The Race to be Wise: A Ganesha Tale

With Ganesh Chaturthi wishes!

‘Narada is here, Narada is here’, called Murugan to his elder brother Ganesha.5F27BFBF-2569-4CCB-9260-42B589B98DF0Narada’s visits were always exciting.  He travelled all over the three worlds and he had a nose for gossip and scandal.  He picked up news from here and there, and made sure people at the next stop got to know it.  He spoke so wittily, and sang and joked…there was never a dull moment when he was around.  And he brought such interesting gifts too!

Ganesha and six-headed Murugan rushed over to the main reception hall, where their parents Shiva and Parvati were receiving Narada.  The first greetings and exchanges were already over when the two boys arrived, and they could do their share of talking and asking and answering.

When the excitement and the decibel level had come down a little, Murugan the impulsive one asked Narada: ‘Narada, have you got anything for us?  Any new toy? Any wondrous weapon?  An interesting book?  A playful pet?’

‘Oh! I had almost forgotten!’ said the mischievous Narada, who had probably been waiting to be asked.  ‘Of course, I have something for you!  Something rare and precious, one of its kind’.

‘What, What?  Tell me quickly.  Is it for me or for everyone?  Must I share it with Brother?  Tell me!’ implored Murugan.

‘Well, I don’t know whom it is for.  There is but one piece.  I shall give it to your parents and they must decide as they think fit’, said Narada, looking forward to the trouble this was going to lead to.  He handed over a luscious, rich yellow-orange mango to Parvati.  The fruit was obviously no ordinary mango–it shone with the lustre of gold and smelt divine.

A mango?  Is it a very sweet one? Asked Ganesha, a little confused.

‘Not only the sweetest, tastiest and most flavoursome mango in the world, it is also the fruit of wisdom.  He who eats it will be the wisest among gods and humans,’ said Narada.  ‘It is indeed a special fruit, for there is no other like it in the world.  So I thought, who else to give it to but Shiva and Parvati?’

Murugan got down to business.  ‘Ma, I think you should give me the fruit, I am the youngest and so I must get it, if there is only one.  Anyway, you always give Ganesha everything.

‘That is not true Kartikeya’ said Shiva.  ‘You get an equal share of everything–often more, for you throw such tantrums.’

‘I do NOT throw tantrums’, said Murugan, promptly losing his temper.  ‘Ma always favours Ganesha.  She is always making modaks and laddus for him.  For me, nothing.  And you also.. you always praise him for being intelligent and for knowing the scriptures.’

‘Enough Subramania.  You know both of you are equally dear to me–my two eyes.  Vinayaka is the older, so he gets more of some things.  But you are the younger, so you get the preference in certain other things.  That is how it has to be ‘, said Parvati.  ‘But in this case, I am not sure who should get the fruit.  You are both brave boys, intent on doing good in the world, proud and intelligent.  The wisdom this fruit will give you, I know both of you will put to good use.  What shall we do?  Let your father and I have a talk so we can decide.’

Shiva and Parvati conferred while everyone waited, impatient but silent. Murugan paced up and down, while Ganesha sat quietly by, playing with his pet, vehicle and companion, the shrew.

At last Shiva spoke: ‘We have decided to set a test for the two brothers, to see who deserves the sweet fruit of wisdom.  Both brothers shall set out immediately, and he who circles the world three times and comes back here first, shall get the fruit.  Is that agreeable with you, Kartikeya, Ganesha?

Murugan was quite happy.  He knew he was much faster and more skilled at physical activities than his brother.  The test was set up so that he could win! ‘ Its fine by me.  How can I have a problem when my parents have decided?’ he said.

Ganesha smiled his slow smile.  ‘I agree‘ he said. ‘My wise mother and father have decided it is to be so.  I know that it must be the right way.’

Murugan went into a flurry of preparations.  He called his trusted peacock who flew faster than the winds.  He sharpened his spear and unfurled his flag.  Ganesha stood quietly, a thoughtful look on his face.

’Come Brother, get on with your preparations.  Nothing ventured, nothing won,’ called out Subramania, just a little mockingly.

‘I will see you off, little brother, before I leave on my journey.  A minute here or there will not make a difference to me,’ said Ganesha calmly.

‘Yes, that is true.  Well, I am off now.’  Kartikeya mounted his peacock, and in a flurry of flapping wings, he was off.

Hours later, weary and sweaty, dusty and damp, but sure that he had won the competition, he approached Mount Kailash.  He could see the crowd of people gathered there, looking up at him.  He could see his mother and father, Narada, all the minor gods, courtiers. But what was this?  Sitting at his parents’ feet … could it be Ganesha?

There was no way he could have come back ahead of him! His peacock had flown faster than ever before.  The winds had aided him.  He had used all his skills to steer the easiest path.  No, it just was not possible that Ganesha could have been faster than him.  Then what was it? Had he not gone at all, knowing that he would not be able to beat his younger brother?  No, that could surely not be true.. his brother would not give up without even trying.  Confused, Kartikeya landed back.

‘Welcome, my son.  We are glad to see you back safely,’ said his father as he rose to greet him. ‘And you have really been fast.’

Shiva turned to the waiting people.  ‘Now the time comes to declare the winner,’ he said.

Subramania was still confused.  What was going on?  Ganesha looked so calm and tranquil, he could make out nothing from his face.

‘I congratulate both of you, my sons.  Subramania has performed a wondrous physical feat.  He has gone around the world three times, faster than any God, human or demon has ever till date.  He is indeed incomparable.  I wish I could give him the fruit, but I cannot.’

‘Why,  why? You said I was the fastest,’ said Murugan, turning in confusion to his father.

‘Because my son, your brother went around the world much faster.  No, not the globe, not the physical world,’ explained Shiva.  ‘He went around us, his parents, three times, and it took him but a moment.’

‘I don’t understand.  What is this all about?’  Subramania was vexed and perplexed.  Was it some kind of a joke?

‘I will explain, little brother, why I did that.  For dutiful children, their parents are the world.  Moreover, with parents like ours, the mighty Shiva and Parvati, they are the greatest of Gods, they are indeed the world.  They are the repositories of all knowledge, all wisdom, all power.  What need is there to go any further?  If I go around them, I have gone around the world.’ said Ganesha.

The crowds cheered.  For indeed, was there a world without Shiva and Parvati?  Was there a world beside Shiva and Parvati?  Ganesha was indeed wise and deserved the fruit of wisdom.  Even Subramania was convinced. He could win any race against his brother, but when it came to racing minds, it was another matter!

And so Ganesha became the wisest of the Gods.

–Meena

From ‘Elephantasy’. Centre for Environment Education.

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