Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations aren’t complete without an offering of twenty-one Modaks to Lord Ganesha. This jaggery stuffed sweet is an integral part of who Ganesh is, even resulting in the nickname ‘Modakpriya’, meaning the one who loves Modaks. Hindu mythology has various stories on the creation of Modaks and their importance to Ganesha, but we’ll focus on two.
The first folktale starts with Lord Ganesha’s maternal grandmother, Queen Menavati. In her love for her grandson, Queen Menavati would tirelessly make laddoos to feed Ganesh’s growing appetite. This was unsustainable, and as he grew older and bigger, the Queen realised it was impossible to prepare laddoos as quickly as Ganpati could gobble them down. She thought of an alternative – Modaks. Requiring less time to make, she could satisfy Lord Ganesha, who gleefully ate them.
The second legend explains why twenty-one Modaks are offered during Ganesh Chaturthi. One day, Devi Anusuya called Lord Shiva, Parvati, and Ganesha for a meal, stating that the others would only be fed once baby Ganesha was content and full. However, Ganesha simply kept asking for more food! At the end of his meal, he was given a single sweet – the Modak. Interestingly, something happened after he swallowed it. Ganesha released a loud burp, a sign of satisfaction. Interestingly, as Ganesh burped, so did Lord Shiva; twenty-one times in fact. Parvati, stunned and curious as to what she had witnessed, asked Devi Anusuya for the recipe of the seemingly magical sweet. Upon learning what a Modak is, Parvati requested that all her son’s devotees offer exactly twenty-one Modaks to him, one for each burp Lord Shiva gave out.
Regardless of which story people choose to believe, the preparing, offering, and eating of Modaks during Ganesh Chaturthi is essential and super fun!
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Ganesha, one of the most beloved gods in Hindu mythology, is also known as ‘Ekadanta’, the one with one tooth. Ganesha’s broken tusk is a very significant part of his iconography and there are multiple stories behind how he broke his tusk, all of which are as enthralling as they are varied. Here are some of the most popular legends behind Ganesha’s tusk, their sources ranging from the Mahabharata to the Brahmanda Purana.
Ganesha, the Scribe
Perhaps the most well-known story about Ganesha’s tusk comes from the Mahabharata, with Ganesha acting as Vyasa’s scribe. It is believed that when Vyasa was composing the epic Mahabharata, he required a scribe who could write down the poem as fast as he could dictate it. Finding nobody that was capable of this task, Vyasa approached Ganesha and requested him to act as his scribe. Ganesha agreed, but on one condition: he demanded that Vyasa dictate the epic without any pauses. Vyasa, knowing that it would be hard to keep up with Ganesha’s speed, made a counter-condition that Ganesha must write only once he understood every word of what he was being told. Having agreed to Vyasa’s terms, Ganesha sat down to write the epic and as a marker of goodwill, broke off his tusk to use as a pen. Thus, the Mahabharata was composed with Vyasa dictating the long and complicated verses to Ganesha who had to slow down his writing speed to understand the words he was being told. In another version of this story, it is said that Ganesha started writing with an ordinary quill, which broke off in the middle of the dictation. Not wanting to stop to fetch a new quill, Ganesha simply broke off his tusk and continued writing with that instead. The tusk of Ganesha, hence, is significant in bringing to life one of the two most important epics to come out of India.
Ganesha and the Moon
According to one story, Ganesha’s broken tusk is the result of his conflict with the moon. According to the story, Ganesha was once invited to the abode of the moon for a feast. Ganesha, with his tremendous appetite, devoured the spread, especially indulging in his favourite modaks. After the meal was over, Ganesha left the moon’s palace on his vahaana, Mooshak. However, on the way, a snake appeared in their path startling Mooshak, who in his fright caused Ganesha to fall. As Ganesha fell down, his stomach burst open and all the modaks he had consumed tumbled out onto the ground. Ganesha then quickly collected the modaks and put them back into his stomach and tied the snake around his torso. Watching this from the sky, the moon burst into laughter. Angry at the moon’s laughter, Ganesha ripped off one of his tusks and flung it at the moon. He also cursed the moon to become invisible, to teach him a lesson in humility. As soon as the moon disappeared, the earth was plunged into total darkness. Worried about the moon’s disappearance, all the gods appealed to Ganesha to amend his curse. Ganesha softened his punishment and declared that the moon would wax and wane every fortnight, completely disappearing once a month. And thus, the moon waxes and wanes constantly, with its blemished surface still bearing the marks of Ganesha’s tusk.
