Panel depicting Ganesha with his consort
India, 20th century
Lent by Dr. Harry Feirman and Dr. Nancy Langworthy
This impressively-large panel shows Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles, seated on a raised dais in a posture of ease with his consort on his knee. In three of his hands he holds a club, a noose, and his broken tusk. With his fourth hand he pulls close his wife, who is probably offering him a sweet morsel. A scrolling vine and a tree with two birds perched in it fill the area around the two figures. In the zone at the bottom are four oversize mice––the mouse (or rat) is Ganesha’s special animal (vahana). A border of geometric motifs encloses the entire panel.
The marital status of Ganesha varies widely. Several identifications for his wife exist, and sometimes he is even considered to be a bachelor. Three particular goddesses are all mentioned as his counterpart in sacred writings: Buddhi, the personification of intellect; Siddhi, the personification of spiritual power; and Riddhi, the personification of prosperity. At other times Ganesha is linked with Sarasvati, the goddess of arts and culture, and Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune––though these deities are most often considered to be the wives of Brahma and Vishnu respectively. In still other situations Shakti (divine feminine energy) is regarded as his consort. The female figure depicted in this panel holds no particular attribute, so there is essentially no way to be certain of her identity.
Such large carved wooden panels from India are a development of modern times and do not have a long history in Hindu art. They are created more for decorative than religious purposes. The openwork design and the partial whitewash help to impart a dazzling and ornamental effect.
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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association