Home Page of Vishal Agarwal




When the Cigar becomes a Phallus

A Review of Paul Courtright’s ‘Ganesa, Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings’ (Oxford University Press, 1985)

PART I and II – The Text

Author: Vishal Agarwal

Co-author: Kalavai Venkat

July 07, 2004

The article first appeared at http://www.sulekha.com without the footnotes.

Part I appeared on December 8, 2003, at
http://www.sulekha.com/expressions/articledesc.asp?cid=307042 .

Part II appeared at http://sulekha.com/expressions/articledesc.asp?cid=307053 on 16 December 2003.

Contents of Part I

1. Introductory Remarks

· Who wrote the Mahabharata?

2. Misuse of Textual Sources

· Dubious Vedic textual references

· Mythology of Ganesa and abuse of Pauranic Texts

· Questionable methodology

· Elephant Mythology & Omission of Important texts

· (Mis)-Dating of the Pauranic texts

· A Beheading by the Compassionate One (Buddhacarita)

· Eroticization of Gajalakshmi (Vishnu Purana)

· Creation of Mankind from The Arse (Bhagavata Purana and Linga Purana)

· Misinterpretations of Kurma Purana

· ‘Sexual Fluids’ (Vamana Purana)

· Misrepresentation of Gajendra Moska episode (Bhagavata Purana)

· Imagining an Incestuous Rape (Devibhagavata Purana)

· Creator of Obstacles or Remover of Obstacles?

· Puranas and Conspiracy Theories (Vamana Purana)

· Parvati’s aggression against Ganesa – Dubious passage in Varaha Purana

· Who is elder – Ganesa or Skanda?

Contents of Part II

3. The Cigar now becomes a Phallus

· Opening remarks

· Paul Courtright invents a ‘Limp Phallus’

· Double Jeopardy: The Broken Tusk and Ganesa’s Second Castration

· Indian Males in relation to Ganesa’s Sexuality, Celibacy and Incest

· Ganesa as a Eunuch

· Modaka as a ‘Toy’

· Sexualizing Hindu Initiation Ceremony (Upanayana):

· Marriage of Ganesa

· Ganesa as a trickster

4. The Worship of Ganesa


1. Introductory Remarks:

Sigmund Freud had a lifelong relationship with cigars. He was rarely photographed without one on his lips. It is said that he enjoyed as many as twenty of them every day. In the declining years of his life, he was beset with some ailments such as arrhythmia, which were blamed on his passion for cigars. On medical advice, he often tried to quit his obsession, but he would always experience withdrawal symptoms. During one such period of abstinence, he even exhibited hysterical behavior in a letter to his physician. When his friends suspected that he was addicted to them, he argued that cigars were a very private aspect of his life, insulated from psychoanalysis by others. And this supposedly resulted in his famous statement, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” The implication perhaps was that people should not see something else in his cigar; it was really just a cigar.

Little did Freud know that several decades later, a ‘gutsy’ Indian novelist, and high-profile socialite Shobha De would write a novel in which a woman sees a cigar lying on a table in front of her, only to discover that it is actually the phallus of her paramour standing nearby. While Freud’s cigar was just a cigar, Shobha De’s was certainly a phallus. But lest one credits steamy-fiction writers with too much originality, let us hasten to add that some Indologists and other academics on Hinduism in the United States foreshadowed Shobha De’s innovative use of cigars by at least a decade, although in the guise of scholarship.

What we are referring to is the complete ‘Freudizing’ of Indological parlance or lingo, by a small band of academics. The phenomenon has advanced to such an extent that words and phrases like ‘castration’, ‘flaccid-penis’, ‘sexual-fantasy’ and so on have become a sort of ‘lingua-franca’ through which the intellectual intercourse of these closely-related scholars is effected in their academic publications. Wendy Doniger, the Czarina of academic studies on Hinduism has summarized the Weltanschauung of these scholars in the following penetrating words,

“Aldous Huxley once said that an intellectual was someone who had found something more interesting than sex; in Indology, an intellectual need not make that choice at all”

After all, did not Courtright’s book on Ganesa precede Shobha De’s novel by several years?

Who wrote the Mahabharata?

The Foreword to Courtright’s book is written by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty. In her typical colloquial, superlative, ecstatic, juicy style, she praises the book of Courtright to the seventh heaven, without adding anything substantial. Except one thing: she bares the secret of the Hindu lore about the writing of the Hindu epic Mahabharata-

“…the Mahabharata tale in which the Ganesa dictates the epic to Vyasa”!

The Hindu tradition is unanimous in informing us that it was Sage Vyasa who had dictated the epic to Ganesa rather than the other way around as Doniger states. Moreover, Indological scholarship has so far informed us that the tradition itself is attested only in some interpolated later verses not included in the critically constituted text of the Mahabharata. No, this is not a slip of tongue on Doniger’s part, unless it is some kind of a Freudian slip, because she actually constructs a pseudo-psychology out of her erroneous version of the tradition –

“…every book exists in toto in the mind of the elephant-headed god, and we scribes merely scramble to scribble down those bits of it that we can grasp, including the “knots,” the obstacles to full comprehension, that the god of obstacles throws in on purpose to keep us on our toes and to keep us in awe of him.”

While an informed reader may consider this as glaring ignorance on the part of Doniger, Courtright sees it differently. He writes,

“A special word of gratitude goes to Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, who not only shared her vast knowledge of the Puranic literature and Hindu mythology and made many valuable suggestions on several drafts of this book, but also graced this undertaking with her inexhaustible enthusiasm and confidence in its value.”

Indeed, Wendy’s children have a unique way of seeing things – so unique that it is not tainted by reality and objectivity. Doniger, for her part, reciprocates the lavish praise. She writes,

“This is a book that I would have loved to have written.”

The mutual admiration club completes its protocol.

In Courtright’s defense, we must point out that he himself has correctly referred to the tradition in his book. Perhaps, Doniger herself did not read the book thoroughly even though she wrote the ecstatic ‘Foreword’ to it. It is curious though that Courtright didn’t correct his mentor’s ignorance. It would be a cruel irony of sorts that he intentionally allowed his mentor to advertise her ignorance, especially when she had showered praise on him.

Lord Ganesa doesn’t get to bask in the glory of his surprise, albeit ephemeral, promotion from a scribe to the narrator of the epic for long. Courtright, the protégé, reverses his mentor’s profligacy by bringing Ganesa down from the heavenly realms to the earth and transforms him into a eunuch, an incestuous son and a homosexual. Had Ganesa indulged in the ephemeral glory bestowed on him by Doniger then one must indeed pity his naivety, because Doniger had earlier forewarned,

“Ganesa has everything that is fascinating to anyone who is interested in religion or India or both: charm, mystery, popularity, sexual problems, moral ambivalence, political importance, the works.”

Well, Doniger had essentially made the same universal claims for Lord Siva, when she herself wrote one of her first major books on him in 1973,

“The mythology of Siva forms only a part of the material of the Puranas, but it is an ideal model which reveals a pattern which pertains to the material as a whole. Siva is not only an extremely important god; he is in many ways the most uniquely Indian god of them all, and the principles which emerge from an intensive study of his mythology lie at the very heart of Hinduism.”

But that was then, when there were no Wendy’s children. Now she is the Matriarch, who will shower her anugraha on any of her children and sakhis who write anything on anything: on the Rgveda, Kathasaritsaagara, Ganesa, Caste etc. Euphoria and superlatives ooze from her numerous ‘Forewords’ that she has written in the last 18 odd years. Perhaps, the author of these forewords is an ideal subject for Freudian studies in their own right.

Anyway, after we have witnessed Wendy Doniger bare her jewels of scholarly wisdom; let us review the contents of the book.

2. Misuse of Textual Sources:

Courtright obviously attempts to base his study on the contents of Hindu texts, and then interprets them to derive a particular thesis. The two major classes of texts dealt with by him are the Vedic texts and the Puranas. The Tantras and the Upanishads are largely left out, except for a stand-alone translation of the Ganapati Atharvasirsa Upanishad in the appendix. In this section, we examine the validity of Courtright’s use of Hindu texts in his study.

2.1 Dubious Vedic Textual References:

In Chapter I, titled ‘The Making of a Deity’, he explores the evolution of Ganesa as a deity in the Hindu pantheon from a historical perspective. He starts with the antecedents of the deity in the Vedic literature and makes questionable statements. For instance, while dismissing all Vedic references as evidence that the worship of Ganesa was known when the Vedic texts were in vogue, he says,

“A similar invocation in another Brahmanic text addresses “the one with the twisted trunk [vakratunda]” (TĀ 10.1.5), also leaving it uncertain whether it is Ganesa or Siva who is being addressed.”

This is puzzling, because vakratunda is distinctly another name for Ganesa, and moreover, the last portion of the mantra reads – “tanno dantih pracodayaat’, where the reference is clearly to the tusk of Ganesa. Courtright also mistakenly classifies the text as ‘Brahmanic’, whereas in reality it is a ‘mantra’. Another reason why the mantra containing the word ‘vakratunda’ does not refer to Siva is that the preceding mantra is in fact addressed to Mahadeva and Rudra, and the mantra after the ‘Vighnesvaragayatri’ is addressed to Nandin. Moreover, the mantra after the Nandigayatri is addressed to Karttikeya, who is the brother of Ganesa. So, from the words of the mantra and from its context as well, it should be understood that the mantra is clearly addressed to Sri Ganesa and not to Lord Siva. The parallel mantra in Maitrayani Samhita 2.9.1 reads ‘hastimukhaaya’ in lieu of ‘vakratundaaya’.

Again, referring to the occurrence of the word Ganapati in Aitareya Brahmana 1.21, Courtright claims that the reference is to Siva. The actual text reads ‘ganaanaam tvaa ganapatim havaamah iti brahmanaspatyambrahma vai…”, showing that here ganapati actually refers to Brahmanaspati (=Brhaspati) and not to Siva. In fact, the Brahmana text is clearly referring here to Rgveda 2.23.1 that reads,

“ganaanaam tvaa ganapatim havaamahe

kavin kaviinaam upamasravastamam

jyeshtaraajam braahmanaam brahmanaspata

aa nah srnvann uutibhih siida saadanam

The mantra is addressed to Brhaspati, who is indeed the devataa of this mantra according to Saunakiya Brhaddevata.

Finally, he says ‘TB 10.15’ contains the word ‘dantin’. This reference by Courtright is problematic because Taittiriya Brahmana is divided into 3 books that are further divided into smaller sections. Therefore, TB 10.15 does not make much sense. The Vedic Word Concordance of Visvabandhu also does not point to any occurrence of the word ‘dantin’ in the entire Taittiriya Brahmana. Courtright attributes this textual reference to a publication of Louis Renou. However, when we checked Renou’s article, we did not find any mention at all of the Taittiriya Brahmana in it. The reference in Renou’s article is in fact to Maitrayani Samhita 2.9.1. The presence of so many errors of textual citations in just about 1 page of the book are simply unacceptable from an academic perspective.

Errors of Vedic citations are seen in other parts of the book as well. For instance, in Chapter II of his book, Courtright claims, “The association of the thigh with the phallus in the Indian tradition dates from the Rg Veda (RV 8.4.1).” The mantra in question reads,

yadindra praagapaagudam nyag vaa uuyase nrbhih

simaa puruu nrshuuto asyaanave.asi prashardha turvashe |

Ralph Griffith’s translation reads –

“Though Indra, thou are called by men

eastward and westward, north and south,

Thou chiefly art with Anava and Turvasa,

brave Champion! urged by Men to come.”

We do not see any reference to penis and thighs here, and therefore wonder what Courtright was thinking here.

So, we see that a majority of references to Vedic texts by Courtright in Chapter I, and many others in subsequent chapters are either interpreted incorrectly, or they are non-traceable. Therefore, we question if Courtright even had a first hand, or even reasonable second hand knowledge of Vedic texts when he wrote his book.

The examples we have cited here are for illustrative purposes only and do not constitute the entire list of errors in his Vedic citations.

Despite the sloppiness of textual citations, chapter I has two merits. First, it dismisses various prevalent theories about the origin of worship of Ganesa as variations on the Dravidian hypothesis, which are nothing but speculations not based on any concrete evidence. This does not mean that he does not use the myth of ‘Aryan’ and ‘Dravidian’ divide as a hermeneutic tool in his book. He uses it several times. But in the case of Ganesa, he elaborates later,

“The demon lineage from raaksasa, marut, and vinaayaka to Ganesa further supports the argument that Ganesa emerges from within the network of Aryan and Vedic symbolism in contrast to the view that he is an outsider from a Dravidian or non-Aryan folk tradition.”

The second merit of this chapter is that, he proposes an alternative, novel hypothesis to explain how the worship of the deity came into vogue. The explanation is pure speculation as well, but could nevertheless be treated as another possible alternative hypothesis by future researchers.

2.2 Mythology of Ganesa and abuse of Pauranic Texts:

Chapter II of the book, titled ‘Mythology of Ganesa’, deals with the different ways in which academics studying religion can approach the mythology of the deity. Courtright lists five such levels, of which Wendy Doniger is credited for explicating the first four while the fifth is Courtright’s own contribution. This particular chapter seems to focus on the first level – the narrative level, in which the story of the deity is stated in all its versions. Chapter III primarily deals with material critiqued in section 3 of our review.

2.2.1 Questionable Methodology

The various divergent and convergent versions of the story of Ganesa are scattered in a diverse set of texts belonging to different centuries. Courtright treats these texts in a combined, holistic manner to explore the thematic, structural and interpretative dimensions of these myths. He claims that his analyses are only peripherally affected by chronological considerations of these texts. Courtright says that he has treated all pauranic accounts as belonging to a single ongoing tradition to paint his picture of Ganesa. We believe that this is not a sound approach because each of the Puranas has catered to the needs of a particular sect, and each of them is also very much known for its sectarian rhetoric against other sects and their deities. Some of these puranic depictions tend to project the deities of a rival sect in less than glorious light. Each sect had its own traditions that influenced the Puranas they wrote. A tradition was not necessarily influenced by the way their deity was portrayed by the Puranas belonging to a rival sect.

Winternitz presents a very relevant example to demonstrate this sectarian bias, bordering on the absurd, as reflected in the Puranas regards the deities of a rival sect. He draws the readers’ attention to the Uttarakhanda of the Padma Purana that narrates a story regards Siva. Once a quarrel arises among the Sages as to which of the three gods, Brahma, Vishnu or Siva is the greatest, and Bhrgu is made the adjudicator. He repairs to the mountain Kailasa where Siva is enjoying the love of his wife. Nandin, Siva’s janitor, prevents Bhrgu from entering. Bhrgu takes this as an insult, and curses Siva to take on the shape of the generative organs, and to be worshipped not by the Brahmins, but only by the heretics.

Often, such narratives turn out to be later day interpolations, as is the case with this example cited by Winternitz. The question one must ask is, “What impact did this narrative of Padma Purana have on the practitioners of Saivism?” The answer is, “None.” They just ignored it, and were quite content interpreting the meaning and significance of the Linga according to the Puranas of their own tradition. This is true of any Indian tradition, including the tradition of worshipping Ganesa. So, to interpret a tradition using the divergent narratives found in the text of a rival tradition would be incorrect methodology and a very uncritical approach.

One gets a feeling that the selection of such questionable methodology is intentional and was done with ulterior motives. Courtright uncritically uses every source, including those that are anecdotal and hence not verifiable, to taint Ganesa.

2.2.2 Elephant Mythology & Omission of Important texts:

Courtight initiates the discussion by first devoting a section to the symbolism related to elephant in the Indian culture. The treatment is rather sketchy, and a surprising omission is of texts specifically referring to elephants – the Gajasastra or the Hastyayurveda. The omission is unfortunate because Courtright primarily relies, amongst other texts, on the Puranas, when some of them (e.g., Agni Purana) actually refer to the authority of Palakapya Muni, the author of the Hastyayurveda. Courtight enumerates the various symbolisms related to elephants in Indian culture but omits two very important attributes of the creature, for which they are especially well respected – their profound memory, and their longevity. The elephant is also counted as one of the nine types of wealth or treasures (navanidhi) in the Hindu tradition. A discussion on all these would have enriched Courtright’s study considerably because these themes are very important in how Hindus perceive this noble creature.

Even more detrimental to the quality of his study is the scarce use (if not a total omission) of the two Puranas that specifically deal with Ganesa – the Mudgala Purana and Ganesa Purana. Courtright mentions editions of both of them in his bibliography, but practically ignores the former, and uses the latter very rarely. The scanty use of his texts detracts from the comprehensiveness and objectivity of his analysis. We shall give a few examples here and there in our review, showing how data from these two Puranas invalidates some of the conclusions arrived at by Courtright.

The elephant is also considered a noble animal, and a symbol of devotion (bhakti) via the story of Gajendramoska in Bhagavata Purana, skandha VIII, chapter 204. Courtright leaves this aspect of elephant mythology here, dealing with it later in relation to Ganesa where it really does not belong. In his zeal to force-fit this story into the model of tension between asceticism and eroticism, he interprets it in a very inconsistent and illogical manner. We will discuss his interpretation of the Gajendramoksa episode a little later.

