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Classic Tales from India

How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head and Other Stories

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Eight beautifully illustrated traditional stories that immerse the reader in the ancient culture of India as well as impart important life lessons

• Shares classic tales from India, including stories drawn from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Puranas, translated by the authors

• Illustrated throughout with glowing full-color paintings in traditional Indian style prepared according to the traditional Hindu canon

With this full-color illustrated collection of classic tales from India, you will learn about the playful, loyal, strong, loving, and wise gods, goddesses, and heroes of India. You will discover how the deity Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, got his elephant head, how the goddess Parvati won the heart of the great god Shiva, and how the goddess Ganga came to Earth from Heaven in the form of the holy Ganges River. You will discover how Krishna’s childhood as superhero and mischievous boy prepared him to fulfill his destiny as an avatar of the god Vishnu. In two tales drawn from the Ramayana, you will learn about prince Ram and his victory over the ten-headed demon king Ravana and how the monkey-god Hanuman moved a medicine mountain to save Ram’s brother. In two stories from the famous epic the Mahabharata, you will discover how Karna became the greatest archer in the world to help good triumph over evil and how Arjuna compassionately fought his own cousins to bring peace to the kingdom of Hastinapur.

The glowing illustrations, executed in transparent watercolors and tempera paints, are done in a centuries-old method traditional to India. Richly detailed, they bring to life the colorful cast of characters--humans, gods, and demons alike--and allow the reader to become immersed in the mystical world of ancient India.

Introduction

Dear readers,

You will be delighted to know that India is famous not just for snake charmers, peacocks, Basmati rice, and super spicy curry, but it is also famous for its stories, for its ancient mythology that is sprinkled with colorful, royal, brave, and mysterious characters. The incidents described in Indian mythology took place in the Sat-yuga, Treta-yuga, and Dwapara-yuga. In these yugas gods, demons, humans, wise men, maharishis, and animals walked on the earth with ease, and with equal ease, they could shape-shift from one form of being to another. They could also produce progeny that could be half human-half god, half human-half demon, or half god-half demon, and so on. These stories have left an indelible mark on the minds of every Indian.

Even now, in the Kali-yuga, millions of Indians name their children after the mythological characters of Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, Ram, Lakshman, Karthik, Krishna, Balaram, Lakshmi, Parvati, Saraswati, Durga, Radha, and so on. All these names come from the mythological stories, and even today these gods and goddesses are worshiped in homes and temples all across the length and breadth of India. Similarly, there are many towns, cities, and villages that get their names from locations described in mythology. In some quarters, it is believed that the mythology of India is her history, and this rich history has shaped the culture, code of conduct, society, religion, and language of the country. However, this history is so ancient and the events took place so many, many thousands of years ago that presently, these events are considered “stories.”

As long as I lived in India (where I was born and raised) staying immersed in mythological stories was quite natural, normal, and easy for me. When I moved to the USA to start a family, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the Westerners were quite intrigued by deities like Ganesh, Shiva, and Ganga. They could often make out that I am a Hindu Indian and that encouraged them to ask me questions about the gods and goddesses worshiped in India. In supermarkets and farmers’ markets, gas stations and bus stations, libraries and schools, in airplanes and trains, these curious people presented their questions to me.

This unique experience of fielding questions from complete strangers prompted me to write stories about the mythological characters. For this work, I studied the sacred epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana and texts like the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Bhagawatam, Shiva Purana, and Vishnu Purana. I also realized that all the stories that my Mother had told me in my childhood were fresh in my mind. In my childhood, after school, my four older sisters, my older brother, and I did our homework quickly, ate our supper very quickly, and then gathered every evening around our Mother for our story time. She read books to us. She sang large portions of the epics in her sweet and melodious voice, and we sang along with her. As a story teller par-excellence, she regaled us for hours every evening. She was our one and only source of entertainment.

After narrating the stories, she would encourage us to express our point of view and the take-home message for any character we liked or disliked. Without dictating, she wanted us to draw our own conclusions and learn the lessons we needed to learn about the spiritual, social, cultural, ethical, and practical messages conveyed by the mythological characters. I still fondly recall evenings spent on my Mother’s lap listening to stories, and for this unique, electronics-free time, I am profoundly grateful to my first teacher, my Mother. With this personal experience and background, I found that the inspiration for writing stories about the life of the mythological characters came naturally to me.