In another popular legend, Ganesh’s tusk was broken off by Parashurama. According to this legend, Parashurama, the great devotee of Shiva, once visited Mount Kailash to seek Shiva’s blessing. However, Shiva was meditating at the time and had instructed Ganesha to turn away anyone that came to see him. Upon his father’s orders, Ganesha forbade Parashurama from entering Kailash, thus angering the sage greatly. In his rage, Parashurama threw his axe at Ganesha. Although Ganesha could have easily stopped the axe from harming him, he noticed that the axe was the same divine weapon that his father had gifted to Parashurama. Therefore, out of respect to Shiva and his divine axe, Ganesha refused to defend himself against the attack. The axe hit Ganesha’s tusk and broke it, thus making Ganesha ‘Ekadanta’.
The Defeat of Gajamukha
The story of Gajamukha’s defeat at the hands of Ganesha is quite well known. It is said that the demon Gajamukha, attained great power through penance and then used his strength to harass the gods and sages. Upon finding themselves unable to defeat Gajamukha, the gods turned to Ganesha, who then vanquished Gajamukha. In many versions of this story, Ganesha broke off his own tusk to use as a weapon against Gajamukha. It is believed that Ganesha turned him into a mouse who became his vahaana Mooshak!
Read the stories of Ganesha in our special release Ekadanta. Now available on the ACK Comics App.
Narada was very proud of his devotion to Vishnu. Once, during a music recital in Vaikuntha, Narada presented one of his most impressive songs in praise of Vishnu. He was sure that Vishnu would declare him the best. To his surprise, Vishnu beckoned to Hanuman who was sitting at the back and asked him to sing. Narada was appalled. Vishnu was asking a monkey to sing! To top it, he even asked Narada to lend Hanuman his veena. Hanuman sang of Rama and as he sang he was lost in his love for him. When the song was over, Narada angrily went to retrieve his veena but to his surprise, it was stuck to the floor. He pulled and pulled but to no avail. Vishnu smiled and asked Hanuman to sing again. Hanuman did and Narada could lift up his veena. The floor itself had melted on hearing Hanuman’s devotion and the veena had got embedded in it. When Hanuman sang again, the floor melted once more and Narada could pick up his veena.
Ashamed of his arrogance, Narada asked Hanuman to forgive him which the large-hearted vanara did willingly.
Gandaberunda, the two-headed bird of unimaginable strength, sits majestically as the official emblem of the Government of Karnataka. Before the Karnataka government adopted Gandaberunda, the mighty bird was the royal insignia of the Wodeyars, a dynasty that ruled the kingdom of Mysore from 1399 to 1947. Images of this mythical bird have been found carved on the walls of the Chennakeshava temple in Belur, and on coins belonging to the Vijayanagara empire. Gandaberunda is often depicted holding an elephant in each of its talons and is said to signify royalty and power.
According to the Puranas, when Vishnu descended to earth as Narasimha to destroy the evil king, Hiranyakashapu, the taste of his blood made Narasimha crave for some more. He lost sight of his true purpose and started to wreak havoc on earth, even the gods feared him. They turned to Shiva for help. Shiva took the form of Sharabha, a half-bird and half-lion being. Sharabha approached Narashima and tried to calm him under his wings but instead, Narasimha got furious. From his body emerged a celestial being even more powerful than Sharabha, Gandaberdunda. The two divine beings fought a fierce battle that lasted for eighteen days destroying everything in its wake.