Instead of discussing these ways in which Hindus look at the creature, Courtright says,

“Elephant trunk and serpent share certain undeniable characteristics and carry associations of force and power, both political and sexual.”

Why this association is ‘undeniable’, we are not told. This baseless assertion would serve as his launching pad for declaring elsewhere,

“The elephant trunk, which perpetually hangs limp, and the broken tusk are reminiscent of Siva’s own phallic character, but as these phallic analogs are either excessive or in the wrong place, they pose no threat to Siva’s power and his erotic claims on Parvati.”

Courtright says that an elephant, even if it were a male, can’t be assigned any definitive sex because its movement is often compared to the graceful movement of a woman, and his temple, like a woman’s breasts, give forth a different but no less desirable fluid. If this hypothesis sounded unreasonable, then it is outsmarted by the ensuing inference that since Ganesa is an elephant-headed god, his gender too must remain less than precisely articulated. An illogical premise invariably leads to ridiculous conclusions, and Courtright doesn’t fail to disappoint on this count. He concludes that Ganesa’s head symbolizes phallic masculinity and feminine grace.

Though Courtright uses several dubious, peripheral, regional myths of doubtful veracity, and non-verifiable antiquity to construct his thesis (we shall refer to some of these below), he practically leaves out the Tantric texts. This omission is again unfortunate, because these texts clearly distinguish between the deity’s trunk and the phallus (whereas Courtright equates the deity’s trunk to a limp phallus) and also describe clearly the functionality of the former. But then, incorporation of data from Tantras would have dealt a death-blow to his ‘celibate-eunuch-limp phallus’ thesis on Ganesa. If one chooses data from Sanskrit texts in the piece-meal manner that Courtright does, any thesis can be ‘proven’ from them.

2.2.3 Dating of Pauranic Texts:

In the sole appendix to his book, the author claims that the Sri Ganapati Atharvasirsa Upanishad probably belongs to sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. He assigns no reason for this late date, something that other scholars have also noted and have found inconsistent with their own views. Elsewhere, Courtright claims that the Mudgala Purana should be dated between the fourteenth and the seventeenth century, but again assigns no reasons. In fact, the Mudgala Purana (2.31.12; 2.72.5 etc.) clearly mentions the Ganapati Atharvasiras text, and therefore is later than the Upanishad, contrary to what Courtright implies. Courtright certainly recognizes the difficulty of dating Pauranic texts but he should have been more careful before assigning his own dates to them.

Earlier, we saw that Courtright’s references to the Vedic texts were largely dubious. Chapter II and III of his book rely mainly on the Puranas. To ascertain whether Courtright has shown sufficient fidelity to the Puranic texts, we crosschecked his descriptions of the story of Ganesa with the original texts of the Puranas. To illustrate our findings, we chose only a few of these texts below, for the sake of brevity. We have also chosen a text from the Buddhacharita that is misinterpreted by Courtright.

2.2.4 A Beheading by the Compassionate One (Buddhacarita):

In Asvaghosha’s Buddhacarita, there occurs a story in which Devadatta sends a mad elephant to kill Bhagavan Buddha. However, when the elephant approached the Buddha, the latter’s spiritual power tamed the creature. The Buddha then stroked the head of the elephant, according to the text as quoted by Courtright.

One would normally interpret the Buddha’s ‘stroking the head’ of the tamed mad elephant as an act of blessing, or benevolence, of compassion and love. However, Courtright suggests,

“…his hand strokes the head in what may be a faint echo of a gesture of decapitation.”

Coupled with the fact that the words ‘decapitation’, ‘beheading’, ‘castration’ are used interchangeably by Courtright and given a sexual connotation in his book, one wonders if the phrase ‘strokes the head’, even though taken from a secondary source/translation, is itself not a double-entendre.

Many readers would perhaps recall a televised scene in which an elephant raises his trunk to salute the Kanchi Acharya Jayendra Sarasvati. The Acharya in turn approaches the elephant after it lowers its trunk and then pats the trunk of the elephant. Since Courtright sees a flaccid penis in non-raised trunk of Ganesa, he would perhaps interpret the raised trunk as an ‘erect’ penis, and the patting of the creature’s head as castration. He could see the lowering of the trunk by the elephant before the Acharya pats it as the triumph of asceticism over eroticism! The point we are making here is that such Freudian interpretations are quite bunkum, and their juiciness depends merely on how fertile the imagination of the Freudian interpreter is.

2.2.5 Eroticisation of Gajalakshmi in Vishnu Purana:

Courtright rightly quotes the Vishnu Purana 1.9.103 according to which when Devi Lakshmi emerged during the churning of the Ocean, Ganga and other sacred rivers appeared at the site. The celestial elephants then poured water from these sacred rivers on her with golden vessels. A few pages later he transforms this into an erotic narration,

“The male attributes of the elephant are so obvious as to need no comment. Not only the trunk but the tusk has phallic associations on some of the Ganesa stories. The myth of the elephant guardians anointing Lakshmi by spraying water over her seems the fullest expression of male fertility surrounding female fecundity. As O’Flaherty has shown, moreover, rain tends to be associated with male seed in the Indian tradition, whereas rivers appear as symbolic expressions of the feminine aspect of water…”

Per the conventions of the Hindu tradition, Lakshmi and Ganesa would stand in relation to each other as mother and son. Courtright’s erotic explanation has in effect transformed the innocuous description of the Puranas into a tale of incest. In fact, it was and is fairly common in India for holy men, princes and other great men to be honored by flowers and water poured on them by elephants. Would Courtright interpret all these as suggestive of homosexual encounters? Moreover, the Vishnu Purana text clearly states that the elephants took the waters of rivers (feminine according to Courtright + Doniger O’Flaherty). So it is surprising that the water from feminine rivers would get transformed suddenly into virile semen after the elephants poured it over Lakshmi. What we are trying to suggest is that the so-called analysis by Courtright is nothing but his own perverse imagination. We are in fact surprised why he failed to see the connection between ‘hiranyam’ (=gold, light, brightness) and ‘retas’ (=seed, semen) in the Hindu tradition to argue that the feminine river water changed its sex to masculine semen in the gold-pitchers used by the elephants to pour river waters over Lakshmi!

Courtright misses some relevant passages in the Ganesa Purana (Upasana-khanda 15.1-7) according to which Brahmaji once had a vision of a banyan tree. Brahmaji saw baalaganesa (baby-ganesa) playing on a leaf of the tree and wondered how a human baby with an elephant head arrived there, and how the tree itself could survive the waters of deluge. Suddenly, baalaganesa lifted his trunk and sprinkled the water on Brahmaji’s head, whence Brahmaji was filled with joy as well as anxiety and burst into laughter. According to Courtright and Doniger’s methodology, Brahmaji’s dream should perhaps be interpreted as a homo-erotic fantasy because an ‘erect’ trunk is shedding ‘semen’ on Brahmaji’s ‘head’. In any case, such passages clearly negate Courtright’s ‘limp-phallus’ fantasy, which we would discuss in more detail later as well.

4.2.5 Creation of Mankind from the Divine Arse (The Linga Purana & The Bhagavata Purana):

Courtright claims,

“Some Puranic sources maintain that demons and humans have come from the divine rectum (BhP 2.6.8; LP 1.70.199; cf. O’Flaherty 1976, p. 140).”

This claim of Courtright and Wendy Doniger does not stand to scrutiny. Neither the Linga Purana nor the Bhagavata Purana derive mankind from the divine arse.

Let us consider the relevant passages of the Linga Purana first. Prajapati desires to produce the four kinds of creatures, so he merges with waters and meditated on creation. In the meantime, darkness set in, and out of his anus were produced the asuras. The text also explains etymological meaning of ‘asura’. Then he cast off that body, created another one that was resplendent. From the mouth of that body were born the devas. He cast off this divine body as well and assumed another one full of goodness. Pitrs were created from the sides of this body. Finally, he cast of that body of goodness, and created another one characterized by passion. From the mind of this body were born men.

Coming to the Bhagavata Purana, the context deals with the mythical procreation of various parts of the Universe from different parts of the mythical body of the Creator God. The verse cited by Courtright and Doniger actually reads,

apam viryasya sargasya parjanyasya prajapateh

pumsah sina upasthas tu prajaty-ananda-nirvrteh |

According to this verse, the genitals of God are the source of water, semen, rains, procreative power of humans, the pleasure associated with coitus etc. There is no mention of anus or of men.

The next verse then continues,

payur yamasya mitrasya parimoksasya narada

himsaya nirrter mrtyor nirayasya gudam smrtah |

Here, the anus and the rectal region of the Creator are related to death, violence, ill fortune, hell etc.

Apparently, Doniger (and following her, Courtright) misread ‘mitrasya’ as ‘marttyasya’. The text of the Purana published by ISKCON has the reading we have reproduced above. We also crosschecked the reading of another edition of Bhagavata Purana. In that edition, the words “payur yamasya mitrasya parimoksasya naradaform the second half of verse 8. But in this edition also, the text is ‘mitrasya’ in this verse and human beings are mentioned much later.

In short, the creation of mankind from ‘The Arse’ is not stated or implied in the texts cited by Doniger or Courtright. It is pure fiction invented by them.

2.2.7 Misinterpretations of the Kurma Purana:

2.2.7.a: The Dropping of Shiva’s Phallus:

Following a 1975 book of Wendy Doniger, Courtright interprets a tale in Kurma Purana 2.37 in the following words,

“The variant of the beheading tale introduces the act of self mutilation by which Ganesa tears out his own tusk and holds it like a yogin’s staff, like his father holds the trident. The gesture is reminiscent of the time his father broke off his own phallus when he saw it was no longer of use except to create progeny (KP 2.37; O’Flaherty 1975, pp. 137-141). This act of self-mutilation makes Ganesa more like his father.”

The claim that “(Siva) broke off his own phallus when he saw it was no longer of use except to create progeny” is a contrived interpretation of Kurma Purana 2.37. The context is actually this: Once upon a time, several thousands of seers, along with their wives and sons, practiced intense austerities in a forest, while also remaining engaged in worldly life. Lord Siva wanted to demonstrate the great fault in mixing worldly life with penances, and therefore he and Vishnu respectively assumed the form of a handsome man and a beautiful woman. They approached the settlement, with Lord Siva naked, and Lord Vishnu (in the form of a woman) dressed beautifully. Upon seeing them, the wives of the sages were filled with passion for Lord Siva, while the Sages and their sons themselves got attracted towards the woman. Soon the Sages realized what was going on and they approached Lord Siva in great anger, asking him to put on his clothes and abandon his own wife (the female form of Lord Vishnu). They also cast suspicions on the character of the lady (the female form of Lord Vishnu) Lord Siva replied that he was an ascetic and rules of modesty did not apply to him. Moreover, he argued that that his wife was pure and that the sages’ accusations were unfair. The Sages started assaulting Lord Siva physically and asked him to castrate himself. Lord Siva replied that he would gladly do so if their enmity were with his linga. However, as soon as he did so, the world became dark, and the Sages were unable to see Lord Siva, Lord Vishnu and even the linga. The story thus continues and eventually Lord Brahma explains to the Sages that all their sacrifices, Vedic learning and meditation are fruitless if they do not aspire to know Mahaadeva, and also describes the glory of worship of Sivalinga and so on.

Therefore the statement of Courtright-Doniger that “The gesture is reminiscent of the time his father broke off his own phallus when he saw it was no longer of use except to create progeny….” has no relationship to the context of the relevant passages of Kurma Purana.

2.2.7.b: Beheading of Daksa:

In another case of misinterpretation of the same text, Courtright says,

“He [Siva] attacks Daksa’s sacrifice, beheading him and turning his head into the sacrificial offering, thus completing the rite that he had originally set out to destroy (KP 1.14).”

Kurma Purana actually says quite the opposite. Daksa conducts a sacrifice but does not offer anything to Lord Siva. Sage Dadhici urges him to include Lord Siva also but Daksa refuses saying that all the other devatas are already present and he does not recognize Lord Siva as a deity. All deities and sages then leave, boycotting the yajna. Only Lord Visnu stays back and Daksa seeks refuge in him. Nevertheless, Lord Siva does arrive, with his attendants. The latter go on a warpath, ruining the sacrifice and attacking minor deities. At this juncture, Daksa realizing his mistake offers homage to Parvati, who intercedes on his behalf with Lord Siva. Lord Siva instructs Daksa to include all deities and also Himself in his sacrifices. This is followed by a sermon to Daksa by Lord Brahma who describes the greatness of Lord Siva and then asks Daksa not to differentiate between Lord Siva and Lord Visnu because they are not separate, and therefore he should be devoted to both of them.

2.2.8: The Vamana Purana on the birth of Ganesa and ‘Sexual Fluids’:

Describing a version of the story of birth of the deity, Courtright states,

“The first type of story is represented by the accounts of Ganesa arising out of the sexual fluids of Siva and Parvati after their bath, but outside Parvati’s body (Vamana Purana 28.64-66)….”

Unfortunately, the bibliography section of Courtright’s book shows that he used the non-critical edition of the Purana. We compared this edition with the critical edition of Vamana Purana. The relevant text clearly reads,

“snaatastasya tatoadhastAt sthithah sa malapUrushah

umasvetam bhavasvedam jalamrtisamanvitam”

Vamana Purana 28.65

Now, the text clearly says that the drops of sweat of Uma and Bhava (=Siva) fell on moist earth and from this combination sprang Ganesa (verse 66). There is no explicit mention of ‘sexual fluids’, which seems to be Courtright’s Freudian addition. Later in the chapter too, he terms their sweat as ‘fluids of their lovemaking’ and as ‘sexual fluids’. Courtright may argue that various erotic Indian texts do mention passionate lovemaking causing the lovers to sweat. The text however directly stresses the asexual birth of the deity. Thus, it states that when the intercourse of Siva and Parvati was interrupted by the machinations of the gods, Siva discharged his semen as an oblation to Agni, and after Ganesa is born, Siva names him as ‘Vinaayaka’ because Parvati gave birth to him without the help of a naayaka or husband. Hence, to see the birth of Ganesa from ‘sexual fluids’ of Parvati and Ganesa is a bit farfetched. The text certainly does not say so or hint at it. Rather, the text seems to glorify Siva and Parvati by suggesting that even the sweat and dirt of their bodies is so potent that it their combination can result in the birth of a great deity such as Ganesa. Courtright’s interpretations merely seek to amplify (if not invent altogether) the sexual connotations of these sacred stories.

Another example of over-interpretation is his insistence that the story of Ganesa growing to the size of the earth after Parvati threw him into the river is reminiscent of the luminous Sivalinga growing to an infinite size in the Siva Purana version so that both Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma were unable to reach its ends. After all, he must eventually link everything to a linga. The description of particular deities growing to an infinite size is in fact a generic theme in Hindu sacred lore. Thus, we also have the case of Yasoda seeing the entire Universe inside Krsna’s mouth, of Krsna assuming an infinite form (the Visvarupa) in the Gita or of the Vamana Avatara of Lord Vishnu growing from a dwarf to a stupendous size whereby he measures the three worlds in two strides.

2.2.9: Misrepresentation of the Ganjendramoksa episode (Bhagavata Purana, skandha VIII):

The Gajendramoksa narrative, occurring in the eighth book (skandha) of the Bhagavata Purana, is a beautiful tale of devotion and Divine grace that continues to inspire millions of Hindus even to this day. The central theme of the narrative is that no measure of worldly power and happiness can save us in the time of dire calamity, only God can. Here is how Courtright looks at the story,

“Once, the king of the elephants, along with his wives and children came to a splendid garden at the foot of the mountain that was surrounded by an ocean like the ocean of milk. With musk fluid oozing from his forehead, with bees swarming around it, the elephant plunged into the ocean to cool himself. He sprayed water over the females and the females and the young ones bathed and drank. Then a mighty alligator, who had become angry at this intrusion into the ocean, seized hold of the elephant’s foot and held it fast in his jaws. When the wives of the elephant king saw that he was being dragged further and further into the ocean, they tried in vain to pull him back out. As the alligator and the elephant struggled with one another, the elephant became increasingly weaker while the alligator grew stronger. When he saw that he could not free himself from the trap of alligator’s jaws, the elephant called out to Vishnu for refuge. When Visnu saw the elephant’s plight, he came there and pulled the elephant and the alligator out of the water. He transformed the alligator back into Huhu, the celestial gandharva who had been cursed by the sage Devala [Narada] because he had been sporting in the water with some women when Devala wanted to bathe. When Huhu pulled on Devala’s leg he was cursed to take the form of an alligator, only to be rescued from it by seizing hold of the leg of an elephant. (BhP 8.204)”

Apparently the address “BhP 8.204” is a typographical error in place of BhP 8.2-4. Anyway, after summarizing a longish story considerably, Courtright then interprets the tale in the following manner,

“In this myth of conflict between the alligator and the elephant, we see some similarities to the myths of Airavata and Durvasas. At the conclusion of the myth, we learn that the alligator is really a disguise of an erotic gandharva, who had been cursed by the ascetic Devala for touching him while he was bathing, much as the flying elephants had been cursed by the sage Dirghatapas when they brushed against the tree under which he was sitting. By transforming the gandharva Huhu into an alligator, the ascetic reverses their roles, for now the alligator is the one whose watery territory is invaded by the elephant. His biting the leg of the elephant echoes the theme of beheading, which we have seen at work in other myths. The conflict between the alligator and the elephant surrounded by his entourage of cows – like the conflicts between the sage and the gandharva, between Siva and Gajasura, and between Durvasas and Indra – draws on the important theme in Hindu mythology of the tension between the powers of eroticism and asceticism. The tension between the alligator and the race elephant cannot be resolved, and so they both edge their way to destruction. At this desperate moment the myth turns to the solution of bhakti…”

And in this manner, Courtright goes on and on with his racy language, bringing disparate, unrelated facts picked up selectively, and then force-fits them together artificially and unconvincingly into models of ‘beheading’, ‘tension between the powers of eroticism and asceticism’ and so on. How does he do exactly?

