Moreover, Prof. Wilkins seems to rely heavily on a few other Western writers (Kennedy, Muir, Wilson etc.) rather than going through the actual Hindu texts, and so if there is any glow of light in his book at all, it is more the 'reflective glory' type rather than one with any original burning flame.
Anyway, I recite this tale here more for its ingenuity rather than its originality.
The tale is set during the 'Sandhi' (twilight) time between Dwapar Yuga and Kali Yuga. So this must be around the last few decades after the Mahabharata war was over and events at Dwaraka were unfolding *.
It seems that one of the Adityas -- Soma -- did a long penance to Lord Shiva. Shiva was so pleased with it that he allowed Soma deva to build a shrine for himself -- which is now Somnath or Someswara in Gujarat -- and also decreed that whosoever visits this temple in his / her lifetime gains a direct VIP access to Swarga (heaven).
As expected, when this information became public, there was pandemonium on Earth. People from all stations and stages of society - learned and dumb, brahmins and shudras, men and women, pious and irreverent, good and bad - all thronged the temple with the hope to gain direct access to the heaven, and to their surprise, actually got it.
And so, the difference between good and bad ceased to exist. Barbarians, thieves and decoits could get the same posthumous benefits as brahmins and those skilled in vedas. Society ceased to function as the code of Manu became irrelevant. You could commit as many sins as you want, and yet ascend to Swarga. Just book yourself a ticket to Somnath!
As one would imagine, the gods in heaven got very upset with this. Everywhere they went, they found these mortals wandering about, very happy with themselves. Yama and his accountant Chitragupta lost their wits first, and then almost their jobs too - since tracking of Paap and Punya (bad and good deeds of humans) was not relevant any more. All the seven Narakas (hells) were running empty and the heaven was bursting with the mortal crowd.
The rishis could not meditate in peace. The Gandharwas could not flirt with the Apsaras in private. Everywhere these mortals would appear and cause trouble. Finally it became too much when people started flocking Indra's sabha (court) and kept interrupting the proceedings.
The Adityas - Indra, Varuna, Soma included - went to Shiva at Mount Kailasa and complained about their loss of privacy. Till this time, Shiva had no idea about the havoc his 'boon' to Soma was causing. By the way, this is not new for Mahadeva - who is also known as a simpleton and the 'gullible' one among the gods.
Shiva empathized with the gods, but said his words cannot be reversed. He looked for Parvati to get some ideas. However at this time, Parvati had gone down to the river for her bath. So the congregation sent an urgent message to the Devi.
On hearing about the plight of devas, Parvati came up with an idea. She scrubbed her limbs and took out some dirt, some bathing paste, and created a small effigy in the shape of a boy. She tried shaping the boy's face -- and here I take creative liberties since Prof. Wilkins does not explain anything about Ganesha's special shape-- but it came out to look like an elephant's head **.
Nevertheless, since the gods were in a hurry, the Devi breathed life into the boy and called him her son Ganesha. Upon gaining speech, the newly born asked his mother what she expected him to do. Devi told him that he would go on the Earth and 'create' obstacles in the Somnath yatra (travel) for those who are unworthy of the heaven.
So he is actually intended to be a 'vighna-karta' (creator of obstacles). However, for those who are righteous and worthy of the heaven, he will make their path obstacle-free (and hence his current name 'vighna-harta' - remover of obstacles).
His special shape came in handy for this purpose. With his large ears he could hear beyond the spoken words and could 'read' between the lines when someone prays to him. With his long trunk he reaches out and gets all the facts right. He has infinite memory and never forgets what you have been up to. So he can put all the facts together and have the 'inter-linkages'. At the same time, he has a large belly, in which he stores all the world's secrets. So you can confide all your concerns with him, and be assured that they will not go out anywhere.
And so it came to be that Ganesha brought sense back to the chaos that was Earth. Those who followed the path of righteousness and prayed to Ganesha now had their lives made free of obstacles. Those who didn't, they went to nether-land. And thus, people once again started believing in doing right, started following the path of Dharma, and order was restored in all the three worlds.
Thus, as you will see, Ganesha is known as the god of wisdom - since wisdom finally boils down to making a difference between good and bad, right and wrong, people you should trust and people you shouldn't. Being one of the later Hindu deities (not as old as vedic deities, but more contemporary and maybe thus more relevant in today's times), and the one who is worshiped aggressively across the world during these times - the Kali yuga - when Dharma is on its last legs - I hope this is one quality that Ganesha bestows to his devotees, since this is the most important skill one can have to make one's life free of worldly obstacles!
7th May 2011
* Of course, although the timeline for this tale is clear, if we go by it, it would mean that the story about Ganesha writing Jaya (Mahabharata) for Vyasa does not fit in the timeline (see this). Either that story has a different timeline, or Vyasa wrote Jaya much late, after Ganesha was born. So when Vyasa wrote Jaya, Ganesha must have been a toddler!
** This story is rather different from the more well-known story where Shiva beheads Parvati's son and then fits the head of Indra's white elephant (Airavat) and then breathes life into him. I am told that the more popular version is from Shiva Purana, while the story I have narrated here is from Skanda Purana. I do not have direct access to these texts as of now. But when I do get that, I will clear some air around this. If anyone else already knows about these matters in more detail, you are welcome to post your comments as always.