Monday, 4 July 2011



In Bengal, Lord Ganesha has a wife — the ‘Kawla Bou’, as we call her. As many would know, during the Durga Pujo, Ganesha arrives with his mother — Devi Durga, and his siblings — Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kartikeya. Kawla Bou too arrives. The Lord’s Bengalee wife is actually a banana plant wrapped in traditional Bengali saree. On the first day of the Pujo, this Kawla Bou is taken for a bath by the ladies of the households. As a kid, I would tag along with my mother and aunts to observe the ritual each year. Author, mythologist, illustrator Devudutt Pattanaik brought back that memory as I went through his recent book, 99 Thoughts on Ganesha.

The book’s title says it all: there are 99 short essays on the elephant-headed Hindu god, Ganesha. For some, he is Ganapati, while for others he is Gajanana, Vinayaka or the Pillaiyar. No matter by which name he is called, he remains the same: the one who removes the hurdles in life, and ensures knowledge, peace and prosperity. Most of us know that.

The book is divided into 12 separate parts that deal with the creation of Ganesha, his family, his representations, stories about him, symbols, temples, festivals, rituals, literature, history,spread and wisdom. Pattanaik has brought together the different mythological tales and folklores about Ganesha from across India, and beyond, and skilfully amalgamated them in each of the parts. To Pattanaik’s credit, the book still doesn’t become complex; the language remains simple and reading the tales becomes enjoyable. The array of ideas about Ganesha helps readers, particularly the curious lot, to get a considerably good overview of the Lord.

So for me, it’s nice to know about Ganesha’s avatars that appeared through the ages in ancient texts. The avatars had their roles of destroying the demons: mythological characters, like Sindhu and Sindura; or the negative human traits, like jealousy, vanity, rage, greed and the like. As an aside, it made me wonder whether, when and how Ganesha’s avatar will destroy the current demons: parochial politics, corruption and hedonism that are slowly but certainly engulfing us. Maybe as a Vinayaki — the female form of the Lord who appears in the Vana-Durga Upanishad.

Similarly, it is interesting to read about Ganesha’s siblings and his relations with them; so are the tales about Riddhi and Siddhi, the two wives of Ganesha as they appear in north of India, unlike in the south where the Lord stays a bachelor. Pattanaik does a brief comparative study of these wives and rightly comes to the conclusion about the minimal roles they play, rather than becoming mainstream deities.

The parts in the book are arranged to maintain the flow of a gradual storytelling. However, at times they tend to overlap. For example, the mythological tales about the avatars of the gods, including those of the Ganesha, come back again and again; so does Ganesha’s perceived role as the god who removes obstacles. But such overlapping is bound to happen as the themes cut across ages and regions.

Besides his comparative analyses of the deity, Pattanaik has illustrated the book with his line drawings that add up to the aesthetics. There are some interesting photographs by Harpreet Chhachhiya. On the whole, this book certainly enlightens us about the rich mythological-religious heritage and stokes the grey cells of the brain that might have been numbed by the crass glitz and fluff of modernity.

99 Thoughts on Ganesha
By: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Jaico
Pages: 225
Price: Indian Rupees 195


* Tibet: Ganesha has benevolent and malevolent forms. In the benevolent form he looks the same as seen in Bengal: white elephant head and reddish human body. He removes obstacles and dances, and is known as the Maha Rakta Ganapati.
* Burma: Ganesha is known as Mahapienne. He is a transformed form of Brahma, with golden elephant head and red body. He is happier and benevolent. He is one of the Nats — the supernatural spirits who guard the pagodas.
* Mongolia: Ganesha is a two-armed deity without his usual vahana (mount or vehicle), the mouse. Mongol legend says that Ganesha showed the land to the father of the Sakya Heirarch, P’ags-pa, and told him that his son will rule Mongolia.
* Japan: Followers of Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism worship Ganesha. There he is known as Ganabachi or Binayaka-ten. He also appears as a popular twin god: Sho-ten or Kangi-ten. The image of Kangi-ten is that of a double-headed elephant god — one male another female.


1. Name the Purana in which Ganesha appears as Vakratunda, with a lion as his vehicle.

2. In South Indian tradition, Ganesha killed an elephant-headed demon. Name the demon.

3. Gajanan, an avatar of Ganesha, gives a discourse to a king, Varenya. Name the specific ancient text in Ganesha Purana where we find this discourse.

4. In the early 18th century, an Upanishad emerged which has its origin in the Atharva Veda. What’s the name of this Upanishad?

5. Who dictated to Ganesha the epic, Mahabharata?

1. In Mudgala Purana. As Vakratunda he kills Matsara, the demon of jealousy.

2. Gajasura.

3. Ganesha Gita. Most of the verses are taken from the Bhagavad Gita. But here, Ganesha, not Krishna, is the supreme being.

4. Ganesha Atharvashirsha Upanishad.

5. Vyasa.