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Marcel Nies

11. Ganesha
East Java, Majapahit
15th c.
Andesite, Volcanic stone
48 cm.


The word Gaja (elephant) is means �the origin� and �the goal�; the elephant is a symbol of the beginning of existence and the universe. The depiction of this elephant headed man is to express the unity of the small being, the microcosm (man) and the macrocosm (elephant) and was probably intended as an image of Ganesha, one of the most beloved of all deities in the Hindu pantheon. He is the god who controls obstacles by either inventing or removing them, consequently he is invariably invoked prior to a major undertaking. Therefore he is considered the god of auspiciousness and success, and as the embodiment of wisdom.

According to the Hindu legends, Parvati was disturbed by her lord Shiva, who tried to enter the house while she was bathing. Worried not to have a guard, she rubbed her body, and from the scruff she gathered a being was born whom she called her son and used as a guard; his name was Ganapati (Ganesha). When the boy attempted to prevent Shiva from entering the house, his head was cut of in the battle. On seeing Parvati's sorrow over his deed, Shiva severed the head of the first living being (an elephant) that came his way and joined it to the child's body. The immense popularity of Ganesha was carried over Southeast Asia and in particularly Indonesia.

Ganesha is depicted with a human body and an elephant head, and is seated in a squatted manner. This in contrast to most of the Javanese Ganeshas which are depicted with the soles of their feet touching each other. The arms of the god are crossed in front of his chest, the hands ending on top of each shoulder. Ganesha's upright body is covered with a dress, running diagonally over his body. His sampot comprises of pleats, part of it is drawn between the legs and supports his feet. The god wears a pearl ornament on his head and is decorated with bracelets and a pearl necklace.

The power and prosperity of East Java attained their zenith under the kings of Majapahit (1294-1478 A.D.), who also controlled parts of Borneo and Sumatra. The period can be seen as a post-classic romantic style in which the pure Indian tradition is almost submerged, and the Indonesian factor comes increasingly to the fore. The images of the period are evidence of their infinite charm and freedom of artistic imagination. The sculpture is depicted in a concentrated and sober form, revealing some characteristics which are typical of the period. The sampot is depicted pleated, and part of it is drawn between the legs. A dress runs diagonally over his body and he is decorated with a pearl necklace, bracelets and a pearl-ornamentation on top of his head. The use of andesite, hard volcanic stone with fine weathered patina is in addition typical for sculptures of the Majapahit period.

Ganesha is depicted with a great freedom of imagination; the sculpture is a small monument which stands for the living past of Javanese artistic consciousness. Portrayed with powerful movements of the arms and an upright body the god radiates a mythical and convincing presence. The sober concept comprise of remarkable proportions, rare posture and well executed features, enhancing the personal character of the deity. The hard stone sculpture with fine weathered patina complements the aesthetic quality of this remover of obstacles.

Provenance: Formerly in the collection of Professor Samuel Eilenberg, London/New York.

all text, images © Marcel Nies
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