Volume 47 Number 2, December 1995
Ganesh the benevolent (Reprint 2010)
|Specifications:||168 pages, 150 illustrations|
|Dimensions:||324 x 241 mm|
A familiar, well-loved figure in the art and religion of Asia, the elephant-headed Ganesh is universally revered as the god of auspicious beginnings. Despite his popularity, the jolly, pot-bellied deity has received far less attention in literature than he deserves. The present authoritatively researched volume attempts to collate existing reference material on the subject, as also offer valuable original insights into various aspects of Ganesh in Hindu, Tantric, Jain, and Buddhist traditions in India, and Southeast and East Asia.
Pratapaditya Pal is the General Editor of Marg. He is a distinguished art historian, author and lecturer. Named Getty Scholar for 1995-96, Dr Pal is presently Visiting Curator at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Ganesh in Bloomsbury: Images of the Lord of Beginnings in the British Museum
T. Richard Blurton
Aspects of Ganesh Worship in Maharashtra
Aspects of Tantric Ganesh in India
Dancing Ganesh in South Asia
The Dual Role of Ganesh in the Buddhist Art of South Asia
Absences and Transformations: Ganesh in the Shvetambar Jain Tradition
John E. Cort
Images of Ganesh from South-East Asia
Robert L. Brown
Spirit King, Demon, and God of Wealth: Ganesh in East Asia
Terese Tse Bartholomew
Collecting Ganesh Images
The introduction illustrates Ganesha's popularity in the West, and decries the fact that in the land of his origin he is being increasingly politicized, as a result of his growing popularity. Archaeological and artistic evidence, however, does not indicate great antiquity of his images; he became a popular deity during the Gupta period. Contemporary studies on Ganesha are limited considering his enormous appeal. The scope of the present volume is outlined.
The writer discusses a collection of Ganesha sculptures displayed in the Hotung Gallery of the British Museum. The universality of the cult of Ganesha and the ubiquity of this elephant-headed god throughout India is emphasized. The wide range of Hotung sculptures has been divided into Ganesha as the main deity, sometimes dancing; Ganesha accompanying Shiva and Parvati, and often Karttikeya; and Ganesha as a member of a group of deities.
The history of Ganesha, or Ganapati, in Maharashtra is unusual. The Maratha Peshwas' tutelary deity being Ganesha, the cult of Ashta Vinayaka, and Lokamanya Tilak's transformation of the religious festival of Ganesha Chaturthi into an instrument of political awakening and participation are all unique to Maharashtra. After Independence, the festival has become a vehicle for both social and political expression. Pandals and processions dedicated to him have become increasingly elaborate in recent years.
Ganesha's position was raised to that of a supreme god with the spread of Tantrism, with the pattern of his worship assimilating Tantric elements. A variety of his forms with multiple arms and often with a couple of consorts, began to appear in the 6th century CE. These forms have their own mantras and yantras which are used in special ritual applications. Ganesha is believed to have a seat in the first and lowest energy centre (mooladhara chakra) of the human body, since he is the deity of all beginnings.
Dancing Ganesha is a popular theme in Indian religious art. Especially favoured by the Buddhists in Nepal and Tibet, the dancing image is not, however, favoured in Southeast Asia. Ganesha's dance is playful and rambunctious rather than cosmic like that of his father Shiva. Fond of frolicking with the ganas whose leader he is, dancing Ganesha may be seen with attendant musicians and celestial adorants. Though diversely represented in central India, Orissa, and Bengal, dancing Ganesha is not common throughout Hindu civilization. This image type is seen to be definitely more appealing to the north than to the south of India where the Nataraja figure has remained predominant.
In the Buddhist art of the subcontinent, elephant-headed Ganesha is worshipped as the remover of obstacles (vighna-harta) and at the same time as the creator of obstacles (vighna-karta) or the obstacle incarnate (vighna). In Nepal, where Buddhism and Shaivism have coexisted for a long time, the basic role of Ganesha is to remove (for Hindus) or to create (for Buddhists) the obstacles to success in human endeavours, and in this dual role - beneficent and maleficent - Ganesha is worshipped in a manner proper to the deities of both categories. Aparajita is the best-known deity who vanquishes Ganapati.
According to the author, Ganesha appears to be absent in the Svetambara Jain tradition, but on closer investigation he is as ubiquitous here as he is elsewhere in India. Ganesha seems to be found only in small architectural and ritual niches in his more familiar form as Ganesha or in his Jain manifestation as Parshva Yaksha. In actual fact he is to be found, transformed from a fat and jolly elephant-headed god into a fat and jolly human monk, close to the heart of Svetambara Jainism. There is a connection between the characteristics and feats of Ganesha and Gautama Svami, the first and favourite monastic disciple of Mahavira and a popular figure in Svetambara Jain worship since medieval times.
Some of the most unusual and spectacular images of Ganesha come from the area that today comprises Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. From 7th-century beginnings, Ganesha -- with a human head -- was an important deity in these ancient Southeast Asian countries. While some of these images later had their own temples, most early examples of the god here are loose sculpture in stone or bronze. Of all the countries in the region, Ganesha was most popular in Indonesia.
In modern-day East Asia, Ganesha is familiar in Tibet, Japan, and Mongolia, but is rarely encountered in China and Korea. Images of Ganesha in East Asia are mainly found in a Buddhist context. His relative unimportance in China may have to do with the fact that Buddhism never took over as the main religion there, as it did in Tibet where Ganesha has a definite place in the pantheon, whether as an enemy of religion or as a god of wealth. The artistic forms of Ganesha here differ significantly from those found in India. The most recent introduction of Ganesha into China was during the Ch'ing dynasty, when Tibetan Buddhism was the religion of the Manchu rulers.
The Calcutta-based collector of Ganesha images reveals that unlike art historians, he is not obsessed by antiquity alone. It was in Tamil Nadu that he acquired his first Ganesha, although he grew up in Maharashtra where the deity is most significant. After the first few purchases, he started viewing different Ganesha images in various museums he visited. As the collection grew, the writer looked for different kinds of Ganesha -- but they had to be small and dating before the present century. While he has a number of examples made of stone, porcelain, wood, and terracotta, most are in metal. The collector expresses appreciation for the cooperation he received from Calcutta's art dealers.
A glossary for the benevolent god Ganesha.