Printer Friendly Version

Animals in Art



The Elephant-Headed God
Indonesia, Eastern Java, Sailendra dynasty, <I>Ganesha</I>, volcanic stone (andesite), Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Purchase through Art Quest 2003 and The William Hood Dunwoody Fund
zoom Indonesia, Eastern Java, Sailendra dynasty, Ganesha, volcanic stone (andesite), Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Purchase through Art Quest 2003 and The William Hood Dunwoody Fund

 

The Hindu god Ganesha has the body of a plump boy and the head of an elephant. A beloved and playful god, he is known as the lord of success and remover of obstacles. He is also associated with wisdom, knowledge, and prosperity.

There are many stories as to how Ganesha got his elephant head. In one popular version, Ganesha’s mother, Parvati, created him from clay to keep her company when her husband, Shiva, was away. The figure looked so real she decided to breathe life into it.

Parvati asked her son to guard her door. When Shiva returned he was surprised to find a young boy there, especially one who claimed to be Pavarti’s son. After the boy denied him access, Shiva became angry—so angry that he cut off Ganesha’s head! When Parvati discovered what Shiva had done, she wept and begged him to find the head. Shiva looked hard, but couldn’t find it. He found an elephant that agreed to give him its head. He returned home and placed the elephant’s head on the boy’s body. Parvati breathed life into the boy again and he awoke.

Ganesha is seen as a guardian, and statues of him often decorate niches in Shiva temples. In this sculpture, a seated Ganesha eats sweetmeats from a bowl held in his lower left hand. His lower right hand grasps a broken tusk, while his other two hands hold a rosary topped with a pomegranate (a symbol of abundance) and an axe to ward off evil.


spacer related images 1.  + 2.  + 3.  + bracket spacer
spacer
spacer
1. Here is a family portrait. Shiva, the god of creation and destruction, sits with his arm around his wife, Parvati. Ganesha is seated near his mother’s foot. On the other side is Skanda, the god of war, who is Shiva’s eldest son.
India, Shiva’s Family (Uma-Mahaeshvara), c. 1000, buff sandstone, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The John R. Van Derlip Fund
2. Ganesha is often depicted in the seated lotus position. However, he is also frequently shown playfully dancing, mimicking his father, Shiva (Lord of the Dance).
Cambodia, Ganesha, 12–13th century, bronze, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Michelle and David Dewey
3. Shiva, Ganesha's father, is depicted here in a dance pose.
India, Tamil Nadu, Shiva Nataraja, bronze, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Mrs. E. C. Gale

 

spacer
   
 
April 2008