Why does Ganpati have an elephant's head?
One of the many names of Ganpati is Gajanana—the elephant-headed one. His head is arguably the most peculiar aspect of his appearance. But how did he come to have it? Here is the most popular story on how this came to be:
Goddess Parvati, it is believed, wanted someone to keep guard as she went for her bath. For this she used the turmeric paste she had applied on her body—some versions say she used the dirt on her body—and moulded a son for herself.
As Parvati’s new son kept guard over the door, her husband—Shiva—appeared on the doorway. Ganpati refused to allow him entry. A fight ensued and Shiva beheaded Parvati’s creation.
When Parvati found out, she was enraged. Apart from demanding that he be brought back to life, Parvati also insisted that Ganesha be offered prayers before all other Gods.
Shiva then sent his ganas, i.e. soldiers, out to procure the head of the first creature they found sleeping with its head to the north. This happened to be a dying elephant.
Parvati’s boy was then brought back to life, affixed with an elephant head.
This version is attributed to the Shiva Purana. The names Ganpati and Ganesha stand for lord of ganas and first among the ganas respectively.
What about his broken tusk?
One more peculiarity of the Ganesha idol is his broken tusk. Since he has only one tusk intact, he has earned the moniker Ekdanta—the one-toothed one.
The most popular story that explains this is the Mahabharata one.
Ved Vyas, who was about to set out to write the Mahabharata, asked Ganesha if he would be his scribe. Ganpati, also known as the lord of knowledge, agreed.
But he had a condition: Ved Vyas should keep his narration continuous. If he were to stop, Ganpati would also stop writing. To this Vyas laid down a condition of his own: Ganpati was allowed to write only after he understood in entirety what the sage was dictating.
After this, it is believed, Ganpati broke one of his tusks to use it to write. He considered an ordinary pen unequal to the task of writing an epic as great as the Mahabharata.
Some versions also say that he broke his tusk only when the actual pen he was using broke.
The second explanation for his broken tusk is a fight with Shiva's disciple Parshuram.
When Parshuram, known for his temper, wished to enter Shiva's lodging to see him, Ganpati, who was guarding the door, stopped him.
Enraged, Parshuram struck him with the Parshu, the weapon that was bestowed on him by Shiva.
And Ganpati does not fight it. Why? Out of respect for the weapon that was first his father's.
The casualty? Ganpati's tusk.
What's with Ganpati's protruding belly?
Ganesh’s pot belly is hard to miss. Some say it stands for prosperity and others say it symbolises the brahmanda—the universe with all its good and bad.
But what is this pot belly attributed to? Apparently to Kubera, the God of riches.
Kubera, who was known to be arrogant, had once invited Lord Shiva and Parvati for dinner. His sole intention was to display all his wealth. Well aware of this, the Gods sent their son Ganesha to Kubera.
At dinner, Ganpati’s appetite seemed insatiable. Kubera ran out of food but Gajanana was still hungry. He is then believed to have started eating things such as furniture from Kubera’s palace.
A puzzled and scared Kubera then appealed to lord Shiva for a solution. Kubera also employed it with success. What was this solution? Feed Ganpati with only a handful of rice, but with humility.
With this Kubera learnt a lesson and Ganpati retained a souvenir of the episode: a protruding belly and the name Lamodara—one with a pot-belly (literally, a hanging belly).
Read about Ganpati's favourite food, the modak, here.
Do you have any more interesting Ganpati stories to share? Or just a different take on the versions we have listed? Write to us.