First, he enhances the sexual connotations of the passage in Bhagavata Purana. Though his summary is fairly short, considering that the text extends over 92 verses, Courtright does not refrain from amplifying the aspects that suit his theory. An example is the use of the words ‘with musk fluid oozing from his forehead.’ The original text reads,

sa gharma-taptah karibhih karenubhir vrto madacyut-karabhair anudrutah

girim garimna-paritah prakampayan nisevyamano 'likulair madasanaih saro | nilam pankaja-renu-rusitam jighran viduran mada-vihvaleksanah

vrtah sva-yuthena trsarditena tat sarovarabhyasam athagamad drutam |

Now, in these verses, the word ‘madacyut’ could certainly mean that the elephant king was in rut, and this meaning is supported by the mention of ‘intoxicated black-bees’ (‘likulaih madasanaih) following him. However, what needs to be kept in mind is that in accordance with the excellent poetical character of the Bhagavata Purana, the narrative in chapter 2 merely conforms to the ‘embellished kaavya style’ and a “somewhat pallid erotic tinge, derived from stereotypical landscape descriptions in the Sanskrit courtly kaavya…emerges in one or two verses…”. In other words, the so-called ‘eroticism’ in these verses is ‘formulaic’, and only incidentally a part of the long narrative of this chapter, whose main intent is to describe the lordliness, the arrogance, the marital bliss and familial happiness of Gajendra, in conjunction with the beauty of his surroundings. Moreover, Gajendra is surrounded not only by his wives, but also his children. He is happy with his life, and even arrogant, crushing numerous creepers and thickets on his way to the ocean (verse 20), terrifying the large animals of the forest (verse 21) but showering his grace on the smaller creatures (verse 22). Yet, when the powerful lordly elephant, supported by his wives (and also his male elephant friends per verse 28 – a detail that Courtright leaves out) fights the alligator without any success, he realizes,

na mam ime jnataya aturam gajah kutah karinyah prabhavanti mocitum

grahena pasena vidhatur avrto'py aham ca tam yami param parayanam|

yah kascaneso balino 'ntakoragat pracanda-vegad abhidhavato bhrsam

bhitam prapannam paripati yad-bhayan mrtyuh pradhavaty aranam tam imahi|

“These other elephants, my relatives, are unable to save me in my misery – how much less so can my wives! Caught in destiny’s snare embodied by this monster, I shall take refuge with the Supreme. There must be some god who protects a frightened person who turns to him from powerful Death, running after him like a vicious serpent – I seek refuge with that god, Whom Death himself flees in fear.”

The besieged creature then bursts forth in a splendid hymn of praise and entreaty to Lord Vishnu. Hearing the prayers of his devotee, the deity appears, mounted on Garuda, his vehicle bird. Gajendra is freed of course, but so strong is the salvation-granting power of God that even the alligator is released from his ugly body and transformed into a gandharva. The narrative then reveals the tale of the previous life of Gajendra, when he was a pious king of the Pandya kingdom, and ends with verses describing the fruit of hearing this tale of devotion.

So when Courtright emphasizes the incidental ‘erotic’ aspects of the inspiring tale of devotion, there is a ‘sexual’ purpose behind it. Why? Because Courtright compares the scene of Gajendra’s struggle with the alligator with the episodes of the ‘sage and the gandharva’, ‘Siva and Gajasura’, and ‘Durvasas and Indra’ to force-fit the Gajendramoksa narrative into the schemes of beheading and “tension between the powers of asceticism and eroticism.”

We feel that the analogy between the beheading and the biting of the leg of Gajendra by the alligator is far-fetched. The gandharva was cursed because, while indulging in amorous sports with women in a lake, he had accidentally disturbed Sage Devala. What Courtright omits to mention is the past life of Gajendra, narrated in the Bhagavata Purana 8.3.7-13. The text says that in his previous life, Gajendra was a pious Vaishnava King Indradyumna of the Pandyan dynasty in the Dravida country. He renounced his kingdom and went to meditate as an ascetic. He was so lost in meditation that he forgot to offer his respects to a Sage who happened to pass by. Therefore, the Sage cursed the ascetic Indradyumna, and he became Gajendra. So what we see here is a conflict between a king who had become an ascetic himself but is reborn as king-elephant, and an ugly alligator that was a gandharva who was cursed when he was sporting in water with women. Courtright tries to project Gajendra as the ‘erotic’ personality, and the alligator as the ‘ascetic’ personality in his model of ‘tension between asceticism and eroticism’ when in reality the roles of Gajendra and the alligator can actually be reversed when the entire range of facts are taken into consideration. In any case, the ‘erotic – ascetic’ dichotomy does not exist between Gajendra and the alligator.

The episode of Indra and Durvasa is also not analogous to the Gajendramosa tale. Here, Indra indirectly insults Durvasa, while engrossed in sexual acts with a heavenly nymph. Indra was having sex with an apsaraa, when the Sage visits him. Indra hurriedly offers his respect whereupon the Sage gifts him a paarijaata flower with the ability to bestow power, glory and wealth to the owner if it is worn with respect on the head. Indra however throws the flower on his elephant Airavata’s head as soon as the Sage leaves, so that he can promptly resume his amorous activities with the nymph. In doing so, Indra insulted Sage Durvasa whereupon the latter cursed him. Gajendra was not exactly doing the same thing when the alligator caught his leg. The alligator was not an ascetic either. So where are the parallels that Courtright claims?

The Gajasura episode is also not related to Gajendramoksa through the model of tension between asceticism and eroticism. Durga killed Gajasura’s father Mahisha. To avenge his father’s death, Gajasura practices asceticism and is granted a boon by Brahma that no one overcome by lust would be able to defeat him. Invincible, he became arrogant and sinful and conquered the gods. A battle ensued between Siva and Gajasura, in which the latter was killed. Here too, while Gajendra and Gajasura were both elephants and intoxicated with their power, the alligator was not exactly Lord Siva. Thus, there is only a superficial and limited resemblance between the Gajendramoksa tale and the story of Gajasura.

The entire book of Courtright is similarly filled with irrelevant parallels, loose or non-existent methodologies, superficial comparisons drawn by considering selective data and ignoring or explaining away divergent facts.

2.2.10: Imagining an Incestuous Rape (Devibhagavata Purana 7.30):

Courtright narrates two tales to elaborate upon the erotic power of the paarijaata (Coral Tree) flower. He cites the first one from supposedly related accounts in Brahmavaivarta Purana 3.20.41-62 and Devibhagavata Purana 9.403-23. In this tale, which we repeat here from the previous section for the sake of continuity, Sage Durvasa presents a beautiful paarijaata flower with the ability to make the possessor powerful, wealthy etc to Indra. The Sage says that the powers of the flower manifest only when it is placed on his head by its possessor with reverence. When the Sage had arrived, Indra was busy in lovemaking with a heavenly nymph named Rambha. When the Sage leaves, Indra continues his lovemaking, and throws the flower on the head of Airavata, his elephant mount. Airavata immediately transforms ‘into a form of Vishnu’ according to Courtright, abandons Indra and runs into the forest, whereas Indra is completely deprived of his power and glory. When Sage Durvasa learns that Indra has insulted and has defiled his holy gift to him, he curses Indra to loose all his powers.

Courtright then continues his analysis,

“This story also concerns the rivalry between Indra and Siva, who here takes the form of Durvasas. The powers of the sage make short work of Indra’s wealth and sexual prowess. The parijata flower is an emblem of riches and erotic power, one of the flowers from the five coral trees that arose out of the churning of the ocean at the beginning of the cosmic cycle. In another story the goddess gave this flower to Durvasas who in turn gave it to Daksa, who became so aroused by the scent of the flower that he made love to his daughter Sati “in the manner of a mere beast.” This shameful action drove her to burn her body, that is, commit sati, and provoked Siva to such a rage that he beheaded Daksa (DBP 7.30).”

Courtright thus links the two stories through the supposed common motif of the paarijaata flower. However, when the relevant passages of the Devibhagavata Purana are checked, there is no mention of the paarijaata flower at all. Verse 7.30.28 of the text reads,

tatah prasannaa devesii nijakanthagataam srajam

bhramabhradamarasamsaktaam makarandamadaakulaam |

The verse merely means that pleased with the Muni, the Devi gave him the fragrant garland that was on her neck, attracting clusters of bumblebees with its fragrant juice (makaranda). Now, the word ‘makaranda’ is typically used for the juice of ‘jasmine’ flower, which is also very fragrant and attracts bees, wasps, insects, bumblebees as can be seen in the gardens in India. No other verse in the chapter clarifies that the paarijaata flowers were in her garland, and so the artificial linkage between the two stories by Courtright is brought about by an unjustifiable insertion of ‘paarijaata’ flowers into the context by him.

Before coming to Courtright’s claim of an incestuous rape, let us recapitulate the story of Daksa’s sacrifice for the readers. The story is very popular, and is found in numerous Puranas in differing versions. Apparently the story was so well known in the milieu of the author of this Purana that the reader’s knowledge of the same was presumed. This is clear from the extremely brisk narrative in the Devibhagavata, and from the paucity of allusions to the incident, which serves as a background of sorts. In most versions of the story, Daksa organizes a grand Vedic yajna and calls all deities except Siva. Thrilled by the prospect of meeting her siblings and mother, Sati who is the daughter of Daksa, and an ideal and devoted wife of Siva, nevertheless persuades her husband to participate in the yajna as well. In some versions, Siva agrees and they go together to the yajna, whereas in other versions, she proceeds alone. In the yajna, Daksa insults Siva, and unable to bear the insults to her husband, Sati immolates herself by her yogic powers. The recurrent theme in these various versions is that the cause of Sati’s death is the insult heaped on her husband by her father. When Siva sees the charred body of Sati, his rage knows no bounds. He and his followers destroy the sacrifice, and he beheads Daksa, replacing his head with that of a goat.

Now, the Devibhagavata Purana is a Sakta sectarian text extolling the Devi primarily, and secondarily Siva, her consort. It narrates this entire episode in a distinctive manner. After Sage Durvasa receives the divine garland from the Devi, he reverentially places it on his head and proceeds to meet Daksa. In Daksa’s home, he meets Sati and offers his homage to him. Daksa asks for the garland, and thinking that Daksa himself is a devotee of the Devi, Sage Durvasa gives the garland to him. The text then says,

grhiitaa sirasaa maalaa munina nijamandire

sthaapitaa sayanam yatra dampatyoratisundaram |

“Receiving the garland given by the Sage on his head, in his own chamber, Daksa then places it reverentially on the beautiful bed prepared for the couple.”

It is very important to pay attention to the word ‘dampati’ in this verse because the word normally stands for ‘husband and wife’. It seems implausible that he would have placed the garland on a bed meant for Sati and her husband Siva, whose presence is not even mentioned so far, although verse 23 does mention her betrothal with Siva – an incident that is clearly not contemporaneous with the yajna of Daksa. It is more likely that it was the bed meant for Daksa and his wife, Sati’s mother. There is no evidence in the text that the bed is meant to be shared by Daksa and his married daughter.

What happens then is very evil (verse 35cd),

pasukarmarato raatrau maalaagandhena moditah |

“Aroused by the fragrance of the garland, Daksa was engrossed in animal-acts during the night.”

There is no hint what these bestial acts were, but it is reasonable to conclude that Daksa engaged in sex, and perhaps other activities such as liquor etc. The text certainly does not say that “he made love to his daughter Sati in the manner of a mere animal” as Courtright claims. The word pasukarma is used in several senses in Sanskrit texts, and in this context, the sexual connotation is clearly implied. The general sense of ‘pasukarma’ in Sanskrit texts is non-regulated activity that violates the norms the scriptures – such as unwarranted sex, violence, destruction and so on. Rape and incest are more specific, euphemistic, limited meanings of the term which are not necessarily warranted by this particular context, and are in fact totally negated by parallel versions in other Puranas.

But why is indulgence in sex by Daksa considered a pasukarma? For three reasons. First, he has defiled the divine garland given by the Devi (and remember that the Purana is a Sakta Purana, dedicated to the Devi) by allowing it to act as an aphrodisiac. Second, he is in the midst of a yajna, when the yajmaana (sacrificer) and his wife are to remain celibates. Sex during the period of a yajna defiles the rite. And more than that, the verses following this clarify further,

abhavatsa mahipaalastena paapena sankare

sive dveshamatirhaato devyaam satyaam tatha nrpa |

“O Great King! Owing to (or under the influence of) that sin (of sexual intercourse), Daksa spoke evil of Siva, and he was filled with an intense enmity for Siva as well as for his daughter Devi Sati.”

So we come to the standard narrative wherein Daksa speaks ill of Siva, and is filled with hatred for him (and here, also for Sati, who is, but an incarnation of the Devi).

Now, the beginning verses of chapter 7.30 narrate how Daksa was a pious king who had pleased Devi by intense austerities in the Himalayas. When the Devi appeared before him, he requested her to take birth in his family. The Devi granted that wish, and was born in his family as Sati. The Daksa now is a totally transformed man. He has insulted the same Devi he had worshipped in the past. He is filled with enmity for Sati, who is not only his own daughter, but also the incarnation of the Devi he had worshipped. And therefore Sati, who is but Devi that has incarnated as Daksa’s daughter can no longer stay in the body that is born of her father Daksa. So the text continues,

rajanastenaaparaadhena tajjanyo deha eva ca

satyaa yogaagninaa dagdhah satidharmadidrksayaa |

“O King! Because of Daksa’s crime, Sati immolated her body, that was generated from him (Daksa), with her yogic fire, so as to preserve the dignity of the eternal dharma (of devotion to her husband).”

The crime of Daksa was that he had spoken ill of Siva and that he was filled with enmity towards him and his own daughter under the influence of sin. The text then states that the Sakti of Sati returned to the Himalayas (7.30.38ab), the abode of Devi where Daksa had meditated and had had her darsana in the first place. The narrative continues in the standard manner – Siva is infuriated with the death of Sati, and he destroys the yajna (7.43). Daksa is beheaded and his head is replaced with that of goat and so on.

So what we see here is a variation of the standard theme in which Sati commits suicide because she cannot bear the insult of her husband by her father. And since the text is a Sakta text, it adds its own details that Daksa had defiled the gift of Devi, and was filled with enmity towards her own essence in his daughter Sati. The text certainly does not say, “This shameful action [of Daksa’s incestuous rape of Sati – reviewers’ addition] drove her to burn her body.” This ‘scholarly’ version is but Courtright’s own invention. The manner in which Courtright gives a sexual kink to Pauranic passages reminds of how his gurubandhu Jeffrey Kripal had interpreted the Kathamrta to make out Ramakrshna Paramahamsa into a homosexual pedophiliac.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Courtright has left behind even his mentor Wendy Doniger in eroticisation of Sanskrit texts. Let us consider this very example. Doniger has summarized these verses of Devibhagavata in the following words –

“And so he [Durvasa] gave the garland to that man, Daksa, who received the garland upon his head and placed it upon the exquisite marital bed in his own palace. At night, the man was so delighted by the perfume of the garland that he made love in the manner of a mere beast; and because of this evil, the king conceived in his mind a hatred for Siva, Sankara, and even for the Goddess Sati. Because of this offence, Sati burnt that body, which the man had begotten, in the fire of her yoga, with a desire to demonstrate the dharma of ‘suttee’…”

Suffice it to say that if the text had any hint of rape, (much less an incestuous rape) as Courtright claims, Doniger would not have failed to notice it and would have certainly discussed it. The fact that she herself does not do so merely confirms our assertion that the description of an incestuous rape in Devibhagavata Purana 7.30 is nothing but Courtright’s own fantasy. There is not even a cigar, yet Courtright sees a Phallus!

2.2.11: The Remover of Obstacles or the Creator of Obstacles?

Ganesa is known as ‘Vighnesvara’ that Courtright translates as ‘the Lord of obstacles’. The name is generally understood to mean ‘remover of obstacles’ by lay Hindus, but Hindu tradition itself associates some ambiguity with the name. In some Hindu texts, Ganesa is actually stated to be the ‘creator of obstacles’. Courtright cites a version in Skanda Purana VII.1.38.1-34 according to which the heavens become crowded with people when even sinners start attaining salvation by visiting the temple of Somanatha. The gods then become alarmed and approach Siva for a way out of this quagmire. He is unable to help them and therefore Parvati creates Ganesa out of the dirt of her body. She remarks that Ganesa will place obstacles before (sinful or undeserving) men so that they will get deluded, and will go to the hell instead of to Somanatha.

