He has the face of an elephant; he holds an axe, a lotus, and other objects in his many arms; he has a potbelly and the legs of a child. At first glance, an odd conglomeration of features. Yet the figure of this dancing Ganesha exudes sensuous grace and dignity. The sculptor who fashioned this image, the patron who commissioned it, and the worshippers who viewed it in its temple niche were united by the Hindu culture of devotion (bhakti), expressed in the ritual worship (puja) of images of gods and goddesses. Darshana, viewing the god’s image, is itself an act of devotion, a connection that elicits the deity’s beneficence and grace.
Every feature of the Ganesha icon tells a story about his nature, powers, and deeds. The potbelly signals his love of sweets, and he rides on a mouse (shown at the bottom of this stele). Yet he is the god of wisdom, and his curved trunk embodies “Aum,” the sound-symbol of the cosmos. Ganesha is the “God of Beginnings” and “Remover of Obstacles.” His blessing of success must be sought before any new undertaking—a journey, the first day of school, a concert. Not surprisingly, he is the most popular of Hindu gods.
-Indira Viswanathan Peterson, David B. Truman Professor of Asian Studies, Mount Holyoke College
Global Perspectives: Exploring the Art of Devotion (February 9 - May 30, 2010)