By By Devdutt Pattanaik 

Where Ganesha, the Elephant God is, there has got to be a story; not one but many. Wherever there is Ganesha, there have to be symbols, temples, rituals, lots of sweets to eat, and last if not the least, lots of mischief. That’s what Devdutt Pattanaik, who writes on myth and mythology, brings alive to us in his latest book, 99 Thoughts on Ganesha.

He’s started with a puzzle about Ganesha’s existence you may not have known about. ‘The image of Ganesha, his rituals and his stories are a kind of mythological puzzle created by our ancestors,’ writes Pattanaik. ‘Through him, they are trying to communicate a profound truth – so the answers are right there in front of us in the form of Ganesha, if we are willing to decode it. If we don’t want to decode, it’s perfectly alright; the image of Ganesha will continue to enrich us.’

And so it does; with the story of his creation. Ganesha was created by Shakti when, ‘she anointed herself with turmeric and oil. When the mixture had soaked her sweat and dried on her skin, she scraped it off and from the rubbings created a child, her son.’ While this story might be well known to Ganesha’s followers, what may not be so well-known is that Vinayaka comes from the words, Vina (without) and Nayaka (the help of a man).What may also not be common knowledge is that ‘Durga, Ganesha’s mother, took a banana plant, wrapped a sari around it and gave it in marriage to Ganesha, because no woman in the world wanted to marry him because of his elephant head!’ It is these interesting facts, detailed in an easy manner, with a contemporary slant that make you want to read on. By now we are into the part called ‘stories’.

One day,the Moon laughed when he saw Ganesha riding on a rat. He found the idea of an elephant-headed, fat god riding a tiny rodent rather amusing. Ganesha didn’t appreciate the Moon god’s laughter and so declared that anyone who looked at the Moon on the fourth day of the waxing moon in the month of Bhadrapada, which is sacred to Ganesha, will suffer bad luck. That is why no one looks at the Moon god on Ganesha Chaturthi! It’s a nugget of information nicely told; just like the tale on the spiritual symbolism of the modaka, the steamed dumpling made of rice flour dough, jaggery and sesame, that follows in the part called Symbols.

‘The modaka is also shaped like an upward pointing triangle, which, in Tantrik art, represents spiritual reality, in contrast to the downward pointing triangle which represents material reality.’ There is more – on the history and wisdom of Ganesh. Sensibly, Pattanaik has kept all the chapters short; no chapter is more than a page long, and has presented all this information – which could otherwise be terribly boring – in a very readable manner. In 99 Thoughts on Ganesha, Pattanaik has developed the retelling of mythology into an art, and it shows.

Publisher: Jaico Publishing House 
Pages: 227 
Price: Rs 195 

Source: Times of India