The notion that Ganesa creates obstacles without a just cause are merely meant to demonstrate his power, as well as the fact that he does not allow sinners to take short cuts to reach the heaven – this is what the above story from the Skanda Purana also demonstrates. Linga Purana 105.12-16 says the same in a more elaborate fashion,

“Hear Parvati, what this son of yours will become. He will be like me in might, heroism, and compassion. This son of yours will become one just like me because of these qualities. He will make obstacles that last until death for those evil and impious ones who hate the Veda and dharma. Those who fail to pay homage to me and Visnu, the supreme lord, will go to great darkness by the obstacles laid before them by the lord of obstacles. In their houses there shall be quarrels without end. Because of the obstacles your son makes everything perishes utterly. For those who do not worship, who are intent upon lies and anger, and are committed to fierce savagery, he will create obstacles. He will remove obstacles from those who revere the traditions, knowledge, and teachers. Without worshipping him, all actions and laws will become obstructed.”

Courtright too is aware of the Siva Purana verse in which Parvati declares that Ganesa shall receive the worship of all and remove all obstacles. Yet, how could a deity, whose morality Doniger has judged as ambivalent and whose father Courtright himself would label a notorious womanizer be depicted in such an exalted manner? So, Ganesa is presented as the Lord of Obstacles, turning Ganesa into some malevolent deity. Courtright interprets the verses in Linga Purana and Skanda Purana, in which Siva tells Ganesa that the latter shall help the gods and the Brahmins and create obstacles in the rites of those who fail to pay the priest his dakshina for performing the sacrifice, quite out of context to bestow this dubious label on Ganesa. This label would later on come handy for psychoanalyzing Ganesa’s supposed sexual ambivalence apart from adorning the cover of the book. Ganesa is then portrayed as a jealous deity who would inflict severe punishments on those who dare ignore his immanent manifestations. The joyous festival of Ganesa caturthi when women pamper Ganesa with sweetmeats just as they would pamper their own children is portrayed as an attempt by the devotees to propitiate Ganesa, who, the readers are told, if not propitiated would turn demoniac and lay obstacles in their path.

In the course of this discussion, Courtright compares Ganesa to St. Peter, who is the keeper of the gate to the heaven as per the Biblical legends. He is quick to point out one difference though: Ganesa is comparable to the devious St. Peter of folklore, and not to the sober and austere St. Peter of the New Testament and early Christian church. It becomes imperative for Courtright to differentiate between folklore and literature to present St. Peter in a positive light, but such scruples are dispensed with when it comes to using unreliable anecdotes to taint the Hindu deity Ganesa.

Referring to the story of the Skanda Purana, Courtright suggests,

“the pattern of Ganesa’s ambivalent behavior at the threshold links him with the actions of demons....”

This is a rather poor choice of words, and an unfair demonizing of the deity. Hindus interpret the deity predominantly as an embodiment of auspiciousness, benevolence and the like. He is invoked at the beginning of all endeavors – religious or secular, because he is the remover of obstacles. If he places obstacles in front of the people or the gods, it is predominantly for the reasons stated in the passages from the Linga Purana and the Skanda Purana above. The essential character of Vighnesvara is that of vighnahartta, sukhakartta, dukhahartta and mangalamurthi. His obstacles are meant largely for people who want to take unethical short cuts in their lives, and is a minor aspect of his character.

But even the ‘Foreword’ writer Wendy Doniger sees only his ‘obstacle-creator’ aspect, in her Foreword to the book –

“every book exists in toto in the mind of the elephant-headed god, and we scribes merely scramble to scribble down those bits of it that we can grasp, including the “knots,” the obstacles to full comprehension, that the god of obstacles throws in on purpose to keep us on our toes and to keep us in awe of him.”

Perhaps, Doniger and her progeny always want to say something that is ‘new’, ‘different’, ‘exciting’ and ‘sexy’. Or as a Sanskrit proverb goes, the housefly ignores the entire clean body of its host and dwells only on the festering sore.

2.2.12: The Puranas and Conspiracy Theories:

Courtright revisits the theme of the problem of the Vedic origins of Ganesa. It is true that there are not many unambiguous references to Ganesa in the Vedic texts, in contrast with the exalted manner in which he is referred to in the texts of classical Hinduism – the Puranas. To explain this discrepancy, Courtright comes up with a conspiracy theory. He argues that the Puranas attempt to cover-up his demon ancestry and are uncomfortably aware of the discrepancy between the malevolent, obstacle-creating powers of Vinayaka and the positive, obstacle-removing actions of Ganesa. According to him, the Puranas seek to resolve this contradiction by various mechanisms such as ‘clever use of false etymologies for the name “Vinayaka”.’ He says,

“In one case, when Siva saw, much to his surprise, that Ganesa appeared out of the mixture of his and Parvati’s sweat and bathwater, he exclaimed to her, “A son has been born to you without [vinā] a husband [nāyakena]; therefore this son shall be named Vināyaka” (VāmP 28.71-72). This etymological sleight of hand obscures the association of Vināyaka with “those who lead astray” which is its etymologically prior meaning, and connects it with another meaning of nāyaka as leader or husband.”

The Purana has really not indulged in any subterfuge because in the second half of this very verse (28.72cd) Lord Siva clearly says that Ganesa will create obstacles for devatas and others (‘esha vighnasahasraani suradiinaam karishyati’). The meaning of the word vinaayaka given by the Purana is definitely possible grammatically, without any strain at all. The moot question pertaining to historiography is whether the meaning “creator obstacles’ for ‘vinaayaka’ was in vogue or the norm at the time the Vamana Purana was compiled. If not, then we cannot accuse the author of the Purana with a ‘sleight of hand’.

It may be noted that creation of such ad-hoc etymologies, mythologies, and cosmologies is seen very frequently in Hindu texts – Brahmanas, Upanishads, Puranas and all other genres. These ad-hoc etymologies serve various purposes at hand, such as provide an impromptu explanations or justification for a ritual act, or thematic completion of the narrative and so on. One need not come up with conspiracy theories as Courtright has done, to describe this phenomenon.

2.2.12: Maternal Aggression of Parvati against Ganesa – Dubious Passage of Varaha Purana:

Courtright says,

“The theme of maternal aggression in the myths of Ganesa is more veiled; but it is there – as we have seen in the myth where Parvati curses Ganesa to be ugly and as we shall see in the myth where she places him at the doorway to be cut down to size by Siva...”

We are not aware of any Pauranic text where Parvati curses Ganesa to be ugly. Courtright himself admits that this story is not found in any printed edition of Varaha Purana, although it is attributed to this text by a Christian missionary traveler to India, and by an old, ill-informed author writing in the first half of 1800s who may have relied himself on this missionary’s work for this piece of information. We shall discuss this issue more later. It is also questionable if Parvati’s asking Ganesa to stand guard at the doorway should be taken as a ‘veiled’ instance of ‘maternal aggression’.

2.2.13 Who is elder: Ganesa or Skanda

Hindu tradition is not unanimous on who is the elder brother of the two. Courtright however states that Ganesa is the younger brother in a somewhat absolute manner (page 109) –

“The iconography is clear enough; Ganesa is a child, a baby. So he remains, never growing into the full youthful stage of his elder brother Skanda or the maturity of his father.”

But later (p. 123), he contradicts himself and states that in most areas, Skanda is considered the younger brother. So we see that even incorrect and inconsistent facts do not prevent Courtright from inventing psychological analyses.

We have given just a few illustrations of various ways in which Courtright has distorted data from the Puranas and the Vedas for his questionable psychoanalytical constructions. Many more instances of distortion could be cited in relation to texts such as Skanda Purana and Siva Purana, but we will leave them here for the sake of brevity, and move on to the next section.

3. The Cigar now becomes a Phallus

3.1 Opening remarks:

The principal cause of the current controversy over Courtright’s book seems to be his use of Freudian theories to impart perverse sexual meanings to the otherwise innocuous aspects of the narratives on the deity found in Hindu texts. Courtright’s defense however is that his detractors have taken his quotes out of context. We find this explanation disingenuous because even outside Chapter III, where most of these sexual interpretations are found, one can find other instances where he has hinted at similar things. The previous section of our review amply demonstrates how Courtright has amplified, if not invented, sexuality in several Purana passages.

We have seen in our brief review of textual analysis in the book how Courtright manages to kink the narratives of Puranas by giving them numerous sexual twists. Completely unrelated projectiles, missiles, electric poles, water pipes, tree trunks, elephant trunks, stone pillars, walking sticks, obelisks, spider legs and lotus-stems were reduced to ‘cigars’.

Now, Courtright asks us to see penises, phalluses and, indeed even male procreative organs in all these ‘cigars’. Indeed, such a wide variety of choices that we are given makes his text very ‘insightful’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘wonderful’, ‘scholarly’, ‘objective’, ‘nuanced’, ‘sensitive’, ‘sympathetic’ etc, to use the buzz words in academic Hinduism studies.

In a way, the narrative level in Chapter II leads to Chapter III. Courtright himself explains the rationale for this earlier in his book,

It is particularly difficult to know how to proceed from the point at which the various myths in their variant versions are assembled in the lush landscape of the Puranic texts (the narrative level) to an interpretation of these myths. We could start almost anywhere and work our way around, examining each theme and metaphor until all the myths are accounted for in a network or tapestry of meanings. My way out of this welter of possibilities is to seek the elements in the myths that are most common and recurrent or most striking in their uniqueness, to begin with these and thence be led to other myths that shed light on the first ones. The most striking, and obvious, recurrent element in the Ganesa cycle of myths is the elephant head. Hence our analysis begins with an inquiry into elephant symbolism and mythology and its relation to the Ganesa story. The elephant head in turn leads to the myths of Ganesa’s birth, beheading, and the receiving of his elephant head, which in turn leads to myths of his beheading. Beheading connects his mythology to the larger metaphorical universe of sacrifice, dismemberment, initiation, and theogony. Because it is Ganesa’s father who beheads him, the story is tied to the cycle of Siva myths and to the issue of father-son relations. This opens up the possibilities of psychoanalytic interpretations, centering on the Oedipal complex…”

One wonders how Wendy’s children would interpret, using psychoanalysis as a façade, the episode of Parasurama beheading his mother Renuka at his father’s behest. Would they argue that it reveals a possible homosexual relationship between Sage Jamadagni and his son, and suggest that the beheading symbolizes the removal of the unwanted mother? Would he liken Renuka’s head to the sexual organ and equate her beheading with genital mutilation?

One may argue that Courtright is imposing Western interpretations on an Indian deity and so there is bound to be some bias. However, Courtright argues that his methodology is ‘universal’ or ‘objective’ in the following words (p. 103)-

The myth of Ganesa parallels aspects of human experience beyond the restricted world of ritual initiation. It is a tale of family relations and reflects the unconscious ambivalences of early forgotten childhood experience. One need not be an ideological Freudian to see the fruitfulness of raising psychoanalytical questions about a myth that involves such a violent and complex account of father/son relations. The extent to which the myth of Ganesa explores these relations and the sensibilities that attend them, it reaches beyond its Indian context and takes on universal meaning and appeal.”

We invite the reader to read our extracts from Courtright’s psychoanalysis and decide for him or herself whether there is anything worthwhile in this perverse verbal-jugglery. It appears that to give a ‘universal meaning and appeal’ to the persona of Ganesa, he started with his unflattering introduction of his protagonist Ganesa, of whom he says, “He appears tainted, trivial, perhaps even vulgar (…) In short Ganesa is too ordinary” and wrote, “Repulsion at the form of the deity with an elephant head and suspicion that there may be more going on than meets the (Western) eye, is a good starting point for our inquiry…” Ganesa’s mythology is also declared as, “an elaborate rationalization for an invented deity.” Now that really sounds universally appealing and meaningful!

3.2 Paul Courtright invents a ‘Limp Phallus’:

Perhaps the most offensive statements made by Paul relates to his description of Ganesa’s trunk as a limp phallus. Let us reproduce them here, for the information of our readers.

“...The elephant trunk, which perpetually hangs limp, and broken tusk are reminiscent of Siva’s own phallic character, but as these phallic analogs are either excessive or in the wrong place, they pose no threat to Siva’s power and his erotic claims on Parvati.”

That the tradition or the texts never attach any sexual connotation to this legend doesn’t stop Courtright from thus trashing Ganesa. A sensible reader needn’t stop to think if any elephant’s trunk is ever erect. While Courtright dwells incessantly and uncontrollably on the equation ‘Ganesa’s Trunk = limp phallus’, he does not see any Freudian significance (and thank God for that) to the fact that trunk is also not really straight, but also slightly twisted or curved, which is why the deity is often termed as ‘vakratunda’.

According to several versions of how Ganesa acquired his elephant-head, his beheading is caused by a battle that starts at the threshold of Parvati’s inner chambers. Courtright concurs with Robert Goldman and others in interpreting this location in sexual terms,

“From the psycho-analytic perspective, the symbolism as the location where the battle occurs is significant. It is the threshold to Parvati’s bath and bedroom, symbol of her shrine, womb, and point of sexual entry. It is the place simultaneously of union and separation. Ganesa the child is coming out of the door at the moment Siva the husband is attempting to get in. The doorway is not big enough for both of them at the same time; one must prevail, and, of course, it is the father. The resolution, at lease initially, must fall in his favor. The particular type of mutilation Siva inflicts on Ganesa is also significant. As Robert Goldman points out in commenting on Ganesa’s beheading, “This particular mode of displaced castration is a common feature of Hindu legends. Beheading is, moreover, a regular symbol for castration in dreams and fantasies” (pp. 371-372,; cf. Freud, pp. 366-369). In traditional Indian yogic physiology the head is the receptacle of both thought and sexual potency or seed. In Tantric descriptions of the process of spiritual liberation [moksa] the seed is drawn up from the sexual organs through the various centers [cakra] along the spinal axis until it is released through an aperture at the top of the head [brahmarandhra cakra or sahasrara cakra] (cf. O’Flaherty 1980, pp. 17-61). In some versions of the myth where the Ganesa already has his elephantine form, the “displaced castration” takes place on an even more obvious surrogate, the tusk. In separating Ganesa’s head/tusk Siva, or one of his stand-ins, removes any potential threat of incest and thereby leaves Ganesa sexually ambiguous...”

We feel that the reference to ‘doorway’ which two men cannot enter at the same time could be interpreted by readers as a double-entendre, and thereby could be seen as demeaning to Parvati, and therefore even kinky and sexist in nature.

A yogin is supposed to prevent his ‘seed’ [retas] from falling [skhalana] out and instead cause it to rise in his body till it reaches the head [urdhvareta]. So far so good, but how is this relevant in this context especially when Courtright himself is at pains to suggest that Ganesa’s wisdom is not the transcendental wisdom of Vedanta and Upanishads and he is “not a deity of transcendental realization”, and rather “rules the concrete world of action and its fruits, success and failure, triumph and pain”? It appears that in their zeal to make their interpretations more juicy and full, Goldman and Courtright would not have even a pretense of consistency, but would do whatever they find to effect, as a Hindi proverb goes – ‘kahiin kii iinTha, kahiin kaa roDaa, bhaanumati ne kunbaa joDaa’.

Relating the beheading of Ganesa to the brahmarandhra cakra in such a contrived manner is also contradicted by direct data from Tantric Hindu texts that are ignored by Courtright. These texts actually relate the deity to the muulaadhaara cakra that is at the base of the spine, close to the anus. The reason is quite transparent – Ganesa is the lord of the threshold, and moreover Hindu prayer ceremonies commence with invocations to Ganesa. Likewise, in the initial stages of Yogic meditation, the focus is on muulaadhaara cakra. The practitioner of Yoga in his initial stages tries to ‘awaken’ his kundalini, that is located in the muulaadhaara cakra. And things become easier once this has happened, just as our tasks become easier if we commence them with an invocation to Ganesa. The Rudrayaamala Tantra clearly states that Ganesa’s elephant head with the curved trunk resembles the form of the kundalini, which resides in the muulaadhaara cakra.

Courtright says,

“An important element in the symbolism of the elephant head is displacement or, better, disguise. The myth wants to make it appear that the elephant head was not a deliberate choice but merely the nearest available head in an auspicious direction or the head of one of Siva’s opponents to whom he had already granted salvation. But, from a psycho-analytical perspective, there is meaning in the selection of the elephant head. Its trunk is the displaced phallus, a caricature of Siva’s linga. It poises no threat because it is too large, flaccid, and in the wrong place to be useful for sexual purposes. In the myth of the broken tusk, Siva does not restore it but leaves it for Ganesa to carry around and to use occasionally as a weapon or a writing instrument. The elephant head is also a mask, and, as it is a mask’s purpose simultaneously to reveal and conceal, it both disguises and expresses aggression inherent in the story. So Ganesa takes on the attributes of his father but in an inverted form, with an exaggerated phallus – ascetic and benign – whereas Siva’s is “hard” [urdhvalinga], erotic, and destructive.”

While we do not see any mask on Ganesa’s torso, we do get a hint of peek-a-boo pornography. We would let the readers decide if it is worth psychoanalyzing Courtright himself, based on his own statements in the book.

