Aesthetic Exploration of Ganesha part II (Forms in 3D)
The influence of Ganesha's elements on the form
Historical representations of Ganesha’s forms indicate that he, in his different Bhangimas (postures and attitudes) is worshipped in Agamic temples.
One sees that in the temples built between the 9th and 12th centuries, Ganesha idols had either two arms or four arms and had no Alankara or ornamentation. Some of the idols of this period had a ribbon-like Prabhavali (the encircling arch) around the idol, or the Prabhavali resembled a semicircular tape or was flame-like. Along with Jatamukuta (a crown of matted hair), Ganesha is seen with or without a headdress. He also had a Udarabandha (waistband). Some of the idols did not have a mount or Vahana.
Ganesha idols during this period were seen in different types of sitting postures, like padmasana or the lotus pose, Utkatasana (a sitting posture, with one or both knees raised), Lalitasana the relaxed pose or at ease, Nritya meaning the dancing pose, etc.
All these idols had a pleasant and elegant form and were mostly carved out of hard granite.
Ganesha idols representing the Hoysala era have profuse ornamentation and have a lot of grace and elegance in the details. Ganesha idols in the 14th and 18th centuries had the usual Naga Bandha, Vahana, Karanda Mukuta and conventional details of the form. These idols represent the various forms of Ganesha according to the textual prescription.
All these examples are indicative of Ganesha’s form of exploration that has been happening over the centuries. A similar study if conducted in all the different eras of the entire Indian history will definitely show a similar creative exploration.
As one sees the ebb and flow of the creative arts of each century, Ganesha’s forms too have been influenced. It is extremely interesting to see the skills of that era translated and expressed in Ganesha’s forms. The number of idols, the material exploration has only been expanding. The visual importance of this benevolent, boon conferring deity has become as important as the faith one has in him.
Significance of Ganesha’s elements on form creation:
Every part of Ganesha's body, such as the ear, nose, eyes, and trunk, has some significance. The various names of Ganesha indicate the nature of the different forms as has been seen in the earlier topic.
These elements are important in understanding these forms of Ganesha. There also exists an importance to each element in his form which contributes to understanding this most revered god. It could be faith, belief, and definitely a more divine principle which has endeared the form of this god to all. This is probably why one sees a vast visual, creative exploration of his form.
The importance of each of these elements of Ganesha’s form is briefly presented below.
The Ganesh's Head
The elephant head has from the very beginning been an important characteristic of the benevolent God.
The Hindu gods are rarely seen with animal heads (some exceptions are the Vishnu Avataras- of Varaha and Narasimha). Ganesha is usually seen with one head only. One does see two, three, four or five heads on Ganesha idols in certain cases.
Two-headed forms are called Dvimukha Ganesha. The two heads symbolize the microcosmic and macrocosmic aspects known in philosophy and religion as Pindanda (or Sukshmanda) and Brahmanda. Three-headed Ganesha (Trimukha Ganesh) depicts the three states of being, inherent in any manifestation, which are the Gunas, that is Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva. Four-headed Ganesha (Chathurmukha Ganesh) is believed to represent- Manas, Chitta, Buddhi
Five-headed Ganeshas (Panchamukha Ganesh) are rather usual. The signification of the five-headed Ganesh may be explained in various manners. They may symbolize the five koshas(Annamaya kosha: the physical body made of matter, Pranamaya kosha: the breath body, or the energy body, Manomayakosha: the mental body, Vighnanamaya Kosha: the body of the super consciousness, Anandamaya Kosha: the body of cosmic bliss) as experienced by a yogi. Thus, the fifth head of Ganesha symbolizes the highest level of the yogic experience, called Anandamayakosha, or Sat-Chit-Ananda, the Pure Consciousness.
The headdress of Ganesha:
The Ganesh headdress has diverse details in it. For example - sometimes, it's a jata-mukuta ( a crown of matted hair), karanda-mukuta (a tall crown in the shape of a tiered truncated cone), or a kirita-mukuta (a crown of jewels).
The eyes of Ganesha:
Ganesha has two eyes but, many times, the third one is depicted on his forehead.
The ears of Ganesha:
Ganesha’s ears are huge and are a distinctive feature of his elephant head. They are large enough to listen to all the prayers of everybody but, similar to winnow, they are believed to separate what is good (virtue) and what is not good (vice) for the worshipper.
