rama, I have come here. I am fearless by the Grace of Lord Rama. I am not afraid of death. I welcome it if it comes while serving Lord Rama." In return for his unconditional love, Lord Rama granted him everlasting life. Hanuman promised that he would be worshipped alongside Rama and that his idol would be placed next to his. [Source: BBC]

Hanuman Jayanti is a festival that commemorates the birth of Hanuman, the popular monkey God and symbol of strength and energy. A popular festival, it can be celebrated individually or in the temple where the sacred text, the Hanuman Chalisa, is recited. This text is - a set of prayers glorifying Hanuman, describing his past times and adventures. Depending on the temple where it is performed, the text is either recited non-stop for 24 hours or performed a set number of times. Special Pujas and offerings are made to Hanuman. Sometimes sacred fire ceremonies are carried out. In some places, colorful processions fill the streets. People dance, carry idols of Lord Hanuman and some people wear masks and tails to imitate the monkey God. The celebration is usually accompanied by a period of fasting and then a big vegetarian feast. [Source: BBC]

Hanuman and the Ramayana

Hanuman before Rama

In the Ramayana, “Hanuman is the chief minister to the monkey king. Together with the king and his army of monkeys, Hanuman helped Rama battle against Ravana, the evil demon king who had abducted Rama’s wife Sita. Hanuman was so agile, clever, strong, and loyal to Rama that he symbolizes the ideal of loyalty and service. Sita is kept captive in Ravana’s castle. The demon threatens Sita with torture unless she marries him. In the meantime Rama and Laksmana go through a series of adventures and battles trying to rescue Sita. They are helped by Hanuman, who discovers where Sita is kept.

When Rama can not get to the island of Lanka where Sita is held prisoner he seeks the help of Hanuman, who summons his army of monkeys to form a bridge from India to Lanka. On Lanka, Rama is able enlist the help of Hanuman’s army and the army of the great monkey king Surgriva who Rama helps by slaying his rival with an arrow.

The battle— pitting Rama, and the armies of Hanuman and Surgriva against Ravana and the demons— is the central event of the Ramayana. It begins after Hanuman sets fire to Ravana’s city and continues through a long series of offensives, counterattacks and battles. Ravana’s forces fire arrows that turn into serpents and wind around their victims necks like nooses.

All looks doomed when Indrajit kills Rama and Laksmana and the armies of Sugriva are on the verge of defeat. At this point Hanuman travels off to the Himalayas and brings back some magic herbs that bring Rama and Laksama back to life and revive the armies of Sugriva. In a pair of duels Laksmana manages to kill Indrajit and Rama kills Ravana king with an arrow.

Hanuman Flies to Lanka to Rescue Sita

In the great Hindu epic the Ramayana Rama is helped by Hanuman, the monkey god and general of a monkey army, in his efforts to find his great love Sita, whose whereabouts was not known. In Indian literature and mythology, there is no greater example of devotion than Hanuman. Hanuman can fly since his father is the wind god Vyu. Hanuman had his father's energy and swiftness, power and strength. When Hanuman was a child he thought the sun was a ripe fruit and tried to jump up and catch it. He jumped so high that he nearly got burnt, but the Sun was impressed and gave Hanuman the gift of immortality as a reward for his courage and cleverness. [Sources: British Library, Vinay Lal, professor of history, UCLA, Asia Society, Jean Johnson, New York University, U.C. Davis website]

Hanuman Crosses the Sea

Rama gave Hanuman his ring, to give to Sita. Monkeys and bears decided that since Hanuman was the son of the wind god and he was good at jumping and flying he must leap to Lanka to look for Sita. Hanuman prayed to his father and flew to Lanka, leaping over the ocean and escaping from several devouring demons that he met on the way. Hanuman's leap has been the subject of many paintings. One famous one shows him jumping through the jaws of Surasa, a sea monster, on his way to Lanka.