Anyways, his fiction of limp trunks and phalluses is not exactly supported by the Hindu texts. For instance, Ganesa Purana states that the trunk of Ganesa is so strong that it is more powerful than that of Airavata and other elephants who are guardians of the eight quarters of the Universe. Courtright thus misses a good opportunity to discuss ‘Penis-Envy’. The Tantric texts, which Courtright ignores, distinguish clearly between the trunk and his phallus, and the latter does perform its intended functions according to these texts. In short, data from the texts ignored by Courtright completely negates his own fantasy about Ganesa’s trunk.

What would then be a traditional explanation of the deity’s trunk? Courtright himself notes that its shape, together with the deity’s head, are often likened to an ‘OM’ turned clockwise by ninety degrees. Here is how traditional scholars would summarize the significance of the deity’s trunk: Ganesha’s trunk is symbolic of his viveka or discrimination, a most important quality necessary for the spiritual progress of a Vedantin. The elephant uses its trunk to push down a massive tree, carry huge logs to the river and for other heavy tasks. The same huge trunk is used to pick up a few blades of grass, to break a small coconut, remove the hard nut and eat the soft kernel inside. The biggest and minutest of tasks‑come within the range of this trunk which is symbolic of Ganesha’s intellect and its powers of discrimination.

We have stated earlier that a raised trunk of an elephant denotes a salute in Hindu culture. The sight of elephants raising their trunks to salute Hindu priests and sages, and chariot borne icons of deities during religious processions organized by temples is a familiar one even today in India. In contrast to these temple elephants, Ganesa is the deity Himself. He is worshipped by Hindus as their God. Thus, whom really does Ganesa need to salute? To us Hindus, His graceful, flowing trunk feeding on a Modak in several icons, represents His benevolence, and His eagerness to accept our humble reverential offerings. The extremely crude and obscene interpretations of phallus-obsessed Paul Courtright have nothing to do with our religious tradition, and are a figment of his own imagination.

3.3: Double Jeopardy: The Broken Tusk and Ganesa’s Second Castration:

In all civilized societies, a criminal cannot be convicted twice for the same offence. We saw in the earlier section how the trunk of Ganesa was likened to a limp phallus. But Courtright sees another problem. One of the tusks of the deity is broken, or missing. As expected then, under the subject ‘The Tusk’, all kinds of disjointed, unrelated, disparate Puranic narratives are brought together in an artificial manner by Courtright to lay the ground for discussions on beheading, decapitation, amorous play and all such sexual, Freudian stuff in Chapter III. Ignored of course are the mystical, spiritual interpretations of his single tusk (e.g., Mudgala Purana 2.52.13-14) wherein the tusk is related to maayaa.

It is definitely worth investigating what meaning Hindu tradition itself accords to the broken tusk of the deity. To determine the traditional meanings of the broken tusk, we explored a wide range of Hindu texts, from Kavyas to Puranas, and found the following explanations -

In a major Purana text, Lord Vishnu explains the word ‘ekadanta’ as follows –

“the word ‘eka’ means supreme (pradhana), and the word ‘danta’ denotes strength’. To Him (Ganesa) who is supremely powerful/strong, I (Lord Vishnu) offer homage.”

Far from being a castrated phallus, the broken tusk of Ganesa is a potent weapon. Ganesapurana, Kridakhanda (chapters 62-70) describes a battle waged between Devāntaka and Ganesa, the latter assisted by his spouses. Devāntaka uproots the tusk of Ganesa, but the deity uses this very broken tusk to penetrate the demon’s chest and thus kills him.

The Mudgala Purana discusses the eight avataras of Ganesa, in eight sections. The second section is the ekadantakhanda. Mudgala Purana 2.52.13-14 etc. state that the word ‘eka’ means ‘māyā’ whereas ‘danta’ represents the Atman that illuminates the māyā through superimposition or reflection. This is a Vedantic interpretation of the single tusk.

Sant Jnanesvara (1275-1297 CE) begins his Jnanesvari, a celebrated Maharashtri commentary on the Gita, with a devotional praise of Ganesa, in twenty-one verses. Verse 16 states that the deity vanquished the heretical Buddhist doctrine with his broken tusk.

In Sisupalavadha 1.60 of poet Maagha, it is stated that Ganesa has one tusk because Ravana uprooted his second tusk to make ivory earrings for the beautiful women of his kingdom.

And of course, the tradition that Ganesa uprooted his tusk to serve as a pen for writing the Mahabharata at the dictation of Sage Veda Vyasa is too well known to recount here. The tale is narrated by Courtright himself.

This is how another scholar discusses the significance of the single tusk from a traditional Hindu perspective –

Ganapati is considered to be the god of wisdom. The tusk represents a writing instrument or the tool by which learning is facilitated. It is also symbolic of Advaita (nonduality)….Further, the tusk represents discrimination, the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is unreal.

The tusk is an instrument by which the elephant plunges into the earth to uproot a tree. As discrimination, it is the instrument by which one can uproot ignorance from one’s life. One should not be a victim to likes and dislikes, or pleasure and pain; always being tossed between the dualities. One should transcend likes (rāga) and dislikes (dvesa) and become immersed in the Self. The single tusk reminds one of this fact.

Another way to interpret the tusk is to claim that it symbolizes the manifest universe. The Mudgala Purān,a explains that the single tusk is symbolic of māyā, from which all names and forms proceed. Before there was creation, there was nothing. It is from māyā that two, and hence multiplicity, commences. Therefore, the tusk stands for creation as well as that which supports creation. It is strong and powerful. It is durable. It represents the divine power (śakti) of God……

If the tusk stands for dharma, for righteousness, for truth, the broken tusk seems to violate the law of the universe. Symbolically, Ganesa breaking his tusk signifies the incredible sacrifice that the Divine makes for aiding humanity. Further, it may be interpreted as demonstrating that Ganesa is beyond the rules of cosmic orderliness and that he is the source of these rules……The tusk reminds people not only that they may relate to, and commune with, Ganesa, but also that they must soar into superhuman heights and transcend name and form.”

Two other Hindu scholars, Nanditha Krishna and Shakuntala Jagannathan, suggest that –

‘the broken tusk which goes against all canons of orderliness, balance and symmetry, which are part of Hindu thought, is an unusual facet of Ganesha. Symbolically Ganesha breaking his tusk to fight with a demon or to write the Mahabharata signifies the great sacrifice which Divine Beings make for aiding mankind. It also shows that Ganesha is beyond the rules of Cosmic orderliness as he is the Cosmos itself.’

The contrast of the above interpretations with the phallus-centric interpretations of Courtright is too clear to require an elaboration by us.

3.4 Indian Males in relation to Ganesa’s Sexuality, Celibacy and Incest:

Courtright summarizes his Freudian interpretations on Ganesa in the following manner,

“Iconographically Ganesa’s body is that of a plump infant. Although at least one Puranic source has an account of this marriage, Ganesa is generally represented as celibate, a celibacy suggested visually and perhaps caricatured by his exaggerated but perpetually flaccid trunk. Finally, his insatiable appetite for sweetmeats [modaka] – a source of many amusing tales – raises the question (from a psychoanalytical perspective) of whether this tendency toward oral erotic gratification may not serve as compensation for his arrested development at not reaching the phallic stage as well as the severing of the maternal bond he underwent at the beheading hand of his father. Gananath Obeyesekere interprets Ganesa’s celibacy, like his broken tusk, as the punishment he receives for incestuous fixation on his mother.”

This generalization of Ganesa is preceded by something even more sinister. Indians as a whole are force-fit into a stereotypical category by Courtright, and then this stereotype is subjected to a demeaning Freudian analysis. Courtright is not alone in treating the stereotyped Indian male as a subject of Psychoanalyses. In fact, he draws upon the works of Sudhir Kakar and the like repeatedly in this chapter. We will not reproduce his citations from their works here because similar citations are available already in an Internet review of the book ‘Vishnu on Freud’s Desk’.

Coming back to Ganesa, Courtright says,

“Ganesa’s celibacy links him both to his father and his mother, but for opposite reasons. He remains celibate so as not to compete erotically with his father, a notorious womanizer, either incestuously for his mother or for any other woman for that matter.”

There is nothing in the tradition to defend this portrayal of Ganesa as an incestuous son. So, anecdotes that none can verify, are used to bolster the case,

“Once Parvati asked Ganesa whom he would like to marry; he replied, ‘Someone exactly like you, Mummy.’ And Mummy got outraged by such an openly incestuous wish and cursed him with everlasting celibacy.”

Courtright quotes A K Ramanujan, who doesn’t tell his source. In any event, this version is very different from the version that other South Indians are aware of. In that version, when Ganesa tells Parvati that he would want a bride just like her, she laughs at him, and mockingly tells him that he may never get married in that case, implying that there is none comparable to Sakti. It seems that Ramanujan has added his own spin to this tale in his amateurish attempt at psychoanalysis. The fact is that in a vast country such as India, with more than a billion people (or 700 million people in 1980s when Courtright wrote his book), there are literally thousands of tales and stories about different deities floating around orally amongst Hindu masses. Should one bring together these stories with passages of older texts and then construct a psycho-analytical theory on them? Is this methodology sound?

Even though in this unverifiable tale child Ganesa alone is pronounced guilty of harboring incestuous thoughts, Courtright is quite eager to indict Parvati too on this count. He has no hesitation in invoking a tale that, by his own admission, doesn’t find a mention in any published edition of the Varaha Purana, but is only to be found in the writings of Abbe Dubois, the missionary that never concealed his hatred for Hinduism. In this invented and disparagingly presented tale, the beauty of the newborn Ganesa fascinates all women and this triggers a supposedly incestuous jealousy in Parvati, who curses his beauties to vanish.

It is very common in India for sons to say when asked what kind of girl they want to marry that they would marry someone like their own mother. Indian ethos emphasizes on sacrifice, and the mother is often the embodiment of sacrifice. She sacrifices everything for the family, and when the time of reckoning comes, her children gratefully remember all that she has done. So, when a son says that he would like a spouse just like her, he is talking of a likeness in character and spirit. It is ironical that Wendy’s children must read such noble sentiments within a culture as incestuous thoughts.

Having unfairly declared Ganesa an incestuous son, Courtright proceeds to present even the most innocent events of Ganesa’s life as sordid tales of incest. In a Sri Lankan legend, Ganesa competes with his brother Skanda for a mango. While the latter circumambulates the world, Ganesa simply circumambulates his parents and wins the mango. Courtright quoting Obeyesekere concludes that the mango is the symbol of vagina, and hence this episode of Ganesa eating this fruit symbolizes Ganesa possessing his mother incestuously.

Now, mango is considered ‘the king of fruits’ in India and is included in hundreds of narratives in all parts of India, in many different ways. Is it justifiable to pick one of these, and then impose a ‘symbolic’ meaning on the same in order to bolster a speculative psycho-analytical fantasy? It may be noted that many fruits have some sexual connotation or the other in various human cultures. For instance, several medieval Christian art traditions depict apple as the fruit of sin that tempted Adam and Eve. Therefore, would it be justified to see a double-entendre in the English adage that ‘An apple a day, keeps the Doctor away’? In the Song of Songs in the Old Testament, the breasts of a woman are likened to bunches of grapes. Should we, following Courtright-Obeyesekere ‘methodology’, see hidden meanings every time a Christian or a Jewish man asks a woman for grapes? Bananas, oranges, papayas and dozens of other fruits have some sexual connotation or the other. But fortunately, unlike Obeyesekere and Courtright, reasonable people do not invent cheap gossip every time we eat bananas, papayas, grapes, apples and mangoes. They are just fruits for us, nothing else.

There is a Maharashtrian folk tale that narrates the intrigues between a Mahar soldier and a woman of the palace under the Peshwa rule. The illicit liaison is exposed and the soldier, whose name is Ganapati, is punished by death. His spirit, goes the Maharashtrian folklore, haunted the king. To propitiate it, he installed the effigy of the slain soldier at the gate of the palace in the form of the deity Ganapati and required everyone to pay obeisance to it. There is nothing in this story to compare with the legend of the deity Ganesa, except the name and the fact that the Mahar’s effigy was installed in the form of the deity, but Courtright sees striking parallels in this tale with the supposed incest of Ganesa with his mother. Such meaningless parallels promote neither an understanding of the deity, nor do they promote knowledge.

3.5 Ganesa as a Eunuch:

Several sacred stores pertaining to Ganesa describe him as a doorkeeper or guard outside his mother Parvati’s inner chambers. Courtright sees in this a parallel to an old Indian practice of posting eunuchs for guarding harems. He then quotes an Indologist to the effect that these eunuchs had a reputation of being homosexuals, with a penchant for oral sex, and that they were frowned upon as the very dregs of society, implicitly ascribing the same qualities to the charming Ganesa and reducing his symbolism to “an explicit denial of adult male sexuality”.

Courtright extends this weak chain of parallels to imagine the deity himself as eunuch-like,

“Like a eunuch, Ganesa has the power to bless and curse; that is, to place and remove obstacles. Although here there seem to be no myths or folktales in which Ganesa explicitly performs oral sex, his insatiable appetite for sweets may be interpreted as an effort to satisfy a hunger that seems inappropriate in an otherwise ascetic disposition, a hunger having clear erotic overtones. Ganesa’s broken tusk, his guardian’s staff, and displaced head can be interpreted as symbols of castration.”

Courtright then quotes Edmund Leach, an anthropologist, in support of his interpretations, and continues (p. 111-112) –

“This combination of child-ascetic-eunuch in the symbolism of Ganesa – each an explicit denial of adult male sexuality – appears to embody a primal Indian male longing: to remain close to the mother and to do so in a way what will both protect her and yet be acceptable to the father. This means that the son must retain access to the mother but not attempt to possess her sexually. As a child, a renouncer, or a eunuch, he can legitimately maintain that precious but precarious intimacy with his mother because, although he is male, he is more like her then he is like his father. This may explain why Ganesa takes on these qualities through his own choice or why he willingly accepts them as mutilations from others – even from Parvati herself – so long as they will guarantee his continued proximity with her.”

The reader is also told that Ganesa represents “a primal Indian male longing: to remain close to the mother and to do so in a way what will protect her and yet be acceptable to the father. This means that the son must retain access to mother but not attempt to possess her sexually.”

From this and other instances, we feel that this entire psycho-analysis is not really restricted to a ‘mythical deity’ as Courtright may claim in his own defense. Rather, in our opinion, it demeans the category of Indian male as such.

3.6 The Modaka as a ‘Toy’:

The Hindus fondly depict Sri Ganesa as devouring a sweetmeat called ‘modaka’. Courtright applies the ‘oral’ and ‘anal’ paradigms of Freudian ideology to interpret this in a sexualized manner,

“The perpetual son desiring to remain close to his mother and having an insatiable appetite for sweets evokes associations of oral eroticism. Denied the possibility of reaching the stage of full genital masculine power by the omnipotent force of the father, the son seeks gratification in some acceptable way. As long as he remains stuffed fill he is content and benign, like a satisfied infant at its mother’s breast. If Ganesa should go hungry because of the devotee’s failure to feed and worship him first before all other gods, then his primordial hostility is aroused, to the detriment of all. Feeding Ganesa copious quantities of modakas, satisfying his oral/erotic desires, also keeps him from becoming genitally erotic like his father. ...Ganesa’s impatience for food suggests an anxiety, a hunger that is never completely fed no matter how many modakas he consumes. He is the child forever longing for the mother’s breast – that fountain of life-giving elixir he once enjoyed without distress in infancy but is now denied because of the father’s intrusion...Ganesa’s story is, in part, the story of maternal attachment, loss, and indirect but incomplete compensation. As a celibate child, and resembling the ambiguous figure of the eunuch, Ganesa is one whose masculinity remains partial, trimmed, and contained. Unable to take full to take full possession of his mother in the face of his father’s beheading/castrating power, Ganesa lives a threshold existence – near but nor far enough- seeking his own fulfillment in dutiful service to his parents and taking pleasure in an endless flow of sweetmeats from adoring devotees. He is the mythical expression of the male wish for maternal intimacy denied in real life in the course of growing up, a fantasy in which the defeats of the son must suffer at the hands of the father are compensated indirectly by an orally erotic celibate proximity to the mother.”

Earlier, the author refers to a story in which Ganesa trips and his belly rips open, with modakas spilling out. The moon started laughing at Ganesa, whereupon the latter took out one of his tusks and hurled it at the moon. As a result, there was darkness all over the earth. The devatas implored Ganesa to restore the moon and retrieve his tusk. Ganesa does so but on the condition that henceforth the moon will wax and wane. Courtright interprets this incident in sexual terms and says,

“The myth opens with Ganesa already fused in his elephant-headed form and suffering from too much of a good thing: he had filled his belly to overflowing and has satiated his legendary appetite for oral gratification. This situation roughly parallels the pursuit of genital gratification between Siva and Parvati that forms the background for the story of Ganesa’s birth. Ganesa’s gluttonous excesses cause him to fall from his rat and split open his belly, as his parents amorous play shook the universe.”

The reference to ‘parents’ amorous play shook the universe’ is apparently to the relevant verse in Vamana Purana, chapter 28.

