(C) Uma Krishnaswami, 2006 in The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha (Little Rock: August House, 1996). Reprinted by permission of the author.
When Ganesha was a small child, he often amused himself by playing on the forested slopes of Mount Kailasa. Sometimes he would invent games, pretending to be a great king and leading imaginary warriors into battle. Once, having nothing to do, he said to his mother Parvati, "I have nothing to do."
Parvati looked surprised. "Nothing to do, with the mountains for your playground?" she remarked. "When my spirit is unsettled, or when my soul needs new vision, I sometimes go where the wild creatures go, to see the world though their eyes."
"I'll go out now," decided Ganehsa, "but I will go hunting."
Ganesha looked around outside the hut. He picked up a stout stick and a large flat rock with sharp edges. He tied the two together with lengths of vine. Brandishing his make-believe axe, he ran off, leaping down the mountain trails, shouting with glee, "I am the greatest hunter of all! Wild animals, run for your lives!"
Ganesha stopped and looked about him. "But what shall I hunt?" he said. "I need an animal to hunt."
Suddenly a cat darted out from behind a rock and ran off down the trail.
"Aha!" cried Ganesha. "I'm going to pretend you're a tiger, and I'm going to hunt you!" And he raced off after the cat.
The cat ran down the mountain, mewing with fright. But Ganesha was too caught up with his game to notice her fear. He had convinced himself she was a ferocious tiger, and he was determined to hunt her down.
When he caught up with her, he grabbed her by the tail and pinned her to the ground, shouting, "Now I've got you, you evil tiger!"
The poor cat was too afraid to do anything but lie very still. She could not even meow. She shivered and quaked, and all of a sudden Ganesha noticed that his fearsome prey appeared to have surrendered completely.
Sulkily, he let go of the cat's tail, and she ran off as fast as she could.
"That was no fun at all," muttered Ganesha, as he picked himself up and went back home. When he got there, he was surprised to find that his mother Parvati was covered with scratches and bruises, as if rocks and boulders had cut her skin and thorns had pierced her cheeks.
"Amma, what happened to you?" asked Ganesha, forgetting the disappointments of his own day.
"You did this to me, child," said Parvati to Ganesha. "Don't you remember?"
"I did?" Ganesha was horrified. "No I didn't. I would never hurt you like that."
Parvati said, "Think back. Did you hurt a living creature, only a little while ago?"
Ganesha was about to deny this terrible accusation completely, but then he remembered the cat. He looked at the ground in shame. He hung his head lower and lower until his big ears drooped down to his chest and his trunk slumped on the earth.
"I was that cat," said Parvati. "Remember this for all your life. When you hurt any living creature, you hurt me."
Ganesha hugged his mother sadly. "Forgive me, my mother," he said. "I did not mean to hurt you."
"Ah, but did you mean to hurt the cat?" asked Parvati.
"No," said Ganesha. "Yes—I mean no, no, I didn't. It was only a game."
"For you, perhaps," said Parvati. "But as you can tell, it was no game for me. Take care that in your play you do not injure others or cause them grief and fear."
"Yes, Amma," promised Ganesha. After that he took special care to be gentle to the wild creatures of the forests and streams, as you must, too, for any one of them could be Parvati in disguise.