Wednesday, March 04, 2009

G Is For Ganesh

Wishing You Prosperity, Through The Elephant God

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


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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45 comments:

Janet said...

Beautiful artistry, and fascinating commentary. I always learn something when I come here.

jinksy said...

Elephants are majestic creatures, and no mistake. It's very easy to understand how they are symbolic of the Hidu deity.Their longevity and wisdom are undisputed, and your photos certainly do justice to Ganesh.

Denise said...

It's a great pity that you can't nominate yourself for Post of the Day David. I would most definitely nominate this one, wonderful images and a great post.

Chapati said...

Thanks David - you've inspired a post!

Celebration of Life said...

It's always a delight to read your blog posts, David! Thank you for enriching my world!

Merisi said...

I enjoyed looking at these great pictures of fascinating sculptures and reading about them, thank you!

Digging deeper into a place's inner workings, observing artisans and artists at work, talking to them, are the reasons I enjoy returning to the same places over and over again.

Artist Unplugged said...

How fascinating, such amazing abilities and talents they have. Thanks so much for sharing your photos.

Mojo said...

Marvelous images. I"d love to get some shots of sculptures like these. Unfortunately, the only ones I've come across around here are plastic ones -- and made in China. (I still couldn't resist picking up a plastic Lakshmi last October at the local Diwali festival though.)

Next time round, you'll have to tell the story of how Ganesh came to have an elephant's head.

Carolina said...

A beautiful G-post (have to be careful not to juggle the letters ;-)).

The day before yesterday an elephant had to be put down in a zoo here in the Netherlands (the zoo that we have visited often because we used to live almost next door to it), because it fell into a dry ditch. The news showed a clip of the elephant lying in that ditch and she had such a sad and resigned look on her face, as if she knew that life had ended for her. So terribly sad, I'm teared up typing this.

So, I will regard your G-post (oops, almost wrong) as a tribute to her too. I hope you don't mind.

Sujatha said...

Am a recent visitor to your blog. Loved this post! And I hope for our sake and yours if such an opportunity ever came up, you have the time to talk to the artisans and watch them work. :)

Pat said...

Fascinating photography and information. Thanks, David.

TheWritersPorch said...

David what wonderful pictures!
I noticed that some have they're trunks down, I've always heard that it is unlucky for an Elephant to have it's trunk down. I guess these disprove that!

ArneA said...

Ganesh, the Hindu god of prosperity?
I have always seen him as the Remover of Obstacles.
For me he represent the challenges faced after my heart attack through transplantation and dealing with side effects from suppression of the immune defense system

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Absolutely gorgeous - I especially like the green statue and your final photograph is stunning, and is my favourite - POTD, David, is yours!

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

I love elephants and they are gorgeous pieces of artwork. We could do with a few symbols of prosperity over here at the moment!

Louise said...

These are wonderful. It would be intriguing to watch them be made. Maybe another day.

Jewels said...

I love elephants - the gentle giants. What a good icon for a God.

If I could fit an elephant in my backyard I would definitely have one... but I can't... so I'll stick with the cats.

Maggie May said...

I always learn something on your blog, David!
Lovely photos . I said the last post was exotic....... but this one is too!
The mirrors seem to make it all the more mystical.

John said...

Great composed shots and a nice posting for the letter.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

wow thanks David for the beautiful thoughts and images...l agree with al they are majestic and a wonder to behold..

spacedlaw said...

One of my favourite deities!

Sujatha said...

David, I was going to leave an offhand comment on your straw hat post below saying how I'd love some of that 100 degree weather where I am right now. But I could not bring myself to.

We were in Melbourne and Apollo Bay (among other cities) in Dec 2006. Wild fires were a problem then too. We stopped by at the light house near Apollo Bay which they were trying to protect by taking down as much of the nearby treeline as they could. The caretaker of the light house took one look at our then 5 month-old daughter and called her "chicken chops," an expression we'd never heard before but one that tickled us no end. We remember the people and the places with fondness. I hope nature is kind to your part of the world soon.

P.S. Apologies for the rather longish comment.

San said...

I really enjoy the concept of the prosperity being "doubled" in the mirror.

And the broken tusk--representing sacrifice--that is just beautiful. Wonder why that was left non-depicted here.

Sylvia K said...

A marvelous, fascinating post and exquisite photos! Thanks, as always, David!

cheshire wife said...

Those elephants are wonderful. It would indeed be a privilege to see such craftsmen at work.

naturglede said...

Realy spesial post today. Fascinating figures:)

Nessa said...

Very beautiful carvings.

richies said...

Great photos, and I learned something new. Now that's a GREAT combination.

An Arkies Musings

Liv said...

Great figures and really good shots!

Maddy said...

Glad you mentioned the mirror of I might have missed that. As I've just escaped from the garage where I've been throwing pots on the wheel [wobbly ones] I particularly appreciate the skills to design and build such a creation.
Cheers

Tiaras and Tantrums said...

has anyone ever told you that you live a very blessed life! SO lovely that you share it with us!

Rinkly Rimes said...

It's easy to see that the internet is a great tool for education! Already today I've learned about Ganesh!

ChrisC and JonJ said...

Ooops,at first I thought you meant ganache,the icing on a cake.But I like this post too.Just doesn't taste as good as ganache.
Seriously,beautiful post.

Babooshka said...

Fascinating and like the Bangles actually takes me back to my youth and the Cosmopolitan city I'm from.

photowannabe said...

Such artistic talent. I like how you tightened the shots so we could see the textures and craftmanship.

Life with Kaishon said...

Wow. They are fascinating sculptures. Very beautiful. Sacred elephants. Something to think about today!

citizen of the world said...

I love the first photo - the elephants are looing delightfully louche.

Paula Scott said...

Oh! How I love those Ganeshes (or whatever the plural would be)!
We could use more of these in the world, couldn't we?
What a fun adventure that must've been searching for images to take while dodging the rain. I've forgotten what rain is...haven't seen it in MONTHS.

M said...

I love the elephants! Great photos too.

I teach many Indian children...in fact, there are 9 different languages spoken in my kindergarten class this year...that's out of 20 kids!

Lynn The Journalist said...

After taking a second look at the first picture, I had to count the clay models in the third. Two right? :) I am not committed to any religion, so I also find these things interesting. Beautiful pictures.

Tumblewords: said...

Glorious narrative and photography. Thank you!

introspection said...

Pune (Poona), the place where I currently live is a city of Ganesh. Each year a week long celebrations are held during August. It's called "Ganesh Utsav". Musicians, celebrities and artists visit Poona to perform during this week. Lord Ganesh statuettes are seen in each home, office, temples etc. Local artisans produce millions of Ganesh statues ranging from 1 inch to 20 feet in clay, metal, or polythene . They begin work on staues 2/3 months before the actual "Ganesh celebrations" .
David, when you plan your next visit to the country of your birth try including Poona in your itinerary and you'll love photographing these artists and their colorful Art.
I will be glad to show you around Pune.

i beati said...

I've ordered 100- lots of repairs in house.hahah

Jay said...

I love to watch a skilled artisan working. It would have been fascinating.

I love the little figures. I didn't know about the broken tusk though!

dulce said...

Great photos.
Have a nice week