At the end of the eighteenth day, Gandaberunda stopped to look around. It dawned upon him that their battle had caused enormous devastation. He spilt into two and Vishnu emerged from the centre of the fearsome beast. Shiva too resumed his form. The two returned to the heavenly abode and peace was restored.
In another version of the story, it was Sharabha, and not Gandaberunda who lost sight of his true mission and started destroying everything in his wake. Narasimha was then forced to take the form of Gandaberunda to curb the chaos Sharabha was causing.
Read the story of the majestic celestial creatures in our title Divine Beings. Now available on the ACK Comics App, Kindle, Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.
Kashyapa, one of Brahma’s prajapatis, had two wives, Vinata and Kadru. Vinata gave birth to Garuda, and Kadru became the mother of all snakes or Nagas, including Takshaka, Vasuki and Ananta. One day, an argument broke out between Vinata and Kadru over the colour of Airavata’s tail. While Vinata insisted that Airavata’s tail was pure white, Kadru said that the tail had a few black hairs. (Another version says the argument took place regarding Uchhaisravas’ tail.) A wager was placed between Vinata and Kadru to determine the truth. The loser would become the slave of the other for the rest of her life.
Kadru did not want to lose. She went to her serpent sons and told them to suspend themselves from Airavata’s tail so it would look like the elephant had black hair. Ananta and a few others refused to be part of this dishonest act. Enraged at the disobedience of her sons, Kadru cursed them. She said that they would die in King Janmejeya’s snake sacrifice. Perturbed by his mother’s curse, Ananta sought help from Brahma. Brahma told him to go to the netherworld and support Mother Earth on his hood. Ananta readily agreed.
The mighty snake carries the entire world on his hood, maintaining its balance! Ananta is also known as Sheshnag. Vishnu is said to rest on his mighty coils.
Read the stories of celestial creatures of Indian mythology in our title Divine Beings, now available on the ACK Comics app, Kindle, Amazon, and other major e-tailers.
Two of the most iconic sights of Manasarovar, Lake Rakshastal and Lake Manasarovar, have some mysterious legends associated with their origins. The two enigmatic water bodies of Mount Kailasha are always compared to each other because of their contrasting shapes and stories.
Located at 4590m above mean sea level, Lake Manasarovar is a freshwater lake. It is believed to be created in the mind of Brahma first and then manifested on earth. Hence, the name Manasarovar, in Sanskrit, ‘Manasa’ means ‘mind’ and ‘sarovaram’ means ‘lake’. The lake is round-shaped and is considered to be a symbol of light or brightness. It is a personification of purity and the fortunate pilgrims who drink the water of this lake are believed to have been cleansed of their sins.
The divinity of Lake Manasarovar is not bound to Hinduism. Many religions cite the holiness of this pristine lake in various virtuous texts and events. The Jain scriptures say that the first Tirthankara, Rishabha, attained nirvana here. The Buddhists equate this lake with lake Anavatapta, which in Sanskrit means ‘the unheated’. Anavatapta is believed to be the lake lying at the centre of the world, which also happens to be the place where Maya conceived Gautama Buddha, the enlightened one. The lake is regarded holy in the Bon religion too. Legends say that when Tonapa Shenrab, the founder of the Bon religion, visited Tibet for the first time, he took a bath in this holy lake.
Five Buddhist monasteries adorn the shore of the holy Manasarovar. Those who have been smitten by the beauty of this lake describe the lake to be as serene as the meditative mind and as pristine as heaven’s snowy flake. The lake is also the birthplace of four great rivers – Karnali, Brahmaputra, Sindhu and Sutlej.
Lying to the west of Lake Manasarovar is Lake Rakshastal, which in Sanskrit translates to ‘lake of the demon’ because Ravana once took a dip in this river. The Tibetans call it lake Lagngar Cho or Lhanag Tso, which means ‘the dark lake of poison’. They also refer to it as ‘the Ghost Lake’. Though the lake is pristine blue, it lacks vegetation and wildlife due to its high salt content. This saline lake has four islands – Dola, Lachato, Topserma, and Dosharba.