The trunk of Ganesha:
Ganesha’s trunk is generally curved and twisted (Vaktra). Ancient scriptures believe that his trunk is curved because he uses it to turn around obstacles into opportunities for growth. The position of Ganesha’s trunk holds a symbolic meaning. It is said that if the trunk is towards Ganesha’s left then it indicates the direction of success. Towards the idol’s right, it signifies moksha.
The Ganesha trunk is sometimes curved to the left side then he is known as Edampuri Vinayaka. , But sometimes it is turned to the right side which is a rare phenomenon when he is known as Valampuri Vinayaka, considered to be very auspicious. These two directions correspond to both ways through which obstacles may be turned around and the Supreme goal attained.
In most idols of Ganesha, the trunk is turned toward the left (from the perspective of the idol). Only in rare cases is it turned to the right.
Below are numerous trunk poses one can find on Ganesha idols.
Valampuri Pose: The trunk is turned to Ganesha’s right. This form is very rare.
Edampuri Pose: The trunk is turned to Ganesha’s left. This is the common form.
However, in certain cases, the trunk is totally unrolled and stretches over the body. The tip of the trunk is most often dipped into a bowl of a sweet or holds a Modaka. The shape of the curved trunk suggests the writing of the sacred AUM. Thus, it is also a representation of Omkara or Pranava, the symbol of Brahman, the Absolute Reality. So, the trunk of Ganesha means that he is also the Supreme Brahman.
Ganesha has two tusks, one of which is broken. He is often shown using his broken tusk, with its tip pointing down, held in his right hand like a writing tool. The broken tusk is one of the most peculiar features of Ganesha. Most times, this broken tusk is held by the right hand. The legend says that Ganesha broke his tusk when he fought against the devil Gajamukhasura. Another myth says that Ganesha lost a tusk during a battle against Parashurama. He used this broken tusk as a pen to write the Mahabharata epic under the sage Vyasa's dictation.
Ganesha’s hands and the elements he holds in his hands:
Ganesha usually has four hands. Sometimes he may have only two hands. But four, six, eight, ten, twelve or even sixteen hands are not uncommon. The number of hands are an indication of the power of the god, as he carries a multitude of elements in them.
The most usual elements are: The axe, the noose, the plate of sweet, the elephant goad, the broken tusk, and the mala. Some of these elements can also be considered as weapons, used by Ganesha to fight negative forces.
*The axe (Parashu) is a very common element that Ganesha idols are depicted to hold. Usually, it is held in the upper right hand. This symbolises the powerful weapon to cut all desires and attachments which result in troubles and sorrows.
* Ganesha holds a lasso or a noose (pasha), in order to catch delusions (moha) which is a deterrent to seekers of the truth. This noose is sometimes shown as a tightly coiled snake.
* The elephant goad or hook (Ankusha) to conduct elephants is the symbol of his sovereignty over the world. This goad symbolizes also anger (krodha), which needs to be overcome by higher knowledge.
* A bowl of sweet or the modaka is usually held in the lower left hand. In a Ganesha idol which has a left-turned trunk, it touches this sweet. The modaka is also the joyful reward of the truth seeker while on the spiritual path.
Many a time, Ganesha idols are depicted holding a Mala or Akshamala made of 50 Rudrakha beads in their lower right hand. It corresponds to the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet and symbolizes sound and hearing.
Other elements that some Ganesha idols may hold are:
* A lotus, which represents the supreme goal of the human spiritual evolution, that Ganesha offers to his worshippers.
* A blue lotus (Utpala) associated with the moon.
*A pomegranate, a mango, or a lime.
* A Kamandalu (a small pot holding sacred water).
*A Veena (the musical instrument).
* A book, a discus (chakra), etc.
The hands of Ganesha are sometimes in the mudra pose.
The boon-giving hand in the Varada mudra indicates his benevolence towards the devotees. The Varada mudra shows the palm open with fingers down.
The hand in the abhaya mudra indicates that Ganesha removes fear and grants divine protection. The Abhaya Mudra shows the palm open with fingers up.
