Lord Ganesha story and the significance of Ganesha having an elephant head can be understood by referring to two different stories mentioned in the Brahmavaivarata Purana. The first story is about the meeting between Sage Durvasa and Lord Indra. The second story is about the visit of Lord Shani to Kailasa during Lord Ganesha’s birth.
Lord Ganesha Story: Why does Ganesha have an elephant head?
The reason for the joining of the Elephant Trunk
Lord Ganesha’s story and the reason for him having an elephant head can be appreciated from two stories in the Brahmavaivarata Purana that explain why Lord Ganesha has an elephant trunk as his head.
Lord Ganesha Story Part 1: Sage Durvasa and Lord Indra’s meeting
Once Sage Duvasa was travelling from Vaikuntha to Kailasa. He came upon Lord Indra who was spending time with the apsara Rambha. Lord Indra bowed before Sage Durvasa in reverence, and Sage Durvasa getting pleased, handed him a Parijata flower, and spoke the following words:
“O Indra, this is a flower given by the lord which removes all the obstructions and the person whose head it will be placed will be victorious all around. He will be adored by the people first of all and will be the foremost of all gods.Mahalakshmi will not part company from him and follow him like a shadow. He will equate himself with Vishnu in knowledge, lusture, wisdom, prowess. He will be more powerful than all gods and will be valorous like Vishnu.”
Sage Durvasa left after this and Lord Indra, still intoxicated with the presence of Rambha, placed the flower on the head of his elephant. The elephant thus got all the qualities that were ordained by the flower. The elephant then fought and defeated all other elephants and left Lord Indra. Thus destiny resulted in the elephant getting all the advantages associated with the blessings of the Parijata flower. If Indra had accepted the flower, he would have got all the qualities. But destiny, which is also a play of Vishnu, had other plans and it waited for the birth of Ganesha.
Suggested Reading: Lord Brahma’s instructions to Lord Indra
Lord Ganesha story Part 2: Lord Shani visits Kailasa on the occasion of Ganesha’s birth
The second story is the occasion of the birth Lord Ganesha and the conversation between Goddess Parvati and Lord Shani.
On the birth of Lord Ganesha, all the other Gods visited Kailasa to see him and bless him. Shani dev also came to Kailasa and requested Goddess Parvati to let him see Lord Ganesha. She granted him permission and Lord Shani stood there, casting his gaze downwards. He did not look at the child and was satisfied with just standing near Lord Ganesha.
Godess Parvati enquired about the reason why he wasn’t looking at Lord Ganesha and Lord Shani replied the following,
“ O Chaste Lady, all the people have to face the result of their deeds. Whatever good or bad deeds are done, they cannot be washed away even after completion of crores of kalpas. The jiva is born as Brahma, Indra and Surya because of his deeds and he is reborn as an animal because of his deeds.
“One achieves hell because of his deeds and also heaven because of his deeds. He comes a great king because of his own deeds and an ordinary servant because of his own deeds. He is born beautiful because of his own deeds and he he becomes sick the same way. O mother, because of his own deeds he indulges into vices and by his own deeds he becomes detached from the world.
“The people become rich because of their own deeds and it is due to their own deeds that they become pauper. One gets a loving family because of his own deeds and one gets a bad family because of his own deeds. Because of his own deeds one gets the best of spouse and kids, and because of his own deeds he remains unmarried, or a wicked spouse or remains childless.
O beloved of Shiva, I will tell you a secret story. In my childhood, I was a great devotee of Lord Krishna and I was always devoted to him. I always recited his name. My father married me to the daughter of Citraratha but I was always devoted to Tapas. Once when I engrossed in meditation on Lord Krishna, she came to me seeking attention. I was unaware of her presence, being engrossed in meditation, and hence I kept on performing tapas. She became annoyed and pronounced a curse in anger that whatever I cast my glance on would be destroyed. Thereafter after getting out of meditation, I calmed her and she repented.
O mother, because of the curse, I cannot cast my gaze at anything and in order to save creatures from destruction, I always cast my glance downwards.”
On hearing the words of Lord Shani, Goddess Parvati laughed and all the damsels present also laughed.
Goddess Parvati replied, “The entire universe moves according to the wishes of the Lord more than the moves of destiny. You look at me and my child.”
Lord Shani was in a fix whether to look at the son of Parvati or not; he did not want to offend Goddess Parvati and at the same time did not want to cause any unintended harm. Finally so as not to offend Goddess Parvati, he looked only at Lord Ganesha and not the Goddess. His mind was disturbed and his throat, lips and palate were dried up. With the corner of the right eye, he glanced at the child’s face.
At his gaze, the head of the child was cut-off and Lord Shani closed his eyes at once, looking downwards and stood there.
The severed head of the child went to Golaka and entered the body of Lord Krishna. Goddess Parvati started lamenting and fainted. All the Gods and Goddesses panicked at this turn of events. Therefore, Lord Vishnu mounted on Garuda, went on the northern direction and reached the bank of the Puspabhadra river. There he found the elephant of Indra, who was all powerful virtue of the flower given by Sage Durvasa. Lord Vishnu cut off the head of the elephant by using the Sudarsana-chakra.
Lord Vishnu then brought the dead elephant to life and it was restored to Lord Indra. Lord Vishnu then lifted the elephant head which had been cut off and had special powers. He came back and joined the trunk of the elephant to the body of Lord Ganesha using his divine knowledge and brought the child back to life.
It is important to know that Lord Ganesha, who is an ansh (manifestation) of Lord Krishna was destined to be the remover of obstacles for men and Gods, and the God of intellect and wisdom. The flower was presented to Indra by Sage Durvasa but not utilized by the King of Gods. The elephant temporarily benefited from the powers of the Parijata flower, but it was Lord Ganesha who was destined to be the foremost among Gods and men and known as the remover of obstacles. Thus destiny worked in a way that the attributes of the flower accumulated by the austerities of Sage Durvasa came to Lord Ganesha and that is the reason he has an elephant head.
Suggested Reading: The Story of Goddess Lakshmi