Rajkot, Gujarat, India
|Statue of Lord Ganesh during Ganesh Chaturthi. Photo by Mohnish Landge on Unsplash.|
According to Hindu mythology, Mount Kalilash in the Himalayas is the abode of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati, along with their children Kartikeya and Ganesh.1 The latter son is the elephant-headed god of beginnings, intellectuals, bankers, scribes and authors.2
Many stories are associated with Ganesh’s birth and upbringing. In one of them,3 Parvati was preparing for a bath, and not wanting to be disturbed, she instructed Ganesh to guard the door and not let anyone in. As Ganesh stood guard, Shiva arrived and wished enter the room, but was stopped by a seemingly unfamiliar boy. Shiva tried to reason with the boy, but as Ganesh did not budge, he lost his temper and cut off his head.4
Parvati was furious and threatened to demolish all creation.5 At last, she agreed to make peace if the boy was bought back to life. Shiva agreed and ordered his disciples to bring back the head of the first creature they met. They came back with the head of an elephant, which Shiva fixed on Ganesh’s trunk and gave him life.
Before Shiva was married to Parvati, he was married to Sati, the daughter of Raja Daksh. Daksh did not consent to this marriage and insulted the two, and Sati came to sacrifice herself to fire. The enraged Shiva sent an army to destroy Daksha and had him decapitated. On calming down, he resurrected him, but with a goat’s head.6 This is why Shiva is known as both the god of destruction as well as the master of poison and medicine.
In other mythologies are further tales of unions between animals and humans. In ancient Mesopotamia there was the lamassu, a celestial being with a human head and the body of a bull, sometimes with wings and a bull’s horns and ears.7 The ancient Greeks had centaurs, creatures with an upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse,8 as well as Daedalus and Icarus, humans who grafted feathers to their arms to escape imprisonment in Crete. The Sphinx of Giza had a lion’s body and a human’s head.9 Minotaurs were “part man and part bull,” as described by the Roman poet Ovid.10 Such legends’ influence carries over into the present day, such as in the Marvel series Moon Knight, where we become acquainted with Khonshu, Egyptian god of the moon, with a falcon head and human body. Werewolves appear in Harry Potter or in shows such as Teen Wolf or The Originals. In many Spider-Man stories, Curt Connors is a geneticist who develops a lizard DNA-based serum that would allow humans to regrow missing limbs.11 Spider-Man himself is a product of genetic modifications, a human-animal hybrid modified by xenotransplantation of genes.12 Icarus’s tragedy, too, has recently been considered a case of acute graft rejection.13
Malorie Blackman’s 1990 sci-fi novel Pig Heart Boy describes thirteen-year-old protagonist Cameron’s reception of a genetically-modified pig’s heart, which changes his life permanently.14 Very recently in real life, in January 2022, the first clinical xenotransplant of a heart from a genetically engineered pig was conducted when the University of Maryland implanted a genetically-engineered pig heart into a patient, who lived for sixty days with his new organ.15 Xenotransfusion, the transfer of blood from one species into the veins of another, was first performed between a lamb and a fifteen-year-old boy by Jean-Baptiste Denis and Paul Emmerez in 166716; the later transfer of insulin produced from the pancreas of cows and pigs before the production of recombinant insulin opened the doors for islet cell transplantation.17
Clearly xenotransplantation has not yet become a successful procedure. Animal grafts are eventually rejected by human antibodies, and the transfer of novel and uncontrollable diseases from animals to humans remains a possibility. Yet over a hundred thousand people in the US alone are on the national transplant waiting list, and many die while waiting.18 Ancient myths and modern tales give hope that their stories could someday become reality—as Malorie Blackman said, “What some call science fiction, I prefer to call science possible or sometimes science probable.”15 Maybe the tale atop Kailash will take place someday inside an operation room, and thousands of patients will receive a new life. Miracles do happen.
- Mount Kailash. Wikipedia, 2022. Cited Mar 14, 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Kailash.
- Doniger W. Ganesha. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019. Cited Mar 14, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ganesha.
- Shastri JL. Chapter 13 – The birth of Gaṇeśa. In The Shiva Purana section 2, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1950. Available from Wisdom Library: https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/shiva-purana-english/d/doc226133.html.
- Shastri JL. Chapter 16 – The head of Gaṇeśa is chopped off during the battle. In The Shiva Purana section 2, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1950. Available from Wisdom Library: https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/shiva-purana-english/d/doc226136.html.
- Shastri JL. Chapter 17 – The Resuscitation of Gaṇeśa. In The Shiva Purana section 2, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1950. Available from Wisdom Library: https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/shiva-purana-english/d/doc226137.html.
- Shastri JL. Chapter 23 – The destruction of Dakṣa’s sacrifice (4): Śiva’s Fury. In The Shiva Purana section 7, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1950. Available from Wisdom Library: https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/shiva-purana-english/d/doc226659.html.
- Lammasu: Mythology. Wikipedia, 2023. Cited May 25, 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamassu#Mythology.
- Centaur. Wikipedia, 2020. Mar 14, 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centaur.
- Encyclopædia Britannica. Sphinx. 2018. Cited Mar 14, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/topic/sphinx.
- Encyclopædia Britannica. Minotaur. 2017. Cited Mar 14, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Minotaur.
- Lizard (character). Wikipedia, 2023. Cited Mar 14, 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lizard_(character).
- Stripecke R et al. Innovations, challenges, and minimal information for standardization of humanized mice. EMBO Molecular Medicine Jun 24, 2020;12(7).
- Reemtsma K. Xenotransplantation: A Historical Perspective. ILAR Journal Jan 1, 1995;37(1):9-12. https://academic.oup.com/ilarjournal/article/37/1/9/760596.
- Blackman M. Malorie Blackman on seeing her sci-fi novel about a pig heart transplant come true. The Guardian, Jan 25, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/jan/25/malorie-blackman-on-seeing-her-sci-fi-novel-about-a-pig-heart-transplant-come-true.
- Chaban R, Cooper DKC. The First Clinical Pig Heart Transplant and the Future of Cardiac Xenotransplantation. American College of Cardiology, 2022. https://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/articles/2022/09/21/08/42/the-first-clinical-pig-heart-transplant-and-the-future-of-cardiac-xenotransplantation.
- Roux FA, Saï P, Deschamps J-Y. Xenotransfusions, past and present. Xenotransplantation May 2007;14(3):208-16.
- Zhu H et al. Treatment of diabetes with encapsulated pig islets: an update on current developments. Journal of Zhejiang University-SCIENCE B May 2015;16(5):329-43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4432985/.
- US Health Resources and Services Administration. Organ donation statistics. 2022. Cited Mar 14, 2023. https://www.organdonor.gov/learn/organ-donation-statistics.
- Cooper DKC. A brief history of cross-species organ transplantation. Proceedings (Baylor University Medical Center) 2012;25(1):49-57. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3246856/.
DEVANSHI B. PATEL is a third-year undergraduate student from India currently pursuing a degree in medicine. She is a scientist by mind, a historian by interest, and a poet by heart. She hopes to become a good doctor while also pouring her heart out through words.
Submitted for the 2022–23 Medical Student Essay Contest