At the end of every story, significant aspects of the main character are discussed. These stories from India encourage us to seek truth and higher ideals. The characters from these stories tell us how to distinguish between right and wrong, generosity and selfishness, forgiveness and revenge, fear and bravery, weakness and power, demanding and praying, seriousness and playfulness, laziness and industriousness, distraction and focus. When we or our children read these stories--with care and attention--and we try to understand the depth and wisdom of these characters, then our own tendencies and character improve and we become better. These mythological stories from India also convey the essence of India as expressed in the phrases “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam,” the whole world is a family, and “Satyameva Jayate,” only truth wins.

For the present and future of children all over the world, I have written these stories, and I dedicate this book to children with much love.

Thank you.

Vatsala Sperling, MS, PhD, PDHom, CCH, RSHom

How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head

This is the story of Ganesh, a very odd-looking and wonderful god. If you were to visit India, you would be sure to see countless little roadside temples built for him in every village and town. And in those temples you would find bowls of sugarcane, fruit, milk, peanuts, and coconuts--and perhaps, some nice, freshly cut hay! For Ganesh has the body of a chubby little boy, but the head of a baby elephant, and people like to give him the goodies that baby elephants love the best.

Ganesh is known as the god who removes obstacles. Many Hindus ask for his blessing before beginning any undertaking, be it something as big as getting married, or something as small as planting a single seed. Ganesh makes wishes come true--if they are good wishes--and helps people find a way around their difficulties.

You are probably wondering how in the world a little boy wound up with the head of a baby elephant, and what in the world gives him so much power to make things go right. Like Ganesh himself, the story is strange and wonderful. Listen carefully, and I’ll tell it to you.

Vatsala Sperling, Ph.D., fluent in a number of Indian languages and Sanskrit, learned these traditional stories at her mother’s feet and enjoys introducing them to children of the Western world. Before marrying and moving to the United States, she was the chief of Clinical Microbiological Services at the largest children’s hospital in India. She is the author of How Ganesh Got His Elephant Head, How Parvati Won the Heart of Shiva, Ram the Demon Slayer, Hanuman’s Journey to the Medicine Mountain, Ganga: The River that Flows from Heaven to Earth, and Karna: The Greatest Archer in the World. She lives in Vermont with her husband and son.

Harish Johari (1934-1999) was a distinguished North Indian author, Tantric scholar, poet, musician, composer, artist, and gemologist who held degrees in philosophy and literature and made it his life's work to introduce the culture of his homeland to the West.
Here is a hot link to a web site dedicated to Harish Johari's work that was set up by his students. http://www.sanatansociety.com/artists_authors/aa_harish_johari.htm

Pieter Weltevrede began his artistic studies with Harish Johari in 1977 and also studied with Shri Chandra Bal. He lives in Holland with his wife and two children and travels to India annually.

Nona Weltevrede got in touch with Indian culture at a young age by watching his father and his mentor, Harish Johari, paint. A graduate of the Dutch Academy of Art and Design, St. Joost, he lives in Buren, Holland.

Sandeep Johari was raised by his uncle Harish Johari, who taught him classical Indian painting. He is the creative director in a graphic design studio in New Delhi, India.

“Vatsala Sperling and Harish Johari have woven a rich tapestry of stories and visuals that is a source of inspiration for children and a simple way to inculcate timeless values within them. This is a treasure to have in every house!”

– SHUBHRAJI, founder of Namah Vedanta Center and author of In the Lotus of the Heart

Classic Tales from India is a delight both to the mind and to the heart. The illustrations and the write-ups are divine. This is truly a must for all Indophiles both in India and abroad.”

– VANAMALI, author of Shiva and The Complete Life of Krishna

“Delightful storytelling delicately matched with colorful, evocative illustrations. An ideal way to bond through the art of myth and story and perfect for sharing in the classroom or the dining room. Turn off the TV and read this book aloud. Your family and friends will thank you!”

– SIMON CHOKOISKY, author of The Five Dharma Types

“This is an amazing book, beautifully written. I strongly recommend it to everyone, regardless of age. There is something for all of us to learn and enjoy. The authors articulate these stories from Indian mythology. In addition, the pictures in the book are beautifully illustrated.”

– SENDURAI MANI, Ph.D., professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

“Storytelling is an integral part of Indian culture. By narrating parables, fables, folktales, and spiritual and sacred tales that have been handed down from generation to generation, deep messages are passed along that remain printed in memory. With her roots in Indian culture and philosophy, Vatsala has written this book from a deeply spiritual heart. It will speak to readers from the East and the West.”

– DINESH CHAUHAN, M.D., Swasthya Homeopathy Clinic, Mumbai, India