Having shrunk to the size of a mouse, Hanuman ran through Lanka, looking for Sita. He found her held captive in an ashok grove near Ravana's palace. She was guarded by hideous demonesses and harassed by Ravana, who wanted her to forget Rama, and marry him instead. She was sitting under a tree crying. Meanwhile Hanuman climbed the tree, dropped Rama's ring into her lap, and told her Rama will come and save her. [Source: British Library]

But demons caught Hanuman, squeezing him tight, and carrying him to Ravana. Ravana and the Demons decided to set fire to Hanuman's tail. They wrapped his tail in strips of cotton and soaked the cotton in oil. As the Demons began to to prepare Hanuman's tail, Hanuman cast a magic spell, making his tail grow longer and longer and longer (the subject of many paintings). The demons soon ran out of cotton and oil. They set light to his tail anyway. But Hanuman shrank back to the size of a mouse, and so his tail shrinks too. In this way he managed to escape, setting Ravana's throne alight in the process, and leaving a trail of flames throughout Lanka. Once free Hanuman dipped his tail into the sea, and leapt back to Rama, Lakshman, and the bears and tells Rama where Sita is. [Ibid]

Battle Between Ravana and Rama and Hanuman’s Army

When Rama could not get to the island of Lanka he sought the help of Hanuman, rallied his monkey army to cast stones into the sea and form a bridge to Lanka. Tiny palm squirrels helped by carrying pebbles to the waters edge and Rama, touched by their efforts, stroked one, marking it with the stripes – hence giving the five-striped palm squirrels their name. Rama crossed the bridge with the monkey army following him to do battle with Ravana’s demon army. A mighty battle ensues. Rama kills several of Ravana's brothers and then Rama confronts ten-headed Ravana, who is know for his cleverness.

The battle — pitting Rama, and the armies of Hanuman and Surgriva against Ravana and the demons — is the central event of the Ramayana. It begins after Hanuman sets fire to Ravana's city and continues through a long series of offensives, counterattacks and battles. Ravana's forces fire arrows that turn into serpents and wind around their victims necks like nooses.

All looks doomed when Indrajit — a prince of Lanka and a conqueror of Indra Loka (heaven) — almost kills Laksmana and the armies of Sugriva are on the verge of defeat. At this point Hanuman travels off to the Himalayas and brings back some magic herbs. In some version on the story Indrajit kills Rama and Laksmana and the magic herb is sought to bring them back to life.

Hanuman Flies to the Himalayas to Get Magic Medicine

Rama and Hanuman fighting Ravana

During the battle between Ravana's demon army and Rama's animal army, Lakshman was so badly wounded it seemed that he would die before sun-rise. (In some versions of the story, many monkeys and bears are wounded too.) The monkeys and bears decided that Hanuman must leap to the Himalayas and bring back the healing herb from the Medicine Mountain to save Lakshman's life. So Hanuman leapt over the ocean, and across the whole of India to the Himalayas. [Source: British Library]

Arriving in the Himalayas, it took a long time to find the fabled Medicine Mountain. Hanuman found it at last -covered with herbs, but he didn't know which was the magic healing herb. So he wrapped his arms around the whole mountain, pulled it out of the ground and lifted it onto the palms of his hand. He then flew with the mountain back to Lanka. On the way the sun began to rise. So Hanuman decided to capture the sun under his arm so that he could arrive back before sunrise in time to save Lakshman. The healing herb was picked and given to Lakshman. Lakshman was healed and filled with energy.

With Laksama back from near death, he and Rama revive the armies of Sugriva. In a pair of duels Laksmana manages to kill Indrajit and Rama kills Ravana king with an arrow. Eventually, all of Ravana’s his kin, and his entire force is defeated by Rama and his military allies. In triumph Rama returns to Ayodhya with Lakshmana and Sita and is crowned king.

Temple Monkeys

Some temples in Asia are occupied by troops of monkeys. Monkeys are often found in the tens of thousands of temples across India. They are seen as a symbol of Hanuman, the mythical monkey god, and devotees visiting temples often feed them. The number of pilgrims visiting monkey temples near national parks have been reduced to twice a week to help protect animals.

The Monkey Temple, or Swayamblunath, in Kathmandu is home to brown and pink faced monkeys who some say have occupied the site for 2000 years. The first monkeys that showed up after the temple was built are believed to have arrived from the forest to eat offering left for the gods. With the forest all gone the monkeys rarely venture more than a half mile from the temple and eat offerings of rice, pumpkin and peanuts left for them became they are now considered sacred animals.

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The monkey population is divided into several troupes. The troops are led by dominant males. They definitely have the run of the temple and the area. They have been known to take candy from children and climb through the windows of nearby guesthouses and steal valuables. Usually the dominate male does the dirty work while the rest of his clan sit and watch. There aren't dangerous or anything, just sneaky.


