How did Ganesha come to have a single tusk?
By Bibek Debroy
The story of how Ganesha came to have a single tusk is fairly well known. Here is that story from Brahmanda Purana. Ganas are Shiva’s companions and attendants and a leader of ganas is Ganesha or ganeshvara. Thus, Nandi is also a ganeshvara.
After killing Kartavirya and his sons, Parashurama went to the Narmada with Akritavrana. He bathed there and worshipped Vrishadhvaja. (Vrishadhvaja is Shiva’s name.) He then left for Kailasa since he wished to see Shiva, Uma and the sons, Skanda and Vinayaka. He reached the great city known as Alaka. (Alaka/ Alakapuru is next to Kailasa and is the capital of Kubera, lord of the yakshas.) It was adorned with many mansions, full of many kinds of jewels. All around, on the outside, there flowed the fair Alakananda. Here and there, the sounds of singing could be heard. All around, the gandharvas sang, aided by apsaras. On seeing this, Bhargava was filled with great joy. He ascended further up to the summit. Shiva’s supreme residence was there. He saw a circular rampart all around, extending for one hundred yojanas. It was beautiful and was decorated with many kinds of gems. There were four gates and ganas all around—Nandishvara, Mahakala, Raktaksha, Vikatodara, Pingalaksha, Vishalaksha, Virupaksha, Ghatodara, Mandara, Bhairava, Bana, the terrible Ruru, Viraka, Virabhadra, Chanda, Bhringi, Riti, Mukha, Siddhendranatha, vidyadharas, giant uragas, bhutas, pretas,
“Bhargava prostrated himself before those two. Taking their permission, Bhargava was about to enter. But Vinayaka said, “Wait for a while. Along with Uma, Mahadeva is sleeping now. Let me go and get Ishvara’s permission. I will return in a moment. O brother! I will then enter with you.” Parashurama replied to Ganesha. Rama said, “O brother! I will enter the inner quarters and bow down before the Ishvara and Ishvari of the universe, Parvati and Shankara. I will then immediately return to my own home. Kartavirya, Suchandra, their sons, soldiers and relatives, many thousands of other kings, Kambojas, Pahlavas, Shakas, Kanyakubjas, lord of Koshala, those who were full of maya and immensely strong—thanks to Shambu’s favours, I have killed all these in a battle.” Using sweet words, Vinayaka answered, “O immensely fortunate one! You will see him. O brother! Vishveshvara is spending time with Bhavani now. When a man and a woman are united on a single seat, anyone who breaks their pleasure certainly goes to hell. In particular, it is certainly the case that a dvija should never see a father, a guru or a king, when that person is seated in privacy.” Bhargava responded, “These are unprecedented words that have emerged from your mouth. Those instructions of the sacred texts are for those who deviate because of women. There never is a taint for a person who is indifferent, or for a child. I will proceed to the inner quarters. You have said that your mother and father are there. Parvati and Parameshvara are the parents of the universe.” Having said this, Bhargava got ready to enter the inner quarters. However, Vinayaka stood up and quickly restrained him. There was a war of words between them first. After this, they tugged at each other with their hands. Witnessing this, Skanda was disturbed and tried to make them understand. Guha seized them with his two hands and separated them. Bhargava, the destroyer of enemy heroes, became angry at Ganesha. He seized his battle-axe and got ready to hurl it.
When Bhargava was about to angrily hurl the battle-axe, Gajanana sought to protect himself. He seized him powerfully with his trunk and took him to Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Svarloka, Maharloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka, before finally bringing him to Vaikuntha. Isha’s son showed the excellent Bhargava Goloka, which was above all this. He hurled him down to the seven nether regions and showed him these too. He swiftly raised him up and flung him into the midst of waters. He was then brought back to where he had been standing before.