As we extracted these and similar passages from Courtright’s book for our review, we felt a lot of mental agony seeing that he could use words such as ‘limp-phallus’, ‘castration’, ‘orally erotic’, ‘eunuch’, amorous play’ and so on in the context of a child, even if be mythical for Courtright (but Divine for us). Our American readers could perhaps feel our pain by imagining a situation in which Courtright would use such language for all-American anthropomorphic child-characters such as Mickey-Mouse.

Hindus invoke the presence of and blessings of Sri Ganesa at the start of all our prayers. Mickey-Mouse is not worshipped of course, but he continues to delight millions of adults and children all over the world with his delightful antics. If someone were to see genitalia and other kinds of sexual stuff in the character or persona of Mickey Mouse, we would normally conclude that he is suffering from some pathological disorder requiring medical attention. While reading his book on Ganesa, the thought that kept repeating in our mind page after page was – “How could he have written this? Why did he do this?”

We really wonder if Courtright’s book has ever been used as a required or recommended text for study in any course offered on a US University campus. Perhaps, the author himself could illuminate us in this regard.

3.7 Sexualizing Hindu Initiation Ceremony (Upanayana):

While describing his sexualized version of Ganesa and the stories associated with him, Courtright takes a step forward and transplants erotica onto the solemn Hindu ceremony of upanayana in which young Hindu males are initiated into their student life. The ceremony involves a symbolic transformation of the would be teacher of the student into his new father. This father-son relationship between teacher-student is maintained for the rest of the life, and does not severe the relationship of the student with his biological father. However, Courtright sees something sexual in this whole affair,

“This new father/son, guru/disciple. Acarya/brahmacarin relationship creates a new bond of affection in the context of absolute domination by the authority figure and utter dependence of the disciple. The sexual nuances of this relationship are well hidden, but it is significant that in the myth Siva gives Ganesa his weapons and in the ritual the acarya gives the brahmacarin the ascetic’s staff [yogadanda] – symbols, like the broken tusk, of the detached phallus. Carstairs notes further “There is also a powerfully repressed homosexual fixation on the father. This is shown.... in indirect and sublimated form, in a man’s feeling toward his Guru – in one context in which a warm affectionate relationship (although a passive and dependent one) is given free expression”....”

So, the pair of Carstairs and Courtright have debased even the ‘teacher – student relationship’ in the Hindu society (perhaps privileging the Western version indirectly) by imparting perverse sexual connotations to it. We are indeed curious to know how Courtright would psychoanalyze his relationships with his own students.

Earlier in his book, Courtright assigns sexual connotations to several individual rituals constituting the upanayana rite. Thus, when the sacred thread has been placed on the boy-student, he takes it saying “My staff which fell to the ground in the open air, that I take up again for the sake of long life, holy luster, and holiness” (Paraskara Grhyasutra 2.2.14). Courtright sees the ‘danda’ (=staff) as an ‘alter-penis’ and remarks,

“From a psychoanalytical perspective, this ritual move may be read as a symbolic castration, in that his ascetic/guardian staff protects him while he remains celibate.”

One would normally expect such interpretations from juveniles who have watched too many Hollywood or Bollywood movies. Not from an academician in an award winning book.

In the Indian ascetic tradition, there is a long-standing controversy on whether the staff should be single or if it should be a triple-staff (tridanda). One wonders what would be Courtright’s perspective on this controversy. Hindu tradition sees the ‘danda’ as a symbol of chastisement or discipline, whether inflicted or self-enforced. When a young student assumes a ‘danda’, he is in effect wowing that he will live according to prescribed rigors of student life.

It may be pointed out here that the Hindus have been doing the upanayana ceremony for their children, often aged five to eight years, for several thousand years now. If there is any reality in Courtright’s imaginative interpretation that ‘danda’ = penis, then the inescapable conclusion is that millions of Hindu children have been subjected unconsciously (or consciously) to sexual abuse by being handed a pseudo-penis in their hand by a male elder during the ceremony.

While we find such erotic interpretations of the upanayana obscene, Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty finds it so charming that she made a special eulogistic mention of it in her Foreword.

Let us now turn to Hindu tradition itself to verify what significance and symbolism it attaches to the student’s staff. The text cited by Courtright is Paraskara Grhyasutra, which has been blessed with a very strong commentatorial tradition. The aphorism 2.2.14 in question reads –

taM pratigR^iNati yo me daNDaH paraapatadvaihaayaso adhibhuumyaaM tamahaM punaraadada aayuShe brahmaNe brahmavarcasaayeti

Courtright follows the translation of Hermann Oldenberg, which is somewhat inaccurate, and he is gladly mislead by it. A more accurate translation of the text would be –

“This staff of mine, which has fallen from the sky to the ground, that I take again (or take properly) for a long life, for Vedic study and for holy luster.”

Oldenberg must be turning in his grave to learn that his words “My staff which fell to the ground in the open air” would be misused by Courtright to create his phallus-centric interpretation in which the staff is seen as an exposed penis of which the young student has been deprived. When the text is translated more accurately as we have done above, the staff is seen to be a reminder and a symbol of Dharmic authority, or Dharmic discipline with which the teacher invests the student and motivates him to pursue his Divinely ordained duty of studying the Sacred Texts before he gets married. This interpretation is supported by explanations in numerous traditional commentaries consulted by us. The staff is widely used to symbolize authority and discipline in numerous cultures all over the world, and Hindu texts are no exception. Perhaps Courtright could explain to us what the staff of Moses, which parted the Red Sea, stands for in his Freudian world.

Courtright does not even make the pretense of acknowledging how the Hindu tradition itself interprets the staff of a celibate student, something that he could have found out by referring to even basic works on Hindu Samskaras or sacraments. He would have found that according to some authorities, studentship was considered as a long sacrifice, and therefore, a student was expected to bear the staff just as a scholar would in a long sacrifice. Paraskara Grhyasutra 2.6.26 suggests that the purpose of the staff was to protect against human and non-human attackers. According to Manavagrhyasutra 1.22.11, the student is a traveler on the long road of knowledge. When this paradigm is considered, the staff assumed by the student then becomes reminiscent of the staff used by a traveler. According to the Varaha Grhyasutra, the staff was the symbol of the watchman. Apararka on Yajnavalkya Smrti 1.29 states that bearing the staff makes the student self-confident and self-reliant when he goes out to the forest to collect fire-sticks for yajnas, for tending the cattle of his teacher or when he travels in darkness.

In other words, while the Indian tradition takes the staff as a symbol of authority, discipline, protection and so on, Courtright sees just a Penis. In his Ph.D. thesis too, Courtright refers to the staff which Parvati gave to her son Ganesa for guarding her chamber and says –

“Parvati arms Ganesa with a stick, an implement which might be interpreted to represent a detachable phallus, the emblem of male physical prowess.”

How would Courtright interpret the instances in his childhood wherein he was handed a pen, or a broom, or a stick or even a candy bar by his parent(s)?

We leave it to the reader to decide if Courtright’s interpretations are genuine or reasonable scholarship, or if they are just pornographic fiction.

3.8 Marriage of Ganesa:

Hindu tradition is not uniform on the marital status of the deity. While the dominant view depicts him as a son devoted to his mother, and as a bachelor, other traditions state that he has two wives. Courtright expends a lot of energy in depicting the ‘eunuch’ and ‘oral’ nature of Ganesa, in keeping with his Freudian paradigms. So when conflicting textual evidence relating to his marital status emerges, it has to be explained away in some way. Courtright does this with the following words,

“Iconographically he is sometimes represented sitting between Siddhi and Buddhi, but there is little in the way of mythology about his marriage in the textual tradition. These women appear more like feminine emanations of his androgynous nature, saktis rather than spouses having their own characters and stories.”

Courtright’s claim that there is little in textual tradition about his marriage to Siddhi and Buddhi stems from his presumed ignorance of the Ganapatya Puranas. Thus, Ganesa Purana (upasana-khanda 49.23 etc) speaks of Buddhi and Siddhi as his two consorts, and Mudgala Purana (7.11.35 etc.) calls him the husband of these two. Again, according to the Mudgala Purana 2.21, Ganesa marries Siddhi and Buddhi, who are said to be grand-daughters of Brahma via his son Sage Marici. In the Matsya Purana 225.52-55, the deity weds Rdhi and Buddhi. In the Brahmavaivarta Purana 17.25, he weds Pus,t,i. The Vinaayakapuranam, a Tamil Purana by Saint Kacciyappamunivar, describes the wedding of the deity with the daughters of Brahma in great detail. There are similar other references (e.g., Parasurama Kalpasutra 2.4, Narada Mahapurana, purvabhaga 3.66 etc.). And these references are in addition to the one from Siva Purana that Courtright cites himself.

How many more would one want to say that the textual references are not ‘little’? Perhaps the references would be sufficient for Courtright only when he can find anecdotes of beheading, castration, decapitation, sexual fluids, phalluses and the like, which can be given a titillating tilt by his ‘analysis’. In fact, had Courtright consulted Tantric texts, he would have indeed found a lot of such texts about his ‘marriage’ of immense use to his ‘analyses’.

Courtright then continues,

“The celibate character of his marriage is evoked by the seventh-century poet, Bana, who wrote of Ganesa and his bride as the fused-androgyne, lacking sufficient separateness from one another to engage in the erotic possibilities of marriage. “May the single-tusked Ganesa guard the universe, who imitates his parent’s custom in that his bride, it seems, has been allowed to take that half of him wherein his face is tuskless....”

Banabhatta is in fact referring to the concept of ardhnaariisvara that depicts Siva and Parvati (who definitely are not a celibate couple) as two halves of one deity, and suggests that the wife of Ganesa, being tusk-less, represents a similar conception with her constituting that side of his which does not have the tusk (since one of his tusks is broken). The reckless free-association, inconsistency and ad-hocism that characterizes Courtright’s work in general gets exhibited here again when he uses his preconceived notions of a celibate Ganesa to explain away references to his children in the Puranas,

“He lives a celibate marriage; yet, according to the above myth at least, he has children; this is another way in which he is the inversion of his father, who has sex but no children – at least none engendered naturally. Reference to Ganesa’s children are indeed rare, this one in the Siva Purana being the only one known to me among the Puranic sources.”

I hope that since 1985, Courtright has had the opportunity to read the Tantras to realize that Ganesa’s marriage was not really celibate.

3.9 Ganesa as a Trickster:

Courtright cites the British anthropologist Edmund Leach approvingly,

“Leach sees this characteristic as Ganesa’s closes link to the trickster: Ganesa’s broken tusk and severed head with the long flaccid trunk are the clearest signals of his sexual ambiguity...”

Concluding his own estimation of Ganesa as a ‘trickster’, Courtright then likens the deity to a eunuch,

“His sexuality remains ambiguous, as his relationship with his mother and father, his detachable tusk/phallus and his similarities to eunuchs all suggest.”

All the above passages of Courtright are not only dubious from an academic perspective, something we shall discuss with reference to psycho-analysis in Part B, they are also plainly offensive, and perverse.

Perhaps, Courtright et al always see life through a different aperture than most of us. Perhaps, they always see everything as a cigar, and the cigar as only a Lingam.

4. The Worship of Ganesa:

Chapter IV deals with the worship of Ganesa in homes, in temples and during public festivals in Maharashtra. Overall, the description is balanced, readable and nothing out of the ordinary. It is clearly written from the perspective of an observant outsider. A few references to Indian literature on the subject are thrown in, besides some from the works of the Indologists as well, perhaps to give the entire narrative a quasi-academic flavor. For the Hindus, the chapter perhaps does not offer much that is not already known to them in general terms. For the Westerners or even Westernized Indians, the narrative could serve as a useful and informative background on how the tradition of worship of Ganesa is actually practiced in our times. The public celebration of Ganapati festival in Pune and Mumbai is well known. In a welcome departure, and for the sake of simplicity, the author studies the public festival in the city of Ahmednagar instead. This chapter, as well as the next conforms to the fifth level of studying the deity that is proposed by Courtight in chapter II (pp. 18-19). This is the etiological level, wherein the ‘narrative, metaphorical and sociopsychological levels are joined in the immediacy of the image and the ritual actions to be performed in response to it’, to paraphrase the words of the author himself (p. 19). It is not exactly clear in this chapter however, how the author has related the first three levels to the ritual performances in from Ganesa’s murtis. At best, the attempt is very sketchy and incomplete.

Chapter V titled ‘Ganesa in a Regional Setting: Maharashtra’ deals with the well-known fact of deep devotion of Maharashtrians to Ganapati. It opens with a strange comment, based on an old work, that in South East and in East Asia he is more often portrayed as demon. Perhaps this has changed in the last six decades since the book referenced by Courtright was written. One of us, who has worked in and has traveled to that part of the world (Thailand, Bali and Java, Singapore) would clearly question this characterization today. At least in our own times, he is a beloved deity for the Hindus of Bali (and even more so in eastern Java), as well as for the Buddhists in urban Thailand.

The author makes a minor error in stating that Muslims account for only 5% of the state’s population.,

The author sketches the general religious background of the Indian state, and credits the Varkaris (with their pilgrimages and other devotional practices) for giving the state its vital and genuinely religious character. He goes on to enumerate the major religious shrines of the state, and numerous omissions are seen in his brief list – for instance those of Alandi and Dehu, which are very important areas for the Varkaris.

Courtright then proceeds to narrate the sacred stories associated with some important shrines of Ganapati in Maharashtra, relying on the famous ‘Ganesa-kosha’ of Gadgil. However, some of Courtright’s paraphrases and translations from this Marathi text are inaccurate. For instance, Courtright narrates the legend related to the Ashtavinayaka Temple at Siddhateka in the following words,

“When Brahma began creating the universe, two demons, Madhu and Kaitabha, appeared out of Vishnu’s ear and began to disturb Brahma. Vishnu tried to kill the demons, but they proved too powerful. Then he went to Siva, pleasing him with devotional songs, and asked for his help. Siva scolded him, saying that if he had worshipped Ganesa in the first place he would not be in this predicament…(Gadgil, 2.43-4)”

One wonders where Gadgil has stated that the demons emerged from the ear of Vishnu. The exact words of the text, in Marathi, are (Gadgil 2.43),

madhu aani kaitabha yaa dona atishaya paraakramii daityaani brahmadevaalaa tyaacyaa srshtiracanecyaa karyaata uddanda vighnen aanuun traasa dyaavayaasa suruvaat kelii.”

There is no mention that the demons emerged from Vishnu’s ears in Gadgil’s version.

Further, the claim that Siva ‘scolded’ Visnu is also Courtight’s own commentary, and is neither stated nor implied by Gadgil. He merely says that Siva told (mhaNuna) Vishnu to worship Ganesha with the ‘shadaaksari mantra’.

In tracing the origin of the Gaanapatya sampradaaya, Courtright speculates that their tradition of considering their deity as the Supreme Deity probably arose in the 10th century CE or perhaps earlier. As a supporting piece of evidence, he says,

“A hagiographical text from about this time, the Sankaravijaya of Anandagiri, gives us a picture of some aspects of Ganapatya thought and practice.”

There is no evidence that the Sankaravijaya of Anandagiri is such an old text, it is typically assigned a much later date. The Advaita tradition knows of many Anandagiris and the authorship of this particular Sankaravijaya is very uncertain. Therefore, this text cannot be used reliably for dating the origin of the Ganapatya sampradaaya. One does wish though that Courtright had included a more rigorous treatment of the core texts of this sampradaaya, namely the Ganesa Purana, Mudgala Purana and so on.

The rest of the chapter deals with some important shrines such as the Moragaon Ganapati, the temple at Chinchavad, Theur and so on. Then there is a long discussion on the genesis and growth of the Ganesha festival, with the narrative stopping roughly at the time Lokamanya Tilak died. All these are subjects of common knowledge and the summary and overview provided by Courtright, in this context, are very readable and over-all balanced. The chapter erroneously says that India won its freedom in 1948, which is perhaps a typing error for the correct year, 1947.

The last chapter named ‘Ganesa: The Protean God’, is lyrical and poetical and acknowledges the continued relevance and importance of the deity to Hindus in general, and to Maharashtrians in particular.

Acknowledgements: We are thankful to the University of Louisiana (Lafayette) branch of the Hindu Students Council for raising the controversy over the book to its current level. But for the their efforts, we would have never been motivated enough to write its review in such a short period of time.

Part III (=The Context) will deal with the meta-issues surrounding the controversy over this book. Among other things, we will also critique Courtright’s book in relation to Analytical Psychology. We intend to demonstrate that his analysis is subjective, and does not meet academic criteria of rigor and objectivity.


1. Evan J. Elkins, "More than a cigar", available online at http://www.cigaraficionado.com/Cigar/CA_Profiles/People_Profile/0,2540,52,00.html

2. The Sanskrit word ‘linga’ has numerous meanings, but in the dictionary of these scholars, it has only one i.e., ‘phallus’.