Kali---the Goddess of Death---is a form of Shakti, a wife of Shiva and the daughter of a fierce mountain god. Also known as Durga, she is often pictured with three eyes, black skin, a tongue dripping blood, a necklace of skulls and a sword used for cutting off heads, and is sometimes shown with a severed head in one hand and a cobra wrapped around her neck.

Kali is known for her dance of death and is revered for coming to earth and defeating the hideous demon Raktavijra, known for being ability to reproduce himself 1,000 times with each drop of his blood that falls to earth. Like Shiva, Kali is regarded as both a destroyer and a creator of life, but is feared because she has taken her demon slaying too far, demanding blood sacrifices from humans and once almost killing Shiva.

Kali is the patron saint of thieves and a creator of problems for travelers as well a goddess that delivers good things to those that worship her. She was born as a fully grown woman with ten arms and acquired her taste for blood when she killed Raktavijra and drank his blood to prevent him from reaching the earth so he could reproduce himself.

Kali is often depicted as a warrior with weapons in each hand. She rides a tiger or lion, fights with a buffalo and frequently is shown sitting on a lotus platform, holding a lotus flower, beads, a water pot and sometimes the trident of Shiva. Many of here followers feel her hostile reputation is undeserved because most her aggression is focused on defeating and slaying demons.

Kali is arguable the most popular of all Hindu goddesses and is especially popular in Calcutta and Bengal in eastern India, where she is known as Durga. Explaining why Kali is so popular despite here bloodthirsty nature, a taxi driver in Calcutta, told the New York Times, "Outside, she is looking very bad. But inside, Kali is very sweet goddess. Whatever you want---house, job, car, husband, child---when you make her sacrifice, then she will give it anything."

Kali Worship and Rituals

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Hindus have honored Kali with small clay idols called purjas , a major festival in Calcutta, and a film shown over and over again that features her as a lion and a goddess that shoots lightning bolts from the third eye on her forehead that are capable of decapitating demons and producing a lot of blood.

The rituals and objects that honor Kali are often quite gruesome or macabre. Purjas sold at festivals show her strangling pregnant women. Cremation grounds, normally regarded as places of pollution, are regarded by some Kali followers as places of rebirth, worship and meditation. Some devotion rituals---such as chanting Kali’s 108 names in Sanskrit and laying a garland of limes at the feet of her images’are more mundane.

Kali is sometimes honored and placated with animal sacrifices. In most cases a goat is sacrificed to say thanks for some particularly good fortune. The animal is decapitated with a quick chop. It is considered auspicious to be splattered with the blood. The head is given to the Brahma priest who performs the sacrifice. The person who offered the goat for sacrifice gets to take the carcass home and eat it.

Humans at one time were sacrificed for Kali. The practice is still believed to be kept alive in some parts of Bihar, where there is some evidence that rituals involving child sacrifices have been conducted by followers of cults that worship goddess Kali. See Tantric Rituals Below.

See Tantrism and Thugs

Kali, Parvati and Durga

Parvati, in a variety of forms, is the most common focus of devotion in India. The wife of Shiva, she presents two main facets to her worshipers: a benign and accepting personality that provides assistance and a powerful and dangerous personality that must be placated. The benign vision exists in many temples to Shiva throughout the country, where the goddess has her own shrine that is in practice the most frequented site of heartfelt devotion. During annual festivals in which the god and goddess emerge from their shrines and travel in processions, it is often the goddess who is most eagerly anticipated. In North India, for example, life-like statues of the loving goddess Kali, who is ultimately a manifestation of Parvati, are carried through huge crowds that line village and city streets. In South India, where gigantic temples are the physical and social centers of town life, the shrines and their annual festivals are often known by the names of their goddesses. One of the more famous is the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Minakshi Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. The temple is named after the "fish-eyed goddess" Minakshi, described in myths as a dark queen born with three breasts, who set out to conquer the universe. After overrunning the world and vanquishing the gods, Minakshi finally met Shiva and, when her third breast disappeared, accepted him as her lord. This motif of physical power and energy appears in many stories where the goddess is a warrior or conqueror of demons who in the end joins with Shiva. *


