Thursday, September 8, 2011

How Ganesha Broke His Tusk


Ganesha is usually depicted with one of his tusks broken. Have you wondered when and how the elephant headed god managed to break just one tusk? Was it an indication of ivory being used even then? Or did he get it broken in a fight? As with most other features of Ganesha, there are two stories to explain this too!

Sage Vyasa dictating the Mahabharata to Ganesha
(Image from the internet)


The first and the more popular story is related to the sage Vyasa and the Mahabharata.
Vyasa was then engaged in splitting the Vedas into four. While the Veda itself is just one, it was Vyasa who split it according to its content into four parts – the Rig Veda, containing hymns to be recited by the chief or presiding priest, the Yajur Veda, containing hymns to be recited by the officiating priests, Sama Veda containing the hymns to be sung in a rhythm, and finally, the Atharva Veda containing spells and incantations.  The sage had just completed the elaborate work on the Vedas, and he already had in mind another tome – one as extensive as the Vedas, and which could in some ways be considered as the fifth Veda, since it would speak of right and wrong, and how to make the choices which decide the path we take.

The sage was too tired to write the story himself – the story he had decided to call the Mahabharata – the great tale of the Bharata Dynasty. He therefore went to Lord Brahma and asked him whom he should ask to write his epic. Brahma advised the sage that Ganesha would be the ideal person to write the epic, and the sage should approach him. Vyasa meditated on Ganesha till he appeared, and then put forth his request.

Ganesha thought for a while, and agreed. But he had one condition – he would write extremely fast, and could not wait for the sage to compose his words with care. If the sage was willing to speak without pausing, he, Ganesha, was willing to be his scribe. The sage pondered over the condition, and then added one of his own. He said, “I agree not to pause, but you have to promise me that you will understand the meaning of the verse before writing it.” Ganesha agreed and thus began the writing of the greatest epic!

As Ganesha got his materials ready, Vyasa utilized the time to put his thoughts together. In order to gain time, he made his verses as complex as possible, forcing Ganesha to pause so that he could understand the meaning before proceeding further. This gave Vyasa time to mentally compose the next set of verses. And thus, the composition of the Mahabharata continued, the sage composing, Ganesha transcribing!

The Mahabharata is an epic longer than any other. It consists of around one hundred thousand verses, each of which are long prose passages. Totally, there are more than 1.8 million words in all! As Ganesha set about writing down a work of such epic proportions, his quill broke. As per his agreement with the sage, he could not pause, and neither could he ask the sage to pause. How was he to continue writing without a quill?

The quick thinking Ganesha found an instant solution – he broke off one of his tusks and using it as  a quill, continued to write. This was probably the first pen ever used!

Thus did the Mahabharata get written, and Ganesha also came to be known as Ekadanta – the lord with the single tusk!

Patachitra painting of Ganesha and Parasurama
(Image from Ganges India website)


The second story relates to the sage Parasurama. I have yet to write his story on this blog, but in short, he was a warrior sage who set out to avenge his father’s death at the hands of a king by eliminating every king on earth. Parasurama’s connection with Ganesha comes at a stage when he has circled the earth twenty one times, killing every king he comes across.

Parasurama was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. His favourite weapon, the axe, was one he had obtained from Shiva after a long and terrible penance, and it was this axe which he had used to rid the world of the evil kings. Since he had toured the world 21 times killing the kings, he decided to pay a visit to Kailas, probably for advice from the Lord he respected. He was stopped at the entrance by Ganesha, who refused to let him enter without learning his business there.

Now, Parasurama had been so busy with his vengeance, he probably didn’t even know the identity of the elephant faced child who barred his way. His anger, always quick to rise, ignited, and he hurled his axe at Ganesha. Ganesha realized that this was the axe presented to the sage by his father. Dodging it would be an act of disrespect to the axe, so Ganesha stood his ground, and the axe fell on one of his tusks, breaking it.

Parvati, hearing the commotion made by the sage, arrived, and was at once incensed at the sight of her son’s broken tusk. Her anger rose, and she was calmed only by the words of Ganesha, who reassured her that he was safe, and that he himself had allowed the sage’s axe to cut his tusk. At last, Parvati calmed down.

Meanwhile, the sage had cooled down enough to realize who Ganesha was, and apologized. Moreover, he gave his axe to Ganesha as a compensation for breaking his tusk, and thus, also gave up on his vendetta.

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