Ganesha’s measuring scale

Indian Mythology 9 Comments

Published in Mumbai Sunday Midday, 11 Oct 2009

One day, a sage called Narad came to Mount Kailas, a mango in his hand. Kartikeya’s eyes widened when he saw the mango; Ganesha’s mouth watered. “Who is it for?” they asked in unison. “It is for Shiva’s better son,” replied Narad, a mischievous glint in his eye.  Parvati realized what Narad was up to:  the cunning sage had taken upon himself the impossible task of making parents choose a favorite child.

All eyes turned to Shiva. “Better son? What’s that?” Shiva wondered, “Sons are sons. Some are older, some are younger. Some are taller, some are fatter. Some are stronger, some are smarter. How can one be better?”

“Here is how,” said Narad, “You create a measuring scale. He who measures better is the better son.” Shiva looked at Narad not quite understanding what was said. So Narad elaborated, “Well, creating a measuring scale is easy. You can say that my measuring scale is obedience – he who is more obedient is the better son. Or you can say that my measuring scale is money – he who makes more money is the better son. Or you can say that my measuring scale is achievement – he who can do the impossible is the better son.”

Shiva burst out laughing. “That is the most stupid thing I heard. A measuring scale! This is so funny.” Narad retorted immediately, “Do you realize that you are laughing only because you have a measuring scale that measures stupidity? In that measuring scale, my ideas are stupid. But I have another measuring scale. In mine, my ideas are brilliant. Who is right?”

Shiva was impressed by Narad’s words. “I am pleased with you, Narad. You go ahead and decide a measuring scale that will measure a better son for me,” said Shiva to Narad, “That son can have the mango.”

“The better son is the son who goes around the world three times,” declared Narad. No sooner did he say this than Kartikeya leapt onto his peacock and set out to be the better son. Up into the sky he rose and through the clouds he flew, determined to go around the world faster than Ganesha.

Ganesha, however, stayed where he was, on Mount Kailas, playing with his mouse, much to the surprise of Narad. “Why don’t you go around the world?” he said to the elephant-headed lad. “Let him do what he wants,” said Parvati indulgently. “But he will lose,” said a concerned Narad. “So what?” said Shiva, “Its only a mango.” Then Shiva smiled, “Look Narad, yet another measuring scale, one that belittles that wonderful mango you have given so much value to.”

Kartikeya went around the world once. He did so twice. He glanced behind for a moment, checking to see if Ganesha was catching up but Ganesha was no where in sight. Kartikeya wondered where his brother was, a little concerned about his brother’s wellbeing, and a little anxious about his own victory. As Kartikeya began his third circle around the world, he felt a little uneasy about Ganesha’s behavior. What was he up to? He knew his brother was no simpleton!

Sure enough, just as Kartikeya’s peacock was about to land on Mount Kailas, Ganesha got up and quickly ran around his parents. Once. Twice. Thrice! “There,” he said, “I won.”

“What do you mean, you won,” said Kartikeya angrily, alighting down.

“Well, brother,” said Ganesha, “I say I won because I went around my world three times. You say you won because you went around the world three times. Tell me, brother, tell me, father, tell me, mother, tell me, Narad, tell me all of you – what matters more? My world or the world.”

“Is there a difference?” asked Parvati. “Yes, there is,” said Shiva. “Observe how ‘the’ world is objective. It contains the plants, the animals, the sky, the mountains, the clouds, the rivers, the stars, the ants and the people around us. But ‘my’ world is subjective. It contains our thoughts and feelings, our dreams and our memories, that is known only to us. What do you think matters more – what everyone sees or what we alone feel?”

Nobody said anything. But somehow everybody knew the answer. And it was clear who the winner was. Kartikeya smiled, went up to Narad, took the mango from his hand and gave it to his brother, after giving him a tight hug.

Ganesha cut the mango in two and offered one half to his brother. The two brothers then cut their respective shares and shared it with their parents. The seed inside the mango was given to Narad who said, “In my world, with my measuring scale, the seed is the best part of the mango.” Mount Kailas was filled with sound of everyone’s laughter.

  • Ram

    It’s very good. Even though, I know the story. I was very curious while reading it. Finally, I like the happy ending and moral of the story.

  • ganesh.V

    Dear Devdutt g.,

    A nice narration of Shiva’s family story which relates to eternal truth.

    In south especially in Tamil nadu. The story ends up with break up of lord Karthikeya from his family due to the decision winning between his brother. He decides to make his own country his own people.

    Hope you have heard about a temple for lord Karthikeya in PALANI(a hill temple in Tamil nadu famous for its prasath of panjamirth) where he stands with a single piece of langota alone, without any arnoments even with out his skirsmish which was given to him by his mother. He keeps a Dhanda in his hand.

    From this temple only parvathi narrats Shiva’s leelas to her son to cam down him.

    A great Tamil lady poet named Avaiyar adivce Karthikeya to return home to his parents.

  • Mausami

    Hi Devdutt ji,
    Thanks for the illustration!
    Loved the story – especially the part that each of us may have a different scale of measurement and that an create a conflict but it is important to remember that the scale that takes into account our internal emotions and feelings associated with our loved ones is the most important.


  • Padmanabhan


    Nice narrative. But, acutally there is a twist in the tale.
    As per south Indian lore, Kartikeya (known as Muruga) becomes angry when he does not get the mango.
    He leaves his family at goes southwards, Palani hills, to be precise.
    He sets up his own temple and lives there. His parents had to come there and mollify him.

  • Subhasis Pujapanda

    Me too read the story, but the way you have narrated is fantastic. It makes reading more enjoy full. To my knowledge the debate of winning is not THE world and MY world. Actually speaking Siva + Parvathi = World . They form the world while together and Ganesha has just shown his intelligence by travelling thrice around both Siva & Parvathi.

  • So many versions… lovely message, though!

    Isn’t it becoming obvious that ‘hinduism’ was a bunch of different tribes united in the same social order? There is bound to be versioning and revisioning to allow defectors and unbelievers back into the fold by making ‘clever adjustments’ in the faith. All in good spirit!

    In fact, I strongly believe even Buddha was a late introduction into the Dashavataras at the expense of Balarama. Buddha was included to, obviously, make buddhists look at themselves as a branch of hinduism/vashnavism rather than a separate religion.

    Separate religions cause political instability… so, it was worth a try for some Mathadhipatis to concoct a suitable change. No facts to substantiate my gut-feel, though!

    Anand Rajamani

  • sajudivakar

    According to Ramana Maharishi the experienced world is brought out everyday when we wake up from sleep and dissapears when we go to sleep.

  • Thank you for making this story so vivid in my reading mind. I will use it to explain the scope of Enterprise Architecture to students at the classes I teach.

  • Hi

    Very nice rendition of one of the earliest stories children hear from their grandparents. I heard this one from my grandmother.

    She said, Narad was given the fruit of wisdom – the mango that could not be divided – just as there cannot be half wisdom. Therefore, a son had to be chosen.

    This is also why Ganesha is the wise one although he is young.

    There are other stories of Ganesha (I’m sure you know the one where Kuber invited him for dinner to flaunt his wealth) which show him as an inward looking, intuitive character. I love the way Hindu mythology has shaped distinct characters for their Gods and Godesses and illustrated it so consistently through different, rich tales.