Wishing You Prosperity, Through The Elephant God
At first glance, I guess this photograph of Ganesh, the Hindu god of prosperity, looks as if it has captured four carved figures, placed back-to-back. But it's actually only two figures with a mirror behind them. Naturally, I had to compose the shot just as I saw it.
This series was shot on a hot, humid afternoon in Singapore. I had spent a couple of hours walking the streets, shooting as many scenes as I could - and some of that time had been spent sheltering in arcades as thunderstorms lashed the area and cleared, only to return with torrential downpours through the afternoon.
I grew up in Calcutta, and even though I am a Christian, I was always fascinated by the quality of work produced by the city’s clay artisans, who were famous for producing thousands of images of the Hindu gods. Probably the most famous of them all were the artisans of an area known as Kumartuli - and the next time I return to the city of my birth, I’ll take my camera there to try and capture their amazing work.
These shots were taken on Clive Street, near Singapore’s Little India zone. These beautiful figures were displayed on the footpath and the owner of the shop readily gave me permission to photograph them.
I didn’t get a chance to meet the craftsmen who actually created these figures, but if I’d had more time, I would have waited there to watch them at work. Some years ago, I photographed wood carvers in Bali, Indonesia - and was fascinated to see works of art appear, as if by magic, from the stunning way in which they wielded their chisels.
Ganesh or Ganesha, the Hindu deity with the head of an elephant and the body of a human, is the lord of success as well as the conqueror of evil. Easily identifiable, he is the son of Shiva and Parvati and is regarded as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. The size of Ganesha’s ears is central to his connection to those who worship him, because they denote his ability to hear the petitions of all his worshippers.
I wish I'd had the opportunity to meet the artisans, because I would have asked if these were custom-made figures. If you look closely at these shots, you’ll notice that the Ganesh replicas do not include the customary broken tusk - regarded by Hindus as a symbol of sacrifice - held in one of his hands.
This final frame (below) includes some of the equipment used by the craftsmen. If I hadn't been so pressed for time, I would have enjoyed sitting down and watching them at work. There is no greater privilege than watching a true artisan at work.
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