Carved wooden Ganesh
One of my favourite objects in the gallery was this pot bellied Ganesh.
I can’t remember when my love of elephants began but they are something of a life long passion, so when I first visited India 40 years ago not only was I thrilled to see so many elephants in the flesh, I was immediately and inevitably drawn to the elephant headed Hindu god Ganesh.
Carved statues of Ganesh are often seen in the lintel over a door frame at the entrance to a house or by the side of the door where he’s placed to protect the house and it’s occupants from difficulties and obstacles. If you’re out and about on the streets just after dawn you’ll see people blessing their Ganesh statue with grains of rice, flower petals and red vermilion paste on Ganesh’ forehead - one of the first acts of the day.
Ganesh is the son of Shiva and Parvati and is revered as the god of wisdom and learning. In his role as the remover of obstacles he is often worshipped in advance of any undertaking or journey to ensure that any potential difficulties are cleared. There are several different explanations of how he acquired his distinctive head but most agree that he was a normal boy until his father beheaded him in a fit of rage, not realising he was his son. When Parvati found out she was furious and demanded Ganesh be brought back to life. Shiva achieved this using the head of the first creature found, an elephant. His fat tummy is attributed to his legendary love of sweets.
I think the lovely fat belly on this painted wooden Ganesh is one of its most endearing features and I love the chubby legs which actually wouldn’t look too out of place on an elephant. There is something almost warm and cuddly about it even although it is a very solid wooden object and I like to think it was made with love. The colours used accentuate the feeling of warmth. It is not refined or precious in any conventional way but to me it has lots of value as an example of spiritual devotion.