Lord Ganesha - A Godly Makeover


Today is Ganesh Chaturthi, a festival dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles. In most part of India, this festival is celebrated with a community fervour, with each locality having their own version and dedication to the Lord. Apart from being an object of reverence, for me the image of Lord Ganesha is also an object of intrigue. Intrigue, I'd say because here is image of the Lord, which comes in various shapes – from traditional to abstract, and all of them are acceptable.

Most Hindus are deeply religious, but never had a problem of this Lord depicted in various forms apart from the traditional form. I have not heard of group of fanatics making a huge hue and cry over the nonconformist depiction of Ganesha. I tried searching the Net on how come a makeover of a popular image of reverence is acceptable to all. Since, I was not able to find any articles on the same, I set my creaky shallow brains to work. Here is what I think the reasons could be -

  1. A Creative Genesis: Lord Ganesh, according to Hindu mythology, was created by Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva by mixing dust and sweat. Also, after he was beheaded, he was brought back to life by replacing his head with that of an elephant. Since, his birth was from an idea (Parvati thinking to herself – I wish I had a son to laugh and play with)…
  2. A non-human feature: Of all the Gods in the Hindu Pantheon, Ganesha is the most popular one whose form is not human-like. Even the monkey-god, Hanuman, is depicted in an 'almost' human-like feature. This very reason gives artists/people the liberty to interpret the non-human form in a thought of their own. The very ability to represent this god with few strokes / attributes – large ears, trunk, tusks, and pot-belly made it an interesting muse for many
  3. A non-angry God: The most popular of Lord Ganesh stories are all related to his child-hood except the fact that he also helped Sage Vyasa in compiling the Mahabharata (by writing it with his tusk non-stop). All popular Hindu mythological stories show different type of emotions of the Gods, including anger. However, this is not seen in terms of the stories related to Ganesha. 
  4. Endearing looks: The popular image of Ganesha is – Elephant head, Pot bellied, short arms and legs… By the very looks of Ganesha, he seems to be more like a playful child or friend. One the first glance, he looks someone whom you can take for granted
  5. A community God: The popularity of Ganesh grew with the community activity of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi during early 20th century. Since everyone would want to differentiate from what others are doing, experimenting with the looks of Lord Ganesh became a collective call. And since many people were involved, acceptance came naturally to changing the form of Lord Ganesh
It was during late 80's and early 90's that the Ganesha makeover became prominent. It could be tied to the rise of consumerism in India, with the economy opening up. The business community found new opportunities to expand, and Ganesh (along-with Goddess Laxmi) being the patron Lord of businessmen – success, remover of obstacles being some his KRA's; his presence grew too. Also, he was the right source for blessings for a new India where religion (with focus on sacrifice and frugality) and consumerism (with abundance & wishful spending) needed to co-exist

I'm no sociologist. These are my thoughts. Would love to hear from you what your point of view is..

Until then – Wishing you a Happy Ganesh Chaturthi

Cheers

Santosh

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