Ganesha : The God of Beginnings



 This sculpture of Ganesha, made of muscovite biotite schist  is believed to belong to the early 11th Century’s Pala Art School, and finds its origins in Bihar. “Pala” refers to the suffix in the name of rulers of the Pala Dynasty, which means, “protectors”. They were followers of Buddhism, and had a very strong hold in the Bengal and Bihar region. The Pala sculptural art is believed to bear influences from the Gupta period, and is recognised for the skilful work of Bengal’s sculpture-artists.
Son of the god Shiva and the goddess Parvati, this Ganesha moves in a lively dance as musicians seated at his feet play the drum and cymbals. A kneeling devotee and Ganesha’s animal vehicle, the rat, also look up at him in adoration. Among the objects he holds is a bowl of sweets, irresistible to the portly god, who helps himself to one with his trunk. His remaining hands hold a drum, prayer beads, and axe (on his right) and a radish and snake (on his left). The upper left hand forms a gesture of dance. Many stories explain how Ganesha obtained the head of an elephant.
Ganesha is often depicted riding Kroncha, his giant rat, famed for its agility and also symbolic of the god’s ability to circumvent obstacles.


The Two Consorts of Ganesha

A story which explains the god’s association with intelligence and wisdom is his competition with Karthikeya to be the first to marry. They set up a challenge that whoever could first encircle the Earth would also find a bride first. Not wasting a second, Karthikeya swiftly mounted his blue peacock and immediately shot off around the world. Ganesha on the other hand, casually sauntered over to his parents’ house, embraced them and quoted the line from the sacred Vedas: “he who embraces his parents seven times (pradakshinas) gains the merit of encircling the world seven times”. Declared the winner, Ganesha promptly married not one but two daughters of Prajapati: Riddhi (Wisdom) and Siddhi (Success), with whom he had two sons: Kshema(Prosperity) and Laabha(Profit).

The Snake

Ganesha also has something of a reputation for greediness for food. One day, after eating a few too many modakas (sacrificial cakes), Ganesha decided to take a ride on his giant rat, Kroncha, to aid his digestion. However, the rat was surprised when he came across a large snake and, jumping back with fear, he threw off his mount. Ganesha landed on his full belly and it burst on hitting the ground. The cakes from his stomach rolled left, right and centre but Ganesha, unperturbed, carefully gathered them in, stuffed them all back into his belly and wound the snake around his midriff to keep it closed. Symbolic of Ganesha’s ability to overcome all obstacles, the snake, the cause of the accident in the first place, therefore provided the remedy for the damage it had caused.

The Broken Tusk

Out of the many stories for this, I have two favourites:

1. Continuing on his night-ride, Ganesha suddenly heard a thunderous noise from the heavens. This was the laughing of the Moon and his wives, the twenty seven Constellations, unable to contain themselves on seeing Ganesha wrapped in a snake. Outraged, Ganesha broke off the end of one of his tusks and hurled it at the laughing Moon who, hit full in the face, was struck black. Without the light of the moon, the dark nights became the haunt of thieves and villains until honest people had had enough and pleaded with the gods to restore the silver light. The gods asked Ganesha to forgive the Moon but only a partial forgiveness was given. Consequently, only periodically, on one night, would the Moon give his full light and then he would slowly waste away.

2. An alternative explanation of Ganesha’s broken tusk is that of Krishna throwing his axe at Ganesha after he blocked his entrance to the private apartments of his parents Shiva and Parvati. Ganesha allowed the axe to hit and break his tusk so that no-one could say that the axe, which was in fact his father’s, was not a fearsome weapon


This sculpture is housed at the Walters Art Museum, in the lobby of the first floor!