How Old Are You, Lord Ganesh?

Today is Lord Ganesh’s birthday! We celebrate it as Ganesh Chaturthi. In the true festive spirit of giving, we present Lord Ganesh with the offering of different varieties, especially Kadubu and Modaka, traditional foods that are specialities of this festival. As per Hindu mythology, Ganesh was fixed with a head of an elephant to stop his mother, Goddess Parvathi from destroying this world. Did you ask why she went on destruction mode? Apparently, unaware of the matter that Goddess Parvathi had organically created Ganesh and had declared him to be her son, Lord Shiva had killed him in a duel by beheading him. You must be wondering why she created a “son.” Well, let’s just say there were certain privacy issues at her place. Now getting back to destruction, enraged by this turn of events, Goddess Parvathi went on destruction mode. To stop her and appease her, the deities had to abide by her conditions. What were they? One, her son had to be brought back to life. Last, her son should be worshipped before and by all the deities. So, Lord Shiva requested Lord Brahma to get the head of the first living being that lay with its head to the North. Fortunately or unfortunately, Lord Brahma found a mighty elephant in such condition and brought its head to Lord Shiva. The same was fixed to bring Ganesh to life again. Then, he was provided with numerous powers and worshipped by all the deities as Lord Ganesh. If you need an authentic version of this story, consider referring Hindu mythological books. Here, I have only given you a brief idea.

I have heard this story from every family member since the time they realized that I could understand whatever they spoke. Every year on this festival the same story goes on air on one TV channel or the other. Today as I was watching animated version of this story, a question tapped on my shoulder. Was that elephant, whose head was given to Lord Ganesh, was African or Asian? As he has a head of an elephant, he must have been born, or in Goddess Parvathi’s words “created” around the time of origin of an elephant. So, how old is Lord Ganesh? These two questions led to many more questions.

Elephants are taxonomically categorized under the order Proboscidea. Moeritheres was the first genus to occur under this order about 50 million years ago somewhere in Northern Africa. They were of a modern day pig’s size. 40 million years ago Palaeomastodons evolved. Again after millions of years of evolution, about 20 million years ago Mastodonts and Gomphotheres appeared and expanded from Africa to Eurasia and North America. Mastodonts or specifically called as Mastodons along with Mammoths ceased to exist about 10,000 years ago. Contrary to popular beliefs, Mammoths were not necessarily gigantic. There were pygmy species too that were widespread during their times. All species of Mammoths were grazers. After some more evolution and migration, Elephas (Asian elephants) became predominant. Though Loxodonta (African elephants) appeared 4 million years ago, they continued to survive only in Africa about 400,000 years ago where as Elephas ruled in Southern Asia. The timeline of all these genera is overlapping and confusing.

Now, back to my ponderings, humans gave way to mythology in their lives. Primates came into existence along with the gradual extinction of mammoths. That was about 10,000 years ago. If it was back then that Goddess Parvathi decided she wanted to create a son for herself, and then I guess Ganesh has a head of a mammoth.  Let’s consider it is not a mammoth and Ganesh has an elephant’s head for aesthetics’ sake. Then, which elephant is it? African or Asian? Loxodonta or Elephas? Considering Lord Shiva’s abode is in the Himalayas, from there did Lord Brahma go to Africa or wander somewhere in Asia to find the north facing mighty “elephant”? Maybe Lord Brahma was exhausted with Goddess Parvathi’s tyranny and found an Elephas’ head somewhere in Indian forests. What say? If this is the case, then how old is Lord Ganesh actually?


Mammoths, Mastodonts and Elephants: Biology, Behavior and the Fossil Record by Gary Haynes, Cambridge University

The extinction of woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) and straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) in Europe by Anthony J Stuart, University College London

Resurrecting the Woolly Mammoth: Science, Law, Ethics, Politics and Religion by Corey A Salsberg

The Distribution of Proboscidea by Dr. Erich Thenius

The Great Story Timeline

One thought on “How Old Are You, Lord Ganesh?

  1. Gurunath Nakka

    Wow I have landed into this wonderful article today and it is really one of the beautiful articles I have ever read. The picture is really amazing and I want to download it right to my laptop now.


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