Rama was whirled around by Ganadhisha in this way. He looked towards Ganesha, who was standing there. Filled with great rage, he hurled his battle-axe. Ganesha noticed that it was a battle-axe that had been given by his father. Therefore, desiring that it should not fail, he received it on his left tusk. That tusk was sliced off by the axe and fell down on the ground. The ground was covered with blood. As a consequence of the tusk falling down, all the mountains and dvipas on the earth shook. The earth trembled and people were filled with fear. Parvati and Shankara heard this uproar and the sound of the tusk falling down. Those two Ishvaras arrived there and saw Heramba (Ganesha), with his curved trunk and a single tusk. Parvati asked Skanda, “What is the reason for this?” Asked by his mother, the commander told her everything. The mother of the universe heard everything that had taken place. Enraged, Parvati spoke to Shankara. Parvati said, “O Shambhu! This Bhargava is your shishya and he is like a son. He has received the supreme energy and armour from you and has conquered the three worlds. In a battle, he has defeated the unvanquished king, Kartavirya. Having accomplished his own task, he has given you the dakshina. With his axe, he has brought down your son’s tusk. As a result of this, there is no doubt that you have become successful. Protect Bhargava, whom you love exceedingly. You are a virtuous guru and he will accomplish all your tasks. Since you have acted against my wishes, I will not remain here. With the two sons, I will go to my father’s residence. The virtuous treat the sons of their servants well, as if they are their own sons. But you have not treated your own son well, not even in words. Therefore, miserable, I am leaving.” Bhagavan Bhava heard Parvati’s words. He did not say anything in reply, good or bad. In his mind, he remembered Krishna.
“The lord of gopis is the lord of Goloka. He is skilled in many kinds of entreaties. As soon as he was remembered, the ocean of compassion arrived there. He was as dark as a cloud and his face was radiant. He wore bejewelled armlets and a necklace. His garments flashed like lightning. His earrings resembled makaras. There was a peacock feather on his crest, adorned with many jewels. His radiant face smiled a bit. The dazzling Koustubha jewel was on his chest. The lord of gopis is extensively praised in words. The illustrious and unvanquished one was with Radha and Shridaman. He was an ocean of jnana and he surpassed everyone’s energy with his own energy. On seeing him arrive, Shiva was delighted in his mind. Along with Radha, the lord entered inside the house. Along with her sons, Devi Parvati also went there. Rama also went there. With an agitated mind, he lowered his shoulders and fell down at Parvati’s feet. She did not greet Bhargava, who had prostrated himself in front of her.
In words that were full of affection, Jagannatha spoke to Parvati. Shri Krishna said, “O daughter of a mountain! Jamadagni’s son has placed his head on your lap. Place your own lotus hand on it. The sins of those who fall down at your feet are always destroyed. Please grant him a boon. Your great-souled son, Vinayaka, is greater than the greatest. Desire, anger, anxiety and fear never enter him. O beautiful one! In the collections of the Vedas, Smriti texts and Puranas, great-souled ones have instructed us about his extremely sacred names. They destroy all accumulations of sins and I will mention them. There are extremely strong groups of pramathas and they have many forms. He is their leader and is therefore described as Ganesha. All the Brahmandas, past, present and future, is inside him. Therefore, he is Lambodara. As a result of destiny’s determination, his head was severed and the head of an elephant was subsequently fixed. Hence, he is spoken of as Gajanana. When the moon arose on chaturthi, he was cursed by Darbhin and suffered. Since he wore that moon on his forehead, he is described as Bhalachandra. Earlier, Jataveda was cursed by the seven sages and was destroyed. Since he ignited him again, he is known as Shurpakarnaka. Formerly, at the time of a battle between devas and asuras, he was worshipped by large numbers of residents of heaven for countering impediments. Hence, he is described as Vighnanasha. As a result of destiny, today, Rama has brought down his tusk with an axe and he has now become Ekadanta. In the course of Brahma’s future action, his trunk will become curved. Therefore, the learned will describe him as Vakratunda. O Parvati! Thus, your son has many names. When they are remembered, sins of the three periods of time are dispelled. This is the thirteenth kalpa. Earlier, during the tenth kalpa, I granted him the boon that he would be worshipped before all the devas.” Hearing the words spoken by Krishna, Parvati was placated.