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Why Ganesha has a Broken Tusk or Why the Moon has a Crater

Of the thirty-three crore or three hundred and thirty million gods and goddesses of Indian Hindu mythology, the most loved perhaps is Ganesha, especially by children. To begin with, there is his absurdly endearing appearance – he has the head of an elephant and a stocky little body – his pot belly shows that he enjoys his food. He has the heart of a child, following his impulses, and does not make much ado about things, even though he is a god. Every god has his own vahana or mount – for instance Shiva had Nandi the bull, Vishnu has Garuda the eagle, while Ganesha, more down-to-earth, rides on a mouse. He uses a serpent as a belt to hold his stomach in and one of his tusks is broken – and therein lies a favourite Ganesha story, one of many. It is the story of why Ganesha has a broken tusk or why the moon has a crater – a dark smudge that is visible even from planet Earth.

Ganesha was returning rather late one night, after a mighty feast given by Kubera, the richest of all the gods. Ganesha had eaten one too many of his favourite modakas – dumplings filled with coconut and jaggery – and his mount, the mouse, was carrying his master aloft gamely. It was a full moon night and the moon was out in all his splendour – clean, round and unblemished. Ganesha and his mouse were making their shaky way home when suddenly a snake crossed their path and frightened by it the mouse made a dash for safety, dislodging Ganesha in the process. Ganesha fell to the ground and his stomach broke open, and all the modakas he had eaten rolled on to the ground. There was nothing else to be done but to get on with it. So Ganesha hastily stuffed all the modakas back, grabbed the serpent and tied it round his stomach to keep the modakas in. He was looking around to see if he could spot his mouse when he heard a silvery laugh. The moon, having seen him fall, was laughing at him. Now, Ganesha being Ganesha lost his temper easily and was also fast on the draw. Quick as a flash, Ganesha broke off one of his tusks and flung it at the moon, making a direct hit, and shouted that the moon would never be whole again. Which is why the moon has a crater which we can see right from the Earth and it waxes and wanes.

Ganesha is worshipped first, before all other gods, for he is the auspicious one, the remover of all obstacles. He is worshipped first, before any major project takes off. Schoolboys send fervid prayers his way before the annual examinations. While he is a heavyweight among the gods, he is also remembered and loved for his spontaneity, his sense of mischief, and reminds us to lighten up, to take things as they come. Once a year, during the festival in his honour, colourful clay images of Ganesha are installed in homes and worshipped, his favourite foods are made and offered to him, and on an appointed day he is immersed in a nearby pond and sent home till it is time for him to come back the next year.