I wanted to talk today about a great passion of mine and that is for Hindu iconography. In particular I really love the artistic representations of individual Hindu deities. I enjoy modern depictions of the Hindu deities but what I am most interested in are the ancient carvings contained within Hindu temples and the paintings that can be found within some of the restored ancient Hindu scriptures.
My favorite Hindu iconography is that of the elephant headed god Ganesha. Ganesha is one of the most popular and worshipped of the Hindu deities and, therefore, the iconography depicting Ganesha is more common than some of the lesser known deities. Tbis has resulted in some truly wonderful finds. A point to not is that, within Hindu art, the representation of most deities has remained unchanged over the years. With Ganesha, on the other hand, there have been some quite significant changes to the way this elephant headed deity has been depicted. Ganesha can be found playing, dancing, sitting, kneeling and being an action hero. He has also, in more recent times, been depicted engaging in more modern practices.
Ganesha was a popular subject of Indian art by the 6th century but depictions of Ganesha have been dated as far back as 973-1200! In most representations, Ganesha has four arms and, without exception, he always has an elephants trunk and a chubby stomach. There are many explanations for how Ganesha acquired his elephant head but my favorite is that Parvati built Ganesha out of clay. When Shiva believed that Ganesha was stopping him from getting near Parvati he cut off his head and replaced it with that of an elephants. In my opinion, the most beautiful depiction of Ganesha to be discovered is the ancient carving in Thailand, pictured below.