3. She is credited with overseeing the maximum number of doctorates on Indian religions and wields an unparalleled influence in Hinduism Studies in the United States. Her prolific academic brood has been christened recently as ‘Wendy’s Children’. Their family saga is discussed in a very insightful manner by Rajiv Malhotra in his essay ‘Wendy’s Child Syndrome’ (2002) available online at http://www.sulekha.com/column.asp?cid=239156

4. Doniger, W. (1993). “When a lingam is just a good cigar: Psychoanalysis and Hindu Sexual Fantasies”, in Boyer, L. B., Boyer, R. et al. (Eds.) The psychoanalytic study of society, Vol. 18: Essays in honor of Alan Dundes, (pp. 81-103), Hillsdale, US, Analytic Press, Inc. (page 81)

5. Of course, in her two page Foreword, Wendy does refer to the use of Freudian analysis in the following words (vii)- “The episode of beheading by the father cries out for (and has been given by others) a party-line Freudian analysis; Courtright does, indeed, sail through this particular strait, but though he listens with unwaxed ears to the song of the psychoanalytical sirens, he is not seduced. He offsets the Freudian analysis with his own striking model of the parallels between the Ganesa story and the Hindu ritual of the initiation of a young boy…” It would be foolish to even imagine that Doniger wouldn’t have conceived any words in her foreword about the Freudian analysis oozing from much of the book.

6. Ganesa, p. viii

7. In the critical edition of Adiparvan published by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (Pune), the passage mentioning that Ganesa was the scribe has been relegated to a footnote of an appendix, which shows that is very likely a later composition. Even though Hindu tradition about the writing down of the text by the deity goes back to the times of al-Beruni, Doniger should have been more careful before crediting this story (or even her own version of the same) to the epic text itself.

8. Ganesa, p. viii

9. Ganesa, p. ix

10. Ganesa, p. vii

11. Ganesa, pp. 151-153

12. Ganesa, p. vii

13. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty (1973), Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva, Oxford University Press, London, p. 1

14. Ganesa, pp. 9

15. Brahmavaivarta Purana 3.44.83 seems to indicate that Ganesha is known in the Vedas as ekadanta, by which name the devatas worship him. This seems to be a reference to mantras such as the one in Taittiriya Aranyaka cited by Courtright.

16. The father of Ganesa

17. The mount of Siva

18. For Taittiriya Aranyaka, Book X (= Mahanarayana Upanishad), we have used “Mahanarayana Upanisad” edited by Swami Vimalananda (1957), Ramakrishna Math (Madras). In this edition, the Ganesa or Vighnesvara Gayatri occurs as Taittiriya Aranyaka X.1.24. The mantra reads -‘tatpurushaaya vidmaye vakratundaaya dhiimahi tanno dantih pracodayaat

19. Courtight also notes that the word ‘hastimukhaaya’ occurs in the Maitrayani Samhita of Yajurveda. However, he neither gives the address of the mantra in that samhita, not does he attempt to relate it to the corresponding mantra in Taittiriya Aranyaka that he discusses a few sentences later

20. Ganesa, p. 9

21. TB = Taittiriya Brahmana according to the list of abbreviations given at the beginning of the book.

22. Ganesa, p. 9

23. Popularly known as ‘Vaidik Padanukrama Kosha’. The concordance does miss out some occurrence of words in the Vedic texts occasionally and therefore we checked the entire original text of the Taittiriya Brahmana, but without success.

24. Louis Renou, “Note sur les origines védiques de Ganeśa”, in Journal Asiatique, vol. 229 (April-June 1937), p. 271-274

25. Ganesa, p. 61

26. Rgveda 8.4.1

27. We have quoted Griffith’s translation only because it is the most popular of all translations in European languages. Otherwise we also consulted the translations of Geldner, Velankar, Satavalekar etc., and they were essentially the same.

28. This is not to say that the Vedic literature does not use euphemisms to refer to the phallus. The use of such euphemisms in fact seems quite prevalent in the texts of all religions. One may refer to some examples from the Bible itself, consider that Courtright has had a Protestant Christian upbringing - In Genesis, Abraham orders his servant Eliezer to swear by putting his hand under his (Abraham’s) thigh. Jacob, renamed Israel, asks his son Joseph to swear in the same way. In Genesis and Exodus, Jacob’s son are said to be born from his thighs. These are all considered euphemisms for swearing by touching the male member in Biblical times.

29. Although Courtright uses the ‘mandala-sukta-mantra’ scheme in referencing individual mantras of Rgveda, we also crosschecked RV 8.4.1 according to the ashtaka-sukta-mantra scheme. This mantra again did not have any reference to thighs and penises. We do not deny that some mantras in Rgveda might use the thigh euphemistically for genitalia. This particular mantra however has no such connotations, and like many other Vedic references provided by Courtright in his book, this one is also dubious.

30. In any case, the Vedic textual references to Ganesa in Vedic texts are now treated in a much better manner in Grimes. John A. (1995), Ganapati, Song of the Self, SUNY: Albany and in Ludo Rocher’s contribution (‘Ganesa’s Rise to Prominence in Sanskrit Literature, pages 69-84) in Robert L. Brown (ed.), “Ganesh- Studies of an Asian God”, SUNY Press (Albany).
See also chapter III in Yuvraj Krishan (1999), ‘Ganesa, Unravelling an Engima’, Motilal Banarsidass: New Delhi

31. The suspicion is reinforced by the manner in which Courtright refers to some Vedic texts. For instance, he cites specific passages from the Aitareya Brahmana using the two-fold numbering scheme sometimes (pp. 9, 125) while elsewhere he uses the three-fold numbering scheme (pp. 98). If he had really used a single edition of this text (listed on page 255 of his book), then he would have more likely used only one numbering scheme. It is well known that different editions and manuscripts of the same Hindu text can number their sections and subsections in different ways. Secondary works of scholarship relying on different editions of these would therefore reproduce these different ways of number specific sections and sub-sections. If Courtright did not use the printed edition of the original text directly, but relied on references to specific passages in the same in secondary works, he is more likely to reproduce the different numbering schemes followed by his secondary authorities. The most charitable explanation would be that Courtright was careless and inconsistent and he derived two different numbering schemes from the colophons of the printed text.

32. Ganesa, p. 11

33. Ganesa, p. 134

34. Ganesa, p. 18

35. Courtright makes much of the Pauranic stories of how Ganesa prevents Parasurama from entering Siva and Parvati’s room while they are possibly engrossed in love-making, and uses this incident to embark upon a lengthy psycho-analysis on the nature of the Hindu deity. We wonder if the same analysis could be transferred now to Nandin!

36. The Linga

37. Maurice Winternitz, A History of Indian Literature (1907), Volume 1, Translated by S Ketkar (1962), Calcutta: University of Calcutta, pp. 542 – 543

38. P S Subrahmanya Sastri, A History of Sanskrit Literature (in Tamil), pp. 299. Sastri points out that there are two recensions of Padma Purana, and of them, only the later day recension has this Uttarakhanda.
See also Ludo Rocher, 1986, A History of Indian Literature, The Puranas, Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, p. 207. Rocher offers a different arrangement of the 2 recensions, pointing out that the Bengali recension is yet unpublished, and even in Bengal it is the Western recension that is in use. In Rocher’s arrangement, the Uttarakhanda figures in both the recensions, but appears with varying number of adhyayas in each of the 4 manuscripts
The differences in these 2 scholarly perspectives can be best explained by Winternitz’s observation vide A History of Indian Literature, Volume 1, Translated by S Ketkar, p. 544 that the Padma Purana is a loose compilation, with manuscripts from diverse sources, and a lot of research is still to be completed

39. Ganesa, p. 21 sqq.

40. The text was published as volume no. 26 in the Anandashrama Sanskrit Series (Poona) in 1894 and has since been reprinted. The treatise, attributed to Sage Palakapya, is an extensive compilation, starting with a legendary introduction according to which it was revealed by the Sage to King Romapada of Champa. The king is mentioned as a contemporary of King Dasharatha in the Ramayana. Sage Palakapya, according to the text, was born to a human Sage and an elephant mother, and is said to have had his own hermitage at the confluence of the river Brahmaputra with the ocean. The gotra of the Sage is said to be ‘Kapya’. The Hastyayurveda is a long work, comprising 700 pages of printed text in 160 chapters. The work is divided into four sections:

1. Maharoga, or the principal diseases in elephants (18 chapters)

2. Kshudra Roga or the minor diseases in elephants (72 chapters)

3. Shalya or surgery on elephants, in 34 chapters

4. Uttara Sthana dealing with therapy, bath of elements, dietetics etc. in 36 chapters.

41. Ganesa Purana is divided into two parts – Upasanakhanda and Kridakhanda. The former is now available in an English translation - Greg Bailey (1995), Ganesapurana, Part I (Upasanakhanda); Harrassowitz Verlag: Wiesbaden. We have used this edition, together with an edition of the original text. A portion of the Kridakhanda is the Ganesagita, an English translation of which is also available and has been referenced by Courtright.

42. Except in chapter 5, where its use could not have been avoided. Even here, the references are very few and appear to be derived from secondary sources by and large. In addition, I saw one odd reference in chapter 3. Saying that these are merely sectarian Puranas is not an excuse, because all Puranas are sectarian to some extent. For that matter, Courtright has himself used sectarian texts such as the Devibhagavata Purarana, and numerous Upapuranas such as the Brhaddharma Purana in his book.

43. And even in this case, most of the citations from Ganesa Purana appear to be taken from secondary studies on the text, not from the original text itself.

44. Ganesa, pp. 39-40

45. The only connection he sees between Ganesa and Gajendra is the fact that in some versions of the story (e.g. Brahmavaivarta Purana (Ganapati khanda, Chapter XII, verses 12 – 24) of implantation of the head of an elephant on child-Ganesa, a king of elephants (‘Gajendra’) is said to be the donor of the head. In the Gajendramoksa story of Bhagavata Purana, Lord Vishnu saves a king of elephants (Gajendra) whose foot is caught by an alligator. Now, the word ‘Gajendra’ is merely a general term merely meaning ‘king of elephants’ and therefore Courtright’s attempt to link the two stories merely on the occurrence of a ‘Gajendra’ in both is very far-fetched. The two stories have entirely different contexts.

46. This model is discussed in great detail in various publications of Wendy Doniger etc. While the model itself is not necessarily invalid, Courtright’s attempt to interpret the Gajendramoksa story in terms of this model is quite strained.

47. Ganesa, p. 28

48. Courtright, p. 95

49. Ganesa, pp. 30 – 31

50. Ganesa, p. 41

51. Ganesa, p. 252

52. Phyllis Granoff (1991), “Ganesa as Metaphor”, in Robert L. Brown (ed.), Ganesh- Studies of an Asian God, SUNY Press (New York), pages 85-99 (see 95n.)

53. Ganesa, p. 18
However, on page 214 of the book, Courtright dates the Purana from 14th to 16th centuries.

54. The edition used by us bears the title ‘atha srimudgalapuranam praarambhyate’, and is published A. S. Rajadhyaksha for the Nirnayasagara Press, Mumbai in 1976.

55. The possibility that the Mudgala as well as the Ganesa Puranas are composite texts with some portions older than the Upanishad and others later than it must also be considered.

56. Ganesa, pp. 17-18
For a more careful discussion on the dates of Ganesa Purana and Mudgala Purana, see Anita Raina Thapat’s ‘Understanding Ganapati’, Manohar, New Delhi (1997), pp. 30-33

57. Ganesa, pp. 25-26

58. Ganesa, p. 26

59. Ganesa, p. 22

60. Ganesa, p. 29

61. It is true that living Hinduism also considers them sometimes as sister-brother, or by virtue of their close association in Hindu worship, as a pair wherein Lakshmi is referred to as Ganesa’s ‘dharmapatni’, especially in northern India. This concept however is merely an acceptance of their worship as a pair, and by virtue of joint references to them as in the widely prevalent sign ‘subha-laabha’ on the walls of Hindu homes. In such characterizations, no sexual connotation of conjugal relationship is implied, and the relationship is ‘dharma-maatra’ or ‘aupacaarika’. We are aware of only one reference occurring in a minor, late text where Lakshmi is referred to as his wife. Form the context again it is clear that the relationship is notional, not real. In some parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra, Ganesa is associated strongly with wisdom and knowledge, and Sarasvati is often designated as His dharmapatni. As an illustrative example, we could denote, without any sexual connotations, Wendy Doniger and Robert Goldman as academic ‘consorts’, because of their excessive employment of Freudian analyses in their writings.

62. Ganesa, pp. 53

63. It is not at all difficult to understand this metaphorical description of creation, because the asuras (=demons) are embodiments of sin, evil and filth in classical Hinduism.

64. Linga Purana 1.70.197-199

65. Linga Purana 1.70.200-205

66. Linga Purana 1.70.206-211

67. Linga Purana 1.70.212-215ab

68. Bhagavata Purana 2.6.8

69. This edition has the famous commentary of Shridhar Swami and is published by Motilal Banarsidass. The editor is Jagdish Lal Shastri.

70. This particular section pertains to passages on Chapter III of the book, but is being included here for the sake of continuity in our description of how Courtright (and his authority Wendy Doniger) grossly misinterpret Pauranic passages.

71. Kurma Purana 2.37.40

72. Kurma Purana 2.37.41

73. Ganesa, p. 92

74. Kurma Purana 1.14.71

75. Kurma Purana 1.14.71-73

76. The reconciliatory attitude of the Kurma Purana is also evident from the fact that although it is named after an incarnation of Lord Visnu, it is predominantly Saivite in flavor. Embedded in the Purana is the beautiful Isvaragita, which is largely a Saivite retelling of the Bhagavadgita.

77. Ganesa, p. 32

78. Ed. by Anand Swarup Gupta, published by All India Kashiraj Trust, Varanasi (1968).

79. Vamana Purana 28.64-66

80. Ganesa, p. 44-46

81. E.g. Srngaarasataka of Bhartrhari

82. Vamana Purana 28.50

83. Vamana Purana 28.71-72ab

84. In this context, it is to be noted that though the Vamana Purana is named after an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the text glorifies both Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva in an impartial manner.

85. In fact, Courtright himself cites other versions of the story in which it is Parvati’s body-dirt along which gives birth to Ganesa. These alternate versions would merely support our interpretation that Courtright uses ‘sexual fluids’ inappropriately in the context of Vamana Purana 28.64 Courtright himself refers to the various meanings of words ‘mala’ and ‘lepa’ etc., in pages 54-55 of his book. It is quite clear that Courtright’s use of ‘sexual fluid’ in this context of Vamana Purana is derived from the chapter titled ‘Sexual Fluids’ in Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty (1980), Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

86. As a Hindi proverb goes, the disciple sometimes goes much ahead of his teacher in learning and wisdom. Doniger does not cite this particular passage of Vamana Purana under the section ‘sweat and tears’ (pp. 39-40) of the chapter ‘Sexual Fluids’, and so her disciple Courtright has indeed made a new discovery.

87. Ganesa, p. 53

88. Ganesa, pp. 148-149 where Courtright refers, only incidentally, to this legend occurring in Bhagavata Purana X.8.21-. Instead, he dwells on the fact that in a version of the story by Sant Naamadeva, child Krsna stole sweatmeats made by Yasoda for Ganesa. When Yasoda asks him to open his mouth, she sees infinite Ganesas made of these sweetmeats. The story again reflects the all-pervading nature of Krshna for Vaishnavas, and Courtright rather chooses to suggest that ‘Ganesa emerges here as a co-trickster with Krsna’, and then adds the correct conclusion that ‘each plays a role to facilitate the revelation to Yasoda that Ganesa and Krsna are embodiments of the whole universe.”

89. The episode is taken as an example of how God’s mercy is showered even on his four-legged devotees, and not just on human beings, who should therefore make good use of their human birth and seek refuge in God without delay. In Bihar, an annual fair of elephants is held at the site claimed to be the locale of Gajendramoska incident. Scholars of Gajasastra are invited, and the price of elephants being sold or purchased is fixed with their recommendations.

90. Ganesa, pp. 39-40

91. Ganesa, p. 40

92. Bhagavata Purana 8.2.23-24

93. In fact, the Monier-Williams Sanskrit dictionary apparently uses this very verse to support its translation of ‘madacyut’ into ‘elephant in rut’.

94. Ganesa, pp. 29 Courtright states correctly that “The ichor, a thick sap like secretion oozing from the elephant’s temples during the season of mating, is a pervasive symbol of elixir of erotic desire that intoxicates the bees buzzing around it so that they foolishly cast aside and disregard all risks”

95. Page 129 in David Shulman, “Remaking a Purana”, pp. 121-157 in Wendy Doniger. Ed. (1993), Purana Perennis, Albany: SUNY

96. Bhagavata Purana 8.2.33-34

97. Translation David Shulman, Remaking a Purana, pp. 130, reproduced here because it conveys the emotion in the verses very nicely. Shulman is another of Wendy Doniger’s cohorts, but this should not deter us from accepting what is good in his works.

98. The story of the previous life of alligator comes later in the Purana, not in chapters 2-3 in the 8th skandha of the text, as Courtright seeks to convey.