Legends say this is the place where the king of Lanka, Ravana, performed intense penance to please the god of destruction, Shiva. Alternatively, some stories say that the lake was created by the demon god. Upon one of the islands’ bank, Ravana made an offering by sacrificing one of his ten heads to Shiva every day. Pleased with his austerity, Shiva appeared before him on the tenth day to grant him a boon.
Legend also has it that when Ravana was on his way to visit Shiva on Kailasha, he halted and took a dip in Lake Rakshastal. He proceeded further and spotted Parvati, near Gauri Kund, for the first time. He was smitten by her beauty and he lost his virtue. This is the reason people never take a dip in this lake. Gauri Kund is the place where Parvati created Ganesha from the saffron paste of her body. People do not take a dip in this water body either. Pilgrims believe that Parvati still visits this place every year for some solitude. Thus, her personal space is to be left untouched.
Just like the extreme sides of Shiva, meditative and destructive, his icy abode encompasses the round Lake Manasarovar, an embodiment of brightness and the crescent-shaped Lake Rakshastal, that symbolizes darkness. Each of them have unique traits and tales, which interests the visitors and enriches their experience of the mighty mountain.
The battle of Mahabharata is regarded as the greatest war. The strategies that were adopted to win the war changed the way they were fought forever. One of these indigenous battle strategies was the ‘Chakrayvuha’. This was a wheel-shaped labyrinth designed in such a complex way that only one with knowledge of the formation could break in and break out of it. On the thirteenth day of battle, Drona, as the commander, called for the formation of the Chakravyuha.
The only ones with the knowledge of penetrating the formation were Krishna, Arjuna, Pradyumna and Abhimanyu. With Arjuna and Krishna away responding to a challenge to combat, and Pradyumna not participating in the war, Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s son, was the only one present in the Pandava camp who could enter the Chakravyuha. However, he only knew how to penetrate the formation and not how to find a way out. Having no choice, Yudhishthira promised Abhimanyu that the bravest Pandava warriors would follow his lead and break in with him, and would ensure his safe exit.
Convinced, Abhimanyu entered the Chakravyuha and tried to lead the Pandavas through it. But that day, Jayadratha, the king of Sindhu, invoked a boon he had received from Lord Shiva. This boon gave him the power to oppose the Pandavas in warfare, thus he was able to hold them off from entering the Chakravyuha. Meanwhile, Abhimanyu was trapped inside the Chakravyuha and with no backup, he was killed after fighting the unfair attack from all sides.
Arjuna was devastated when he learnt of his son’s death. He blamed Jayadratha for this and vowed that he would kill him before the next day’s sunset. If he failed to do so, he vowed to give up his life by jumping into a burning pyre. However, when Jayadratha was born, a sage had approached his father, King Vriddhakshatra. The sage had predicted that Jayadratha would be killed in a great war. Saddened by hearing this, Vriddhakshatra uttered a curse saying,
“Whoever is responsible for my son’s head to touch the ground, will instantly be blown to pieces.”
The next day, after learning Arjuna’s intentions, Dronacharya had three military formations in place to protect Jayadratha from Arjuna. But Bheema and Arjuna annihilated all three military formations. They seemed to be on a demonic rampage, driven completely by revenge. However, when dusk was nearing, the warriors stationed to protect Jaydratha had still not been defeated. To get Jaydratha exposed from their protection, Krishna used his yogic powers to create an illusion that the sun was about to set. Immediately, the Kauravas started to rejoice, knowing Arjuna’s oath. Just then, Jayadratha came out of hiding, and upon seeing him, Krishna dispelled the illusion. The sun rays again fell on the battlefield and Krishna pointed at Jayadratha. Rage took over Arjuna as he furiously readied his arrow, but Krishna advised Arjuna.
“Severe his head and make it land on his father’s lap.”
Arjuna nodded and took aim. He left an arrow that went whirling towards Jayadratha at lightning speed.
