Broken Tusk (The); Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha

The Broken Tusk; Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha retold by Uma Krishnaswami. Illus by Maniam Selven. North Haven, CT: Linnet Books, 1996. 120 pp. HC $19.95 ISBN 0-208-02442-5

I have to confess to knowing little about Hindu mythology. The acquaintance I had made with it before this book left me with an impression of a rich but often confusing and violent body of stories. Imagine my surprise, then, when I met Ganesha, the fat-bellied god with a human body, an elephant head, and four arms. This is a jolly god, a god of mischief, impulse, and such joie de vivre that he often dances with delight 1 He likes sweets, rides on the back of a mouse, and carries in his hands the symbols for good judgment, joy, sacrifice, and prosperity. Children can identify with him, but in spite of his child-like qualities, he is still a god, among whose 100 names are included King of Obstacles and Supreme Leader.

It was Ganesha, according to one story, who showed Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva how to begin their ongoing tasks of creating, preserving, and destroying the universe. He is the master of dance, the remover of obstacles, the bringer of luck and the patron of writers.

Krishnaswami's retellings of these stories are respectful yet lively and full of fun, as is Ganesha himself. The stories are not only entertaining, they give us a glimpse of the Hindu view of the world, and by their example teach non-violence, respect for life, and the danger of greed and vanity. Before beginning the stories, Krishnaswami relates her own acquaintance with Ganesha tales as a young child in India. She then devotes a chapter to describing him, and his attributes, and next presents a clear and readable introduction to Hindu mythology. It is with this preparation that the reader meets the chubby little boy whose own head is replaced by that of an elephant.

To top it all off, Krishnaswami includes a pronunciation guide, a glossary, a list of characters, a partial list of Ganesha's 108 names, and a list of sources. What more could one want?

This book is a boon for multicultural collections, a delight for readers of all ages, and a treasure trove for storytellers.

The Second Story Review, Vol 2 , No. 2, June 1997
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