Friday, April 6, 2012

My Friend Ganesha

As possibly the most widely worshipped deity in India,
Ganesha also becomes the most versatile in appearance.
The lack of restrictions on his iconography means that
each Ganesha can reflect local aspirations.
But Ganesha was not restricted to India alone.
There was a time when there were as many foreign versions as Indian,
and some of the earliest images of
 Ganeshas are found outside India.

The earliest elephant-headed human figure
appears on a plaque found in Luristan, in Western Iran.
Dating back to between 1,200-1,000 BC,
 this proto-Ganesha stands dressed as a warrior,
holding a sword and a snake in one hand and a quill in another,
a multi-hooded snake at his feet.
A marble Maha Vinayaka was consecrated by
King Shahi Khingala in the 5th century AD in Gardez in Afghanistan,
and an earlier undated Ganapati was worshipped in Sakar Dhar.
These figures, from the Gandhara school,
stand languidly, the trunk twisted to the left,
wearing a snake for a sacred thread and a dhoti.
Since Afghanistan was once a land of Hinduism and Buddhism,
 there were probably other Ganesha images
 in Afghanistan that were later destroyed.

According to legend, Asoka's daughter Charumati built
a temple for Ganesha in Nepal, and the earliest surviving
Ganeshas in Nepal belong to the 8th century.
Vinayaka dances, a rat or lion under each foot, multi-armed,
 carrying several Tantric symbols including a radish,
and is canopied by the snake.
 This form is also found in Mongolia,
where Ganesha travelled with the Tibetan monk P'agspa.
In Tibet, Ganesha is placed above the entrance of
Buddhist monasteries or painted on the doors,
often holding a trident and identified with Shiva.

In Khotan, or Chinese Turkestan,
Ganesha was painted on wooden panels and bronze tablets at Khaklik,
the Endere stupa and the rock-cut temples of Bezaklik.
 Here too he holds a radish and is sometimes dressed in a tiger skin,
reinforcing his identification with Shiva.
Importantly, his head was framed by a halo, establishing his divinity.
From Khotan, Ganesha reached China,
and the earliest Chinese image of Ganesha is found at Kung-hsien,
a two-armed seated figure holding a lotus and the chintamani jewel.
 Dated to AD 531, this image is described as the
''Spirit King of Elephants''. 
The Chinese and Japanese knew two forms of Ganesha:
Vinayaka and Kangiten, the latter being a secret esoteric form of the deity.
Derived from Tantric cults, Kangiten symbolised the
 union of the Individual with the Universal Spirit and consists
 of two Vinayakas embracing each other.

The Chinese emperor Chen Tsung banned the worship of Kangiten,
but the cult continued in Japan,
where it was introduced by the Buddhist Kolso Daishi.
Another form, Vajra Vinayaka or Kakuzencho, had three heads
 with three eyes, holding a sword, radish, sceptre and modak. 
In the Gupta period, Ganesha travelled east
— to Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Borneo —
with Hinduism and Buddhism.
Many of the figures are distinctly different,
with straight long trunks and three eyes,
an attribute transferred from Shiva.

 In Burma, where several Hindu deities were worshipped
 in Buddhist pagodas, Ganesha was the Remover of Obstacles,
better known as Mahapienne.
A remarkable four-armed Ganesha holds an axe,
rosary and conch, seated Buddha-style in padmasana
on a pedestal composed of a crocodile, tortoise and fish. 
In Thailand, the Hindu Mon dynasty built several Ganesha temples,
 and the early Ayuthia Ganeshas are beautiful figures.
In a Hindu temple at Bangkok,
 Ganesha uses his broken tusk as a stylus,
 and his left hand holds a manuscript.
The Hindu Khmer kingdom of Cambodia abounds with figures of Ganesha. 

Shaivism was the dominant religion of ancient Indonesia,
and although there was no separate cult of Ganesha,
his skull-bedecked images decorate Shiva temples,
the earliest dating to the 6th century.
In the Hindu island of Bali, Ganesha became very popular,
and most Balinese Ganeshas are depicted standing, with a third eye.
In Djembaran in South Bali, Ganesha is seated on a throne
 surrounded by flames, like the Shigon Fudo fire spirits
who tended to royalty after their death.
 A Ganesha image from the 5th century was found at a cave
 at Kombeng in Borneo.
 Influenced by the images of the Buddha,
some images have an urna or protuberance between the eyes. 

In the last century, the Indian diaspora has taken this lovable
deity all over the world in every conceivable avatar.
He has become the most modern of our Gods,
playing cricket with the Indian team,
 sending rockets to the moon,
or exploding nuclear devices at Pokhran.
 Or simply being a good son and brother,
removing obstacles from the path of his devotees,
and conferring hope and wisdom on the mobile Indian.

|| Om Gan Ganapataye namaha ||
|| Om Gan Ganapataye namaha ||
|| Om Gan Ganapataye namaha ||
|| Om Gan Ganapataye namaha ||
|| Om Gan Ganapataye namaha ||

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