Vriddhakshatra was meditating and offering his evening prayers in the woods nearby when suddenly his son’s head came shooting from the sky and fell on his lap. Unaware of this, when he got up after his prayers, the head fell from his lap and onto the ground. In that instant, Vriddhakshatra was blown to pieces, as he fell victim to his own curse.
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With misty eyes, Kunti saw her firstborn son float away. She stood there, feet dug into the ground as she watched her child flow away with the mighty Ganga. Meanwhile, a charioteer and carpenter named Adiratha saw a tiny basket being carried by the waves. Curious, he went near the basket and to his shock, found a small child in it. He looked around frantically, hoping to find the child’s parents. However, no one came to claim the child. He decided to take the child home. He showed the child to his wife, Radha, who lovingly took the child in her embrace. Once he explained the situation to Radha, they decided to adopt the child. They named the child Karna.
On Karna’s sixteenth birthday, Adiratha offered him a new chariot and a horse. Karna saw the chariot and smiled. However, Karna was not very happy. Adhiratha noticed this and asked his son what was bothering him. Karna stared at the ground and said,
“Father, it feels like I was never meant to be a charioteer. I do not feel any desire to drive a chariot. My only desire in life is to hold a bow and arrow. I cannot think of anything else.”
Karna didn’t dare to look at his father, afraid that he had offended him. Suddenly, Karna felt a warm hand fall gently on his shoulder. Karna looked up and was shocked to see his father smiling.
“Karna, your mother and I have something we need to tell you. We knew this day would come, we are prepared.”
Adhiratha called out to his wife and told her what had just happened. Together, they explained to Karna about his past and how they had found him. Karna was in disbelief. Things were slowly starting to explain themselves. Karna found a new desire, a desire to find out who he really was.
“Mother, father, I would like to learn archery in the great city of Hastinapura. For this, I request your permission.”
His parents agreed and blessed him on his journey.
Karna’s goal was to learn archery and find out his true identity. He approached the famed teacher, Dronacharya. But Dronacharya was reluctant to teach a son of a charioteer. Dejected, Karna decided to find another master. He approached the great master, Parashurama. However this time, he decided that he would not return empty-handed. As Karna approached Parashurama’s hut, he saw a man who was chiselled by the gods, whose eyes burned with the flame of intensity. Awe-struck, Karna fell to his feet and pleaded with him to be his teacher. The great Parashurama only asked Karna one question:
“Are you a Kshatriya?”
With a straight face, Karna lied to Parashurama and told him that he was a Brahmin.
Hearing this, Parashurama took Karna in. Karna was a brilliant student, and he seemed to have an inborn talent for archery. Parashurama was extremely pleased with Karna and taught him everything he knew, including how to use the devastating Brahmastra.
One afternoon, Parashurama was laying on the ground. He asked Karna to get him some deerskin to use as a pillow. To this, Karna replied,
“ My lord, please use my lap as a pillow”.
Parashurama put his head on Karna’s lap and fell into a deep sleep. Just then, Karna saw a scorpion approach them. However, Karna did not move as he didn’t want to wake his teacher up. He didn’t even flinch when the scorpion stung him. Karna did not move an inch.
When Parashurama woke up, he noticed Karna’s leg was covered in blood. He immediately asked Karna what happened. Karna told him how a scorpion had stung him while Parashurama was sleeping on his lap. He looked at Karna and asked him,
“Are you telling me that you could sit through the pain of the scorpion sting?”
To this Karna replied, “It hurt initially, but I could not dream of waking you up.”
Suspiciously, Parashurama looked at Karna.
“You are telling me you, a brahmin, was able to withstand a scorpion bite without saying a word.”
Karna began to stutter but Parashurama’s eyes began to fill up with rage.
“Who are you? Only a Kshatriya can stand the pain of a scorpion!”
Parashurama’s anger knew no bounds and he accused Karna of being a liar.
