Tale of the broken tusk

Last week was Ganesh Chaturti and many of you may have installed his idol in your house. Did you notice a particular irregularity in some statues?

September 24, 2015 02:37 pm | Updated 02:37 pm IST

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

With Ganesh Chaturthi just past, it may be a good idea to look at some tales about the elephant-faced god. Have you ever noticed that, in many idols, the left tusk is portrayed as broken? Here are a couple of stories about how the tusk got broken.

Scribe and guest

The first is a funny tale. On a full-moon night, Ganesha was returning home after attending a feast. Unfortunately, a snake crossed his path and his vehicle — mooshik, the mouse — ran away in fear. Ganesha, who had not been paying attention, was upset on the road and his tummy was split open. The moon, who had been watching the scene interestedly, burst out laughing. Unable to lay his hands on anything else, Ganesha broke off his left tusk and flung it at the moon. He picked up the snake, which had scared his mount, and used it as a belt to tie up his stomach.

The other story is more serious. When Sage Vyasa began composing the Mahabharat, he asked Ganesh to be his scribe. Ganesha agreed on one condition: that Vyasa would recite without stopping. Vyasa posed a counter: that Ganesha would not write down the meaning of a verse that he did not understand. Ganesha agreed and work on the epic began. As the sage recited, the god wrote. Whenever he needed to rest, Vyasa would sneak in a complicated verse. The young god had to stop to figure it out and Vyasa would take a breather and compose more verses. And so it went on. One day, Ganesha’s pen broke while writing. Now, under the terms of their agreement, he couldn’t stop. So he just broke off his tusk and used it as a pen. Thus the epic was finished.

Here is a rather cute tale to end with. Kubera, the lord of Yakshas, decided to hold a grand feast for all the gods because he wanted to show off his wealth. Understanding this, Shiva and Parvati — Ganesha’s parents — said that they would send their son in their stead. So Ganesha went to Kubera’s palace and was received with great ceremony.

Once the feast began, everyone was amazed at Ganesha’s appetite. The little god ate and ate and ate; Kubera’s servants were kept so busy serving him that they had no time for the other guests. When all the cooked food was over, the servants looked at him in despair. “Food, more food,” he yelled, as he continued to eat. “Cook some more,” ordered Kubera. And so the cooks cooked, and Ganesha ate ... till there was no raw material left to cook with.

But Ganesha was not satisfied. Denied food, the little god threw a major tantrum and cried and roared till the terrified Kubera ran to Mount Kailas to ask Shiva for help. “But you said you had enough to feed all the gods,” smiled Shiva when he heard the story. “It was my pride,” wept Kubera. “I know I was wrong. Please stop him before he wrecks my palace.” Parvati, who had been listening, gave Kubera a cup with just a spoonful of rice. “Feed him this with love,” she said.

Kubera took the cup and went back to his palace with trepidation. He walked up to the raging god and humbly said, “Dear Ganesha, please eat this and let your hunger be satisfied.” Once he had fed Ganesha the mouthful, the god smiled and said, “That was excellent. I can’t eat anymore.” Kubera heaved a sigh of relief and vowed never to show off again.

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