Lord Ganesha is known as the Lord of Beginnings; as the Remover of Obstacles; and as the patron deity of the arts and sciences. He is venerated by Hindus, Jains as well as some Buddhists.
In iconography, Ganesha has the body of a human with a big belly. He has the head of an elephant and a peculiar single tusk. Renowned for his sweet tooth, Ganesha’s favourite food is ladoo.
Traditionally, Ganesha is known as the son of Shiva and Parvati. That’s where the story gets interesting because Shiva doesn’t know that Ganesh is his son. Not at first, anyway. The story goes that Parvati created a human boy out of turmeric paste and brought him to life. She asks him to stand guard over the house while she takes a bath.
As neither father nor son had met each other, Ganesha does not allow Shiva to enter the house when he arrives home. In the battle that ensues between father and son, Shiva cuts off Ganesha’s human head with his trident and flings it far far away.
When Parvati learns what has happened, she is completely distraught. Lord Brahma suggests that Shiva replace Ganesha’s missing head with that of the first animal that happens to walk past in the jungle.
Lo and behold, it is an elephant that appears.
And that is how Ganesha’s human head was replaced with that of an elephant’s.
To devotees, Ganesha’s head symbolises his intelligence and his large ears show that he listens and hears those who seek his aid and his counsel.
The story of how Ganesha loses and gains his head… and even his tusk has been retold many times in many different ways.
As the patron of arts and sciences, Ganesha’s role is that of a scribe. In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, the sage Vyasa asks Ganesh to be his scribe as he recites the extremely long literary canon. Ganesha agrees on the condition that Vyasa recite without pausing. While he is writing, Ganesha’s pen breaks and he continues writing by breaking off his tusk and using it as a pen.
In another story, however, it is said that Ganesha lost his tusk when he threw it at the Moon.
But that, my dear friends, is another story for another day.