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Marcel Nies

2. Ganesha
India; Uttar Pradesh
circa 900 A.D.
height 72 cm.


The elephant headed god Ganesha is the remover of obstacles and bestows success on all endeavours. He is considered the son of the important Hindu couple Shiva and Parvati, a popular benevolent god who is propitiated at the beginning of every undertaking, the embodiment of wisdom and prudence, a good writer and learned in the scriptures. The origin stories of Ganesha's elephant head vary, but the most widely accepted version is when Ganesha stood outside the bathhouse door to guard his mother Parvati who was taking a bath, Shiva, who was in the habit of surprising his wife found his way barred and when he tried to enter he cut of Ganesha's head. Parvati was so overcome with grief that Shiva had to send out messengers to seek another head for him. The first creature they found was an elephant, whose head was planted on Ganesha's shoulders.

Ganesha is depicted in a dancing posture and has an elephant head bearing a single tusk. His four hands are holding a battle axe, a fruit and a pot which stems from his great partiality for offering foods, especially fruit. He is accompanied by his vehicle the rat, and by a musician playing the flute and providing the necessary rhythm. Ganesha is adorned with a necklace, bracelets, anklets, and a tiger skin, the head of which is visible on his left upper leg; a circular nimbus is depicted behind his head.

The cultural, political and imperial influence of the Pratihara population started in circa 780 A.D. spreading over Gujarat, Rajasthan and a large part of Central and North India. This Ganesha which is carved out of reddish sandstone is a good example of the mediaeval schools of sculpture during the Pratihara occupation. Characteristics are the typical construction of the piece, the pronounced arched eyebrows and the pure style of the features. The powerful movement and simplicity is more typical for mediaeval sculptures from Uttar Pradesh, dating from the 9th or 10th centuries.

Ganesha's beautiful body volume and dancing attitude incorporates smooth circular curving shapes, contrasting with the straight lines of the edges, axe and stretched arm, lending the piece a feeling of dynamic force and lively tension. Not hampered by numerous secondary figures and ornamentations, often seen in this period depicted around the central image, the sculpture is fully focused on the presence and act of Ganesha himself. Despite his bulky elephantine form, Ganesha dances gracefully and effortlessly, his right toe lifted slightly away from the earth that trembles at the stamping of his left foot. Ganesha appears as a powerful and convincing god, worthy in his role as remover of obstacles.

Formerly in the collection of J.Eskenazi, Italy.

all text, images © Marcel Nies

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