16ganesha Ganesha, c. 1070, bronze, height 50.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Katharine Holden Thayer, 1970.62. Photo: © The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Katharine Holden Thayer 1970.62
Ganesha, c. 1070, bronze, height 50.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Katharine Holden Thayer, 1970.62. Photo:The delightful, pot-bellied Ganesha, with his elephant head and curved trunk, is perhaps the most endearing and gentle of gods. He is the elder son of Shiva and Parvati. Various legends exist to explain his elephant head. One speaks of the proud young mother Uma-Parvati asking the planetary deity Shani, or Saturn, to admire her child, forgetting that his glance withered all he saw. At the god Brahma’s urging, Parvati replaced the child’s head with that of the first living creature to pass by, which happened to be an elephant. An alternate story speaks of Uma-Parvati leaving Ganesha to guard the door while she took a bath, instructing him to let no one in. When Shiva himself was refused entry, he cut off Ganesha’s head but, ruing his deed, he vowed to replace it with the head of the first living being he saw.
This crowned and richly adorned image displays powerful modelling. Standing Ganesha holds a battleaxe and noose (to cut the bonds of rebirth) in his two rear hands, while the two front hands hold his own tusk (broken off in a victorious battle against a mighty demon) and a sweet confection (modaka) – his love of sweets is proverbial.
Ganesha is famed for warding off obstacles and is thus the propitious god of new beginnings, to be worshipped at the start of any new venture. A scribe in India putting pen to fresh paper will first inscribe the word ‘Ganesha’, as will students commencing an exam. When preparing sweets for a festival day, the first confection will be set aside in the name of Ganesha. He is addressed also as Ganapati – leader (pati) of Shiva’s dwarf-like gana attendants.