Karna fell to Parashurama’s feet and began weeping,
“I have lied to you, my lord. I am neither a Brahmin nor am I Kshatriya. I am the son of the charioteer, Adhiratha. I only lied to you because I really wanted to be your student.”
But Parashurama was furious, and in his extreme rage, he uttered a curse.
“Just like you have betrayed my trust, when you would be in desperate need of an astra, your memory will betray you.”
Parashurama then left and went back to his ashrama, leaving Karna in tears.
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A deity with fiery eyes, dark skin, and a huge moustache. The description involuntarily creates the image of the god of death in the minds of most readers. Yama, also referred to as Kala, is the guardian of the south, which is the region of death. Although he has a frightening appearance now, he wasn’t always like this. The Vedas describe him as a cheerful and handsome deity, but the Puranas show him as a fearsome god riding a buffalo and carrying a mace and a noose. There is an interesting legend behind Yama’s makeover.
In the beginning, Yama had very attractive physical features. He was so handsome that even the apsaras contended for his attention. He was too proud of his good looks and admired himself all day.He was responsible to free the souls from mortal bodies and escort them to heaven or hell. Haughty Yama got too busy idolising himself and ignored his duties as the god of death.
The people on earth were overjoyed when they realised that they could live happily for eternity. But soon, things started getting difficult. People grew in number and the basic resources started depleting. There was not enough food and water for all. The burden on mother earth increased, causing havoc and chaos. The situation troubled Shiva as he was responsible for the cycle of life. Enraged with Yama’s arrogance and disregard for his work, Shiva decided to teach him a lesson.
Shiva summoned Yama to his icy abode, Kailash. When Yama reached Kailash, Shiva smiled and gave him a warm welcome, quite opposite to Yama’s expectations. Yama got suspicious but Shiva asked him to take a seat. After exchanging greetings with him, Shiva requested,
“Yama, could you please get me some water from the nearby pond?”
Yama obliged. As he bent over the pond to fetch water in a pot, he was startled. He saw a demon-like creature in the pond. Terrified of the demon’s appearance, he started trembling. He quickly ran towards Shiva.
“Mahadeva, there is a daunting demon in the pond! It has fearsome red eyes, an unusually huge moustache and two large, curved horns on his head.”
Smiling at Yama’s dismay, Shiva said,
“Touch your head, Yama. What you saw in the pond was your own reflection.”
Yama immediately touched his head and panicked.
“No, this cannot happen!” he thought to himself.
He pleaded with Shiva to fix his appearance. In response, Shiva closed his eyes and went back to his meditative state.
Yama realised that Shiva was in no mood for mercy. He turned to Brahma for help but when he reached Brahma’s abode, Brahmaloka, he found the lord engrossed in scripting a manuscript. Disheartened, Yama now headed to seek aid from Vishnu and Lakshmi. The celestial couple were in a deep discussion about some cosmic issue and Yama could not talk to them. Giving up all hope, Yama decided to do severe penance to please Vishnu and get his attention.
After years, his prayers were finally answered when Vishnu appeared in front of him and asked,
“What do you wish for, Yama?”
Bowing before Vishnu, Yama said,
“O Lord, please make me as handsome as I was.”
Vishnu shook his head and replied,
“I cannot do that, Yama. You would become lax and futile once again.”
Yama begged for forgiveness. Vishnu took pity,
“I can remove your horns and transfer them to an animal who will serve you as your vehicle.”
Realising that Vishnu was right, Yama accepted his fate.
Yama looked glumly at the buffalo, his new vehicle, standing right next to him. Shiva had finally made him look like the fearsome god of death.
Before Yama left, he requested Vishnu to reside beside him at Azhagar Kovil near Tiruchirappalli so that people would appease him. Vishnu willingly resided there. Later, Lakshmi came in search of Vishnu and Yama appealed to her to stay with Vishnu. Lakshmi agreed. The place where the divine deities reside is known as the Kallazhagar temple. As Vishnu is considered to be very beautiful he is also called Sunderraja Perumal. It is believed that every year Yama visits this temple to offer prayers to the beloved deity.