Alternative visions, however, portray a goddess on the loose, with the potential for causing havoc in the world unless appeased. The goddess Durga is a great warrior who carries swords and a shield, rides a tiger, and destroys demons when the gods prove incapable; in this incarnation, she never submits, but remains capable of terrible deeds of war. The goddess Kali often appears as an even more horrific vision of the divine, with garlands of human skulls around her neck and a severed head in her hand; her bloody tongue hangs from her mouth, and the weapons in her arms drip gore. This image attempts to capture the destructive capacity of the divine, the suffering in the world, and the ultimate return of all things to the goddess at death. *

In many small shrines throughout India, in marked contrast to the large and ornate temples dominated by Brahmanical principles and the philosophy of nonviolence, the female divinity receives regular gifts of blood sacrifices, usually chickens and goats. In addition, the goddess may manifest herself as the bearer of a number of diseases. The goddess of smallpox, known as Shitala in North India and Mariamman in South India, remains a feared and worshiped figure even after the official elimination of the disease, for she is still capable of afflicting people with a number of fevers and poxes. Many more localized forms of goddesses, known by different names in different regions, are the focus for prayers and vows that lead worshipers to undertake acts of austerity and pilgrimages in return for favors. *

Dussehra: the Kali Festival

Dussehra (also spelled Dasera, Dussera) is one of India's most colorful festivals. Held at the same time as the nine-day Navaratri festival, with a tenth day, it marks the triumph of good over evil, and the motherhood of God. In northern India, Dussehra commemorates Rama's victory over Ravana, the demon king in the Ramayana, and the rescue of his wife Sita—and celebrates the triumph of good over evil. The ten days represent the ten heads of Ravana, and each day is used by Hindus to get rid of bad characteristics, such as lust and jealousy. The tenth day is known as the Day of Victory. In east India and Bangladesh it honors Durga’s (Kali’s) slaying of the buffalo demon. Here, large images of Durga are paraded in the streets and immersed in a river on the last day. (See Durga Puja Below).

40 days to go to the beginning of Dusshera

Dussehra is held late in the month of Asvina (September-October) according to the Shaka calendar, India's official calendar. On the ninth day of Dusshera, people bless the "weapons" of their business life, including everything from plows to computers, with sandalwood paste. On the final day of Dussehra, in North India celebrating crowds set fire to huge paper effigies of Ravana.

In Delhi and other places in north India, plays are held that recall Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana and the rescue of his wife Sita. The event climaxes with 80-foot-high paper-and-wood effigies of Ravana being paraded through the streets and set on fire. Some of the effigies have fireworks that explode in their eyes. At Kullu, in Himachal Pradesh, people dress as local deities from neighboring villages converge for a huge celebration. Caparisoned elephant processions are held in Mysore. Dussehra is primarily a northern festivals and receives varying amounts of attention in other parts of the country. It is not that big in Tamil Nadu and southern India.

Durga Puja in Calcutta and West Bengal

Durga Puja in late September, Early October is the biggest event in Kolkata (Calcutta) and other cities in West Bengal. Held at the same time as Dussehra, it lasts for up to three weeks and honors the ten-armed, demon-chasing goddess Durga (Kali). Durga Puja is particularly important for Hindus in Bengal. After worshiping Durga for nine days, her image is taken to the streets in a procession and there is much celebration and dancing. To mark Durga leaving her mother after the nine day visit, her image is cast into water.

Kali standing above Shiva

Durga Puja is also known as the Kali Festival, Kali Puja, Shyama Puja or Mahanisha Puja. The festivities include merrymaking and family reunions, and displays of papier mâché statues of Durga, riding a lion and defeating demons.

Durga Puja is celebrated on the new moon day of the Hindu month Kartik especially in West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Assam and Bangladesh. It features terra cotta images of the goddess Kali, holding severed heads, and hundreds of pandals, fake buildings made of cotton stretched over bamboo. Some of the pandals are decked out in colored lights, and brightly painted with moving snakes, film stars and deities. Some cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make. The festival features all night partying and fireworks.

In Calcutta, the festival climaxes with procession in which statues of the goddess are carried to the Hooley river and immersed in the water. People watch as statues break up into floating body parts. Afterward the praying continues in the Midan. In 1996, there were replicas of the Victoria Memorial airport that were over 30 meters long. The climax is when the pandals are dragged in the streets and destroyed by traffic and the images of Kali are dragged into the river.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); The Creators by Daniel Boorstin; A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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