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"From temple to home: Celebrating Ganesha" opens at the British Museum in London
A beautiful stone sculpture of Ganehsa. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

LONDON.- The elephant-headed Ganesha is one of the most popular Hindu gods - the creator and remover of obstacles. A beautiful stone sculpture of Ganehsa is at the heart of this Asahi Shimbun Display in Room 3 at the British Museum. Carved from schist in Orissa (recently renamed Odisha) around 800 years ago, this statue of Ganesha was originally positioned in a niche on the outer face of a Hindu temple. Standing on a lotus pedestal, Ganesha is depicted with a lion mask above his head, snakes as anklets and his rat ‘vahana’, his vehicle, at his feet. The display brings this sculpture together with other more recent depictions of Ganesha in order to explore his role as a figure of public celebration and private devotion in India.

There are many temples dedicated to Ganesha throughout South Asia and Indian artists have depicted this loveable god for over a thousand years in different forms. This Room 3 display includes a small number of 18th century representations of the god to show different regional styles for depicting Ganesha. A favourite amongst the many gods worshipped by Hindus, Ganesha is the deity whom worshipers first acknowledge when they visit a temple. Statues of Ganesha can be found in most Indian towns. His image is placed where new houses are to be built; he is honoured at the start of a journey or business venture, and poets traditionally invoke him at the start of a book. Ganesha is also popular within India among followers of other religions. Across the sub-continent, stories are told to explain Ganesha’s origins, attributes and unusual appearance, some of which are related in this display.

This presentation of Ganesha is curated by Manisha Nene of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in Mumbai, who participated in the British Museum’s International Training Programme (ITP) in 2011. The ITP promotes the mutual sharing of knowledge, skills and experience as museum and heritage professionals from across the world are hosted by the British Museum and UK partner museums. During her time on the ITP, Manisha prepared a proposal for a temporary display about Ganesha, which proved so popular that Manisha was asked to develop it in collaboration with British Museum curators.

The home city of curator Manisha Nene enters the display through the focus on the Ganeshchaturthi festival, which is celebrated in Mumbai on a grand scale. On the fourth day of the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada (August - September), thousands of clay images are worshipped in households and a similar number of huge images of Ganesha are made for the public festival and worshipped for ten days. The festival comes to an end with the immersion of Ganesha images in lakes, rivers and the sea. A domestic shrine of the type installed in the homes of devotees during the festival is recreated in the display, reflecting the quiet, private counterpoint to the public festivities.

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