99. Ganesa, pp. 40

100. Ganesa, pp. 37-38

101. The story, found in the Brahmavaivarta Purana, is summarized by Courtright Ibid, pp. 34-35
This reference given by Courtright is wrong and should read instead Devibhagavata Purana 9.40.13-25.
The text used by us is edited by Radheyamohan Pandeya in Samvat 2019 (=1962), and is published by Pandit-Pustakalaya (Kasi = Varanasi). The edition used by Courtright (as listed in the bibliography) was printed from Varanasi in 1960. Courtright does not give the name of the editor or the publisher.
According to a bibliography (P. Flamm et al, eds., 1992, Epic and Puranic Bibliography, Otto Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden, vol. 1, pp. 361-362, item nos. 2003-2005), our edition is identical to Courtright’s edition as far as the Sanskrit text is concerned. However, our edition does not have a Hindi commentary whereas Courtright’s edition has one. We plan on consulting this in future for additional verification. We also intend to consult traditional commentaries. In any case, the text is not explicit at all on incest, as Courtright makes it out to be.

102. Ganesa, p. 37. Note that he puts the words “in the manner of a mere beast” in double quotes, implying that this is a direct quote from the text, or at least a close paraphrase. We will show later that these words are perhaps taken without attribution from an earlier book by Wendy Doniger.

103. A notable exception of course is the version in the Kurma Purana that we have discussed in this very review.

104. Devibhagavata Purana 7.30.34cd-35ab.
The text in our edition from Varanasi is somewhat corrupt and therefore we have also taken help from an English translation by Swami Vijnanananda, 2nd edition, reprint published by Munshiram Manoharlal: Delhi in 1977

105. The word is used in Tamil. Obviously adapted from Sanskrit, also to denote a married couple

106. According to Kaalikaa Purana, her mother was Virani, a wife of Daksa. She is however not mentioned in the relevant portion of the Devibhagavata Purana. According to the Mahabhagavata Purana, her mother’s name was Prasuuti.

107. So we do concede here that the garland played the same role as paarijaata flower in the Indra-Durvasa story. What we are objecting here too is the unnecessary insertion (and the unjustified inclusion of this episode in his narrative as a consequence) of the paarijaata flower by Courtright in this context when the more reasonable choice of Jasmine leads to the same result (although less smoothly).

108. Ganesa, pp. 37

109. One could also explore another line of thought – the word ‘pasu’ has a technical meaning in the Pasupata philosophy, and some texts (e.g., Purvabhaaga of the Vaayaviiya samhita of Siva Purana) related the Pasupatavrata in close proximity to the story of Daksa. In Pasupata school, Siva is Pasupati. However, we decided not to bring together irrelevant and disjointed facts together by free-association in the manner of Courtright.

110. Devibhagavata Purana 7.30.36

111. This interpretation is supported by the slightly different and expanded version of the same story occurring in the Mahabhagavata Upapurana, a text that is different from the (Vaishnava) Bhagavata Purana and the Devibhagavata Purana. In this Purana, the Devi appears for Daksa’s grand sacrifice in the form resembling that of Ma Kali. Daksa is infuriated and embarrassed at his daughter’s horrific form, and says that she has also become uncouth in the company of her husband Shiva. The Devi realizes that Daksa, her father, who had worshipped her in the past in the form of Kali, and her begged her to take birth in his own home, is not her devotee any longer and worships her external form more than her internal essence. The Devi then destroys her body, that was born of Daksa, because she will not tolerate insult to Shiva and also in order to crush Daksa’s pride based on the outer form of the human body.

112. Devibhagavata Purana 7.30.37

113. Vedic texts sometimes hint at androgynous procreation of Daksa Prajapati’s children. The dominant theme in the Puranas however does not attribute androgyny to Daksa, who is said to marry Brahma’s daughters etc., and procreates through them. There is also the recurring tale of Prajapati lusting after his daughter, but this Prajapati is basically different from our Daksa Prajapati and the tale as such has no connection with the one we are discussing in this section.

114. She is uniformly held as an embodiment of an ideal wife in the Hindu tradition, because she chooses to relinquish her life rather than stand her father’s insults directed at her husband.

115. Ganesa, p. 37

116. See the online article “Kali’s Child Revisited or didn’t anyone check the documentation” by Swami Tyagananda available at http://www.infinityfoundation.com/ECITkalichildframeset.htm
The book has very suggestive, inane translations. For instance, ‘tribhanga’ is translated as ‘cocked-hips’.

117. Wendy Doniger, 1975, Hindu Myths, Penguin Classics: Harmondsworth, pp. 250-251

118. The parallels between Doniger’s book and Courtright book are there however. Courtright also uses the words ‘made love…in the manner of a mere beast’ in his text (p. 37) after Doniger, who had earlier translated ‘pasukarmarato’ in the Purana verse as ‘made love in the manner of a mere beast’ in her own book.
But, Courtright does not mention the book of Doniger as the source of these words. In fact, he inserts the commentary ‘to his daughter Sati’ in Doniger’s translation, thereby inventing an incestuous rape! If Doniger’s translation was not kinky enough, Courtright kinks it even more.
Interestingly also, both Doniger and Courtright use the same edition of the text –“Devibhagavata Purana, Varanasi, 1960”, according to the bibliography section of their respective books.

119. Ganesa, pp. 140-141

120. Ganesa, pp. 120 Courtright also cites the text but interprets such versions as an indications of Ganesa’s moral ambivalence.

121. Translation by John Grimes (1995), Ganapati, SUNY: Albany (NY), pp. 49

122. Siva Purana 2:4:15 – 18

123. Ganesa’s mother

124. Courtright, p. 65

125. Ganesa, p. vii

126. Siva

127. Ganesa, p. 67, 110

128. Linga Purana 105:4 – 22

129. Skanda Purana 6:214:47 – 66

130. Fee for performing rituals

131. Ganesa, pp. 7

132. Ganesa, pp. 113

133. Ganesa, pp. 156

134. Ganesa, pp. 120

135. Even in the Vamana Purana 28.72 where Ganesa is described as creating obstacles for gods and others, the description could be seen in the light of the how the gods themselves had just tried to prevent Siva and Parvati from begetting a child.

136. Refer Thapat (1997), chapter 3, for a more rigorous and balanced treatment of the dual nature of Ganapati. She argues that the original name of Vinayaka was ‘one without a superior’ (pp. 84 sqq.) and cites examples from Puranas wherein a distinction is maintained between malevolent Vinalayaks and the benevolent Vinayaka Ganesa.

137. Ganesa, p. viii

138. Ganesa, p. 136

139. Ganesa, pp. 134-135

140. For historically more sound analysis of the transformation of Ganesa from Kalpasutras to Puranas, refer A. K. Narain’s contribution (pp. 19-48) in 115-139 in Robert L. Brown, “Ganesa, Studies of an Asian God””, SUNY, Albany (1991)

141. Ganesa, p. 57

142. Ganesa, p. 49

143. Unfortunately, psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar uses this dubious, non-attested tale for constructing his own theories, and attributes it to the Varaha Purana as well. He does not give its address in the Purana text, and his version is only slightly different from the one cited by Courtright. See Sudhir Kakar, 2001, The Essential Writings of Sudhir Kakar, OUP: New Delhi, p. 49

144. Thapat (1997), pp. 125-126 mentions various conflicting textual traditions regarding the relative seniority of Ganesa and Skanda. Since the issue is not settled, and evidence from tradition is mutually contradictory, Courtright should not have proceeded rashly with his one-sided psycho-analysis that relies only on one of the versions.

145. Ganesa, pp. 17-18

146. Parasurama’s father

147. Ganesa, p. 7

148. Ganesa , p. 4

149. Ganesa, p. 11

150. Ganesa, p. 95

151. He is another academic consort of Wendy Doniger who relies on Freudian analysis of Hindus and their sacred texts.

152. Ganesa, pp. 116-117

153. Ganesa, p. 159

154. Ganesa, p. 159 Even these generalizations are invalid in view of the data available from various Ganapatya Minor Upanishads, and the Mudgala Purana – texts that are practically ignored by Courtright.

155. See Saligrama Krishna Ramachandra Rao, 1992, Ganesa-kosha, Kalpataru Research Academy: Bangalore, pp. 70-131 for this aspect of the deity.

156. Pp. 90-93 in Rao, 1992. In addition, Vinayakar Akaval, a Tamil devotional work (before 1400 CE?) sees Ganesa not as an external deity but rather as an internal devata in the muulaadhaara.

157. Ganesa, pp. 121

158. Ganesa Purana, Upasana Khanda, 12.38 This is an important detail, because Courtright cites numerous passages from the Puranas describing sexuality of Airavata. If Airavata is intimidated by Ganesa, then the latter’s trunk should be considered more potent than Airavata’s per Courtright’s ‘methodology’. Earlier, we had cited other passages from Ganesa Purana which depict Ganesa showering water with his trunk over Brahma’s head.

159. Refer in passim, Nanditha Krishna and Shakuntala Jagannathan’s Ganesha: The Auspicious… The Beginning. Vakils, Feffer & Simons Ltd: Mumbai

160. Ganesa, pp. 74-90

161. Brahmavaivarta Purana, Ganapatikhanda, chapter 44, verse 88

162. John Grimes (1995), Ganapati, Song of the Self, SUNY Press: Albany (New York), p. 77

163. See their excellent book Ganesha: The Auspicious, The Beginning.: Vakils, Feffer & Simons Ltd.: Mumbai (1992)

164. Ganesa, p. 109

165. See the online review at http://vishalagarwal.bharatvani.org/freud.html

166. Ganesa, p. 110

167. Ganesa, p. 110

168. Ganesa, p. 49. Ironically, on p. 134 he himself says of Dubois, “He was never excessively generous of his appraisal of Hindu religious practices.” Anyone who is familiar with the writings of Dubois can easily see his contempt and hatred for anything Hindu.

169. Ganesa, p. 124.

170. The tale rather has socio-political implications, as correctly stated by Anita Raina Thapat, 1997, p. 225

171. Ganesa, pp. 111

172. Ganesa, pp. 111

173. The reader may note that the discipline of Anthropology itself has been accused of perpetuating colonial and racist prejudices in a new garb and there does seem to be some merit in this accusation. However, a discussion on this topic is beyond the scope of the present review.

174. Ganesa, p. 111

175. Ganesa, pp. 113-114

176. Ganesa, p. 81

177. Ganesa, p. 81

178. Ganesa, p. 121

179. Cited by Courtright himself in this context.

180. Ganesa, p. 101

181. Ganesa, p. viii

182. As far as the Vedic tradition is concerned, the whole of north India north of Narmada river, is dominated by Brahmins following Sukla Yajurveda in its Madhyandina Sakha. Followers of Kanva Sakha of Sukla Yajurveda are found in significant numbers in several other parts of India such as Orissa and Maharashtra. Both these Sakhas employ the Paraskara Grhyasutra as their principal ritual text for domestic rites. In the past, a Baijavapa Grhyasutra existed for other followers of Sukla Yajurveda, but this text is now lost. Likewise, the Kanva Grhyasutra and Katyayana Grhyasutra exist, but very few followers of Sukla Yajurveda follow them today. Amongst the commentaries of this text are: Paraskara Mantrabhashya of Murari Mishra, Bhashya of Halayudha, Bhashya of Harihara, Bhashya of Jayarama, Bhashya of Gadaadhara, Vivarana of Karka, Bhashya of Vishveshara, Prakaashika of Vishvanatha etc.

183. This is text 2.2.12 in the edition used by us. See the footnote below for details of this edition by Bakre. In fact, Courtright seems to have made another typing error here because Oldenberg’s edition that Courtright has used also gives the address of this text as 2.2.12 and not 2.2.14

184. Hermann Oldenberg (Translator). 1964 [1886]. Sacred Books of the East Series, volume 29 (Grihya Sutras, Part I), p. 309

185. Mahadeva Ganghadhar Bakre (ed.). 1982. Grihya-Sutra by Paraskar with Five Commentaries of Karka Upadhyaya, Jayaram, Harihar, Gadadhar and Vishvanath. Munsihram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.: New Delhi, pp. 197-206

186. See for instance Raj Bali PANDEY’s ‘Hindu Samskaras, Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments’, Motilal Banarsidass: New Delhi (1969), pp. 134-135

187. Harihara on Paraskara Grhyasutra 2.2.14 cites ‘diirghasatram vaa esha upaiti yo brahmacharyamupaiti”

188. Courtright, Paul Barber. 1974. Ganesa and the Ganesa Festival in Maharashtra, A Study in Hindu Religious Celebration. Princeton University PhD Thesis. p. 26

189. For a more reasonable account of the wives of Ganesa, refer Lawrence Cohen’s “The Wives of Ganesa”, pp. 115-139 in Robert L. Brown, “Ganesa, Studies of an Asian God”, SUNY: Albany (1991)

190. Ganesa, p. 124

191. Parasurama Kalpasutra, ed. by Alladi Mahadeva Sastri, Gaekwad Oriental Series (vol. 23-24), Baroda, 1923.
Chapter 7.11 of the Mudgala Purana is especially relevant in this respect, with Siddhi and Buddhi described as manifestations of Lakshmi. The chapter has numerous verses jointly addressed to Vishnu and Ganesa, and the former is said to be born of the latter. Courtright has perhaps missed a golden opportunity here to discuss potential sexual relationships.

192. Ganesa, p. 124

193. The theme of ardhanaariisvara is quite recurring in the Hindu traditions, and occurs in regions far and wide. For example, Silappadikaram, a Tamil epic compiled around 170 AD, speaks of "the dance of the Lord who had Uma as His part" vide verses starting 28:67 and "the One with Uma as His other half" vide verses starting 28:100 This concept of arddhanaarisvara had metaphysical meaning for the Hindus, and the tradition never read anything sexual perversion into it.

194. Courtright says (pp. 219-220) that the Tantric modes of worship of the deity are not followed to any significant extent today. This however cannot be a potential excuse for ignoring these texts in the present study. After all, has Courtright not cited all kinds of obscure, non-verifiable regional myths, and has he not used sectarian Puranas that have no considerable following?

195. Ganesa, p. 155

196. Ganesa, pp. 155-156

197. This week (14 November, 2003), Wendy Doniger flew across the Atlantic and gave a lecture titled “ ‘Indian Variants of the Myth of the Woman Who Pretended To Be Herself’' at the SOAS in London. We have received two eyewitness accounts in a written manner, and a tape recording is on its way. The attendees tell us that the lecture was full of who raped whom, who lusted with whom and so on. Here is an unedited paragraph from a participant – “she referred to the Ramayana as mythology and to Rama as a mythical figure who had no historical basis. She talked about his humiliation of Sita by subjecting her to fire and doubting her a second time. She linked the fire incident to the "terrible" custom of sati inferring that it was Sita who started off this tradition. She talked of the traditional belief in Hindu embryology where the foetus is aware of all its previous births but at the moment of being born in this life, loses all this knowledge. "This is why Indian babies cry", she added. This was accompanied by laughter from the audience and also by wry faces and grimaces made William Dalrymple, the so called independent moderator. She talked about Sita and Lakshman's supposed lust for each other and Rama's jealousy that Lakshman might take his place beside Sita on the marrige bed. She talked about the innumerable examples of minor gods guarding the entrance to the bedchambers of Hindu gods copulating. She went on to give a long and garbled account about Vishnu raping several females etc....”

198. Getty, Alice. 1936. Ganesa: A Monograph on the Elephant-faced God, Oxford.

199. In any case, the designation of Ganesa as a demon does not hold good for Thailand, Kampuchea and Vietnam although it was true for Indonesia in the past. For this, see now Robert L. Brown, “Ganesa in Southeast Asian Art, Indian Connections and Indigenous Developments”, pp. 171-234 in Robert L. Brown (ed.), Ganesh, 1991

200. Ganesa, p. 204

201. Census data consistently indicates that after 1951 (no data for the state as such is available before then), the Muslim component of Maharashtra’s population has always been above 7%. In fact, in 1981, a few years before Courtright’s book was written, it was 9.25%. See p. 78 in A P Joshi et al (2003), Religious Demography of India, Centre for Policy Studies: Chennai

202. Amarendra Gadgil. 1968. Sri Ganesa-kosha. Ganesa-kosha Prakaasan Mandala: Pune (In Marathi)

203. Ganesa, p. 209

204. However, the Mudgala Purana version does mention that they emerged from the dirt in Vishnu’s ears, as does Ganesa Purana (Upasana Khanda, 16.11).

205. Ganesa, p. 218

206. Thapat (1997), pp. 35-36 herself considers various views and then assigns the text to 10th and 11th century. She rejects the late dates of various scholars on the grounds that this text does not mention Smarta Ganapatyas who became prominent before 15th century. Using this argument of silence, she concludes that at least the portion of the text dealing with the Ganapatyas dates between 10th and 11th century, even though the rest of the text might belong to a different (later) period. The most recent detailed study by Vidyasankar Sundaresan (‘Conflicting Hagiographies and History: The Place of Sankaravijaya texts in Advaita Tradition’, in International Journal of Hindu Studies 4,2, August 2000: pp. 109-184) demonstrates that the text is a very late forgery, and is from the pen of Anantaanandagiri, not Advaita tiikaakaara Anandagiri. Courtright however ignores the entire controversy on this matter.

207. Fortunately, the book has an appendix providing a translation of the Ganapati Atharvasiras Upanishad.

208. A good contemporary treatment of the major shrines to the deity is by John Grimes (1995), Ganapati, Song of the Self, SUNY Press: Albany (New York)

209. Ganesa, p. 246