Ganesha’s stomach and body:
The Ganesha’s stomach is of a generous size, often decorated with a belt made of a snake. He wears the sacred thread (Yajnopavita), made of cotton or in some cases represented by a snake. Ganesha’s largeness is attributed to the fact that all the manifestation is within him. The names like Lambodara for Ganesha emphasize this phenomenon. His large belly also figuratively means that he has the ability to endure and digest all kinds of experiences.
The colours used for depicting Ganesha:
Ganesha according to many ancient scriptures is of a bright red colour. This is the reason why a lot of Ganesha idols are painted in a bright red colour, between a true red hue, and an orange-coloured one. Modern Ganesha idols are sometimes represented in black, blue or even yellow colours.
The names of Ganesha are also indicative of the colours used in that particular form. Hence, Dvija Ganapati is coloured like the moon, Dvimukha Ganapati is bluish-green in colour, Dhoomravarna Ganapati has a smoke-coloured body, Haridra Ganapati has a bright yellow body, Runamochana Ganapati is white just like the crystal stone, and Heramba Ganapati is of a dark green colour, etc.
In some cases, the colour of Ganesha’s head and his body is different; for example- his head is brick red with a flesh-coloured body.
The legs of Ganesha:
The legs of Lord Ganesha are short. The understanding is that a short-legged person cannot run fast, and is also intelligent. An intelligent person does not run, he makes other people run using his intelligence and, hence is a true leader.
The vehicle of Ganesha:
Most of the idols of Lord Ganesha depict him sitting on a mouse or a mouse near him. The mouse (or Mushaka in Sanskrit) is the vehicle (Vahana) of Ganesha. Ganesha is huge while the mouse is very small. In Ganesh Purana, he is known as 'Aakhuvahan'. The meaning of 'Aakhu' is Mushaka or Maya. Hence this name clearly indicates that Ganesha achieved victory over Maya and is the possessor of knowledge.
All these elements of Ganesha have been treated in different ways to achieve different forms. Since there is a strong religious aspect to Ganesha’s form, the idols meant for worship do not deviate, and include all these elements according to Agamic and scriptural principles.
In these modern times, Ganesha’s worship and presence have been reaching newer heights. The festival of Ganesha Chaturthi being a public religious festival has brought in the participation of many people. To organizing Ganesha idols for such festivals year after year since Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s time from 1893 has brought in a lot of exploration and expertise as well in terms of the materials used and the forms created. Ganesha’s presence can be felt not only during this festival but all through the year, for Ganesha, has outgrown his primary, religious avatar and has become an omnipresent cultural icon with a number of small scale and handicraft industries churning out a multitude of forms.
Ganesha has been carved from rocks, granite, sandstone, and marble for temples in South India. Giant stone monoliths have been created for outdoor worship, while exquisite small statues have been created for specific niches, and recesses in some shrines. In case of Swambhu (naturally created) Ganesha idols like in Maharastra, they have been painted vermillion or darkened with oil like in South India. Bronze, copper, silver and gold have been used extensively to create Ganesha statues for installation in the sanctum sanctorum or for use during temple festivals.
Apart from temples, for the sake of reverence in familial or private shrines, a wide range of materials have begun to be used. A great freedom of style is seen even with the most traditional of the Ganesha forms.
Materials like white or coloured marble, different types of quartz, soapstone in different colours, and alabaster, are the ones used to make large sized Ganesha statues. Wood of various kinds- rose, teak, and sandalwood, are used to carve large or small idols based on the requirements in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Sometimes the wooden statues may be painted or even inlaid with ivory.
Semiprecious stones like coral, amethyst, jade, tiger’s eye, lapis-lazuli, malachite, ivory and ruby have been used for creating small statues of Ganesha, used more for decorative purposes. Bronze casting by the lost wax process is also used extensively to create collector’s items or regular idols of Ganesha. Copper and silver idols are created for worship more than for decorative purposes. Some of them may also be studded with gems.
A wide range of less expensive materials is also used to create Ganesha in two-dimensional or three-dimensional forms like Palm leaves, paper mache, cloth, paper, bamboo, ceramic, shells, terracotta, glass, varieties of plastics, etc.
A lot of points are considered before one buys a Ganesha idol to be kept at home, like the direction of the trunk, and the fact that the idol should not be unfinished or even broken.
Ganesha who has been revered as a religious symbol by the Hindus has now transformed into a cultural icon with his presence as statues, wall hangings, paintings, jewellery and many more products which will be explored in the forthcoming topics.