Worship of Lord Ganesh Abroad

Our definite knowledge of the spread of Indian culture in all its aspects, beyond India, begins from the third century B.C., and we are in a position to say that in the course of ages, this culture had spread almost all over Asia, from Armenia to Japan, and from Eastern Siberia to Ceylon and to the islands of Indonesia; even further beyond, it left its impress upon other cultures.

The story of the spread of Buddhism since the time of Asoka, about the middle of the third century B C., is well- known. Far less known is the fact that Hinduism i.e. the Puranic form of Brahmanical religion, was also spread in all parts of Asia, and abundant traces of Hinduism and other aspects of Indian culture associated with it still remain in various regions of the continent. It is interesting to note that there was an Indian colony in the region of the Upper Euphrates river, to the west of Lake Van, as early as the second century B.C., and the temples of Hindu gods, tike Krishna, erected there were destroyed by the Christian monk St. Gregory early in the fourth century A.D., after defeating the Indians who stoutly resisted the iconoclastic fury of the Christians. The numerous magnificent remains of Hindu temples in Indo-China and Indonesia prove the nature and extent of the missionary zeal of the Hindus in remote parts of Asia.


The conception of Lord Ganesha is not confined to Hinduism. Buddhism in the course of its evolution, absorbed this conception. It is claimed by some Bauddhas that a mystic mantra in praise of Ganesha, called the Lord Ganeshahridaya, was revealed by the Buddha himself to his favourite disciple Ananda at Rajagriha. When Buddhism spread to other countries, it took along with it some aspects of Hinduism including the conception of Lord Ganesha. In China, for instance, the Tantric texts and practices were introduced by the Bauddha monks who went there. The doctrine of the mandalas of the two parts known as the Vajra- .dhatu and the Carbha-dhatu which was absorbed by the Ivlaha- yana from the Tantras became very popular in China. These mandalas are mystric diagrams wherein Vinayaka has his allotted place. In China as well as in Japan, Ganesha is represented in two ways. The first is the representation of Vinayaka in single form and the second is in double form. As regards the former, no comment is necessary. The second is evidently the result of Tantric influence. Here the figure is of two elephant-faced deities standing opposite each other, interlaced. The votaries who worshipped this form adopted modes of secret ritual and were evidently Tantrikas.

Ganesha Beyond the Indian Frontiers:

Quite a few images of Ganesha which can be ascribed to the Gupta period, are found in Afghanistan. There are, however, some images which have recently come to light. Of these, one was found some years ago at Cardez and was subsequently removed to Kabul where it is now worshipped by the Hindu residents of Kabul in Dargah Fir Rattan Math near the Pamir Cinema.

On stylistic grounds, the image can be dated to the end of 5th and the beginning of 6th century. It depicts Ganesha standing in the alidha pose. His hands, legs and the chest are muscular suggesting a strong Hellenistic influence. The trunk, which is broken, was turned to the left while the broken tusk is clearly indicated on the left. A close-fitting coronet on the head, a necklet (kanthi) fitting close in the neck are all noteworthy as in the Gupta sculptures of Sarnath. The ears have been camou- flaged into foliage and this has misled earlier visitors into think- ing that they were wings. His yajnopavita is a snake with which he is said to have secured his belly full of modakas. His undergarment is a short dhoti (ardhoruka) on which designs like lion's head (kirti-mukha}, lotus buds and tasselled fringe of swallow's tail occur while the torso, the belly the naga-yajno- pavita, the urdhvamedhra and various designs on his under- garment, all suggest that the inspiration is from Magadha. However, the anatomy of the figure, with an emphasis on muscular hands and legs, is clearly suggestive of lingering Hellenistic influence.

Another interesting marble image of Ganesha is reported from Afghanistan. It was found at Sakar Dhar (Shankar Dhar), ten miles north of Kabul, from where are reported very interesting images of Surya and Siva. It represents a standing Ganesha wearing an undergarment (antariya} which is characterised by the acanthus motif. What is remarkable is that the stem of the acanthus is intended to show Ganesha as urdhvamedhra, for the acanthus design appears to hang on it. The bulging belly is not, however of huge proportions that Ganesha is usually associated with. He wears a naga-yajnopavita with the knot simulating the snake's head. The chest is muscular as is common in Gandharan sculptures. The trunk rests sufficiently high above the left shoulder, a trait of early date. The right tusk is intact but the left is broken, suggesting that the image is a product of the recognised form of Ganesha as Ekadanta.

The ears are symmetrically spread fan-wise which, superficially studied, may give the impression of wings. He has four arms ; the upper left arm is broken and missing. The two lower arms are seen resting on the heads of the attendant ganas who are looking up at Ganesha with devotion. The ganas superficially suggest similarity with Greek dolphins and actually show the curly locks of hair the kundalas in the ears and the necklet which we meet in Gupta sculptures. The statue resembles the early Gupta sculptures and can therefore reasonably be dated to the 4th century. Stylistically it may fall in the transitional period of the art between the Kushana and the Gupta times. It is indeed interesting that the Hindus of Kabul still worship this image in the Shore Bazar locality (Narsingdwara) of Kabul.


A large number of Ganesha images have been found in Nepal. Among these, mention should be made of two images at Kathmandu. They are rather unusual and are of considerable iconographical interest. They both show a rat under each foot of Ganesha. Both have one head, but one has four hands while the other has sixteen and both embrace the Shakthi.

Heramba was the most popular form of Ganesha in Nepal. In this form he is usually shown with his vahana lion, has five heads, ten hands and on his lap is his Shakthi. However, an unusual image of Heramba Ganesha was found at Bhatgaon which is dated 1695. It has a rat instead of a lion as vahana. Yet one more interesting statue of bronze in the Museum fur Volkerkunde in Munich shows a rat under one foot and a lion under the other.

There are some temples of Ganesha in Nepal. Among these, one near Zimpi-Tandu can be dated, on the basis of epigraphical evidence, to 8th-1 Oth cent. A. 0. Another temple of Siddha- Vinayaka is at Shanku. To the north of Thankot is a temple of Ganesha which has, in addition, the representations of Sapta- matrikas. It may be incidentally stated that the Saptamantrikas are accompanied by Ganesha in India.

In the Nepalese harvest festivals, Parvati is represented as a young girl, accompanied by two boys Ganesha and Mahakala. It may be recalled in this connection that Ganesha is associated with harvest festivals in western India particularly in Konkan.


A few images of Ganesha have been found in western Tibet where he was looked upon as a powerful guardian against demons and evil spirits. It is interesting to note that in this role of guardian his image was placed above the main entrance to Tibetan temples, including Buddhist temples. This is basically a Hindu tradition for, we find in India that the images of Ganesha were carved on the entrance to Hindu temples. This entamblature b\ock-Ganeshapattika-'\s to be found in all the Hindu temples. It is therefore most likely that the tradition travelled to Tibet from India along with the worship of Ganesha.

Female forms of Ganesha are extremely rare. In India the most notewo'thy is the Ganeshani in the 64 Yogini temple at Bheraghat (M. P.L In Tibet also we come across female forms of Ganesha. The Buddhists in Tibet depicted the female and male forms of Ganesha, as being trampled upon by Mahakala, Krishnamanjusiri and other Buddhist gods.

Ganesha was most popular in Khotan. A number of bronze tablets and painted wooden panels were discovered by Stein in the course of his explorations of a stupa at Endere. Here some of the representations are in the classic Indian form whereas others can be distinguished by certain characteristics peculiar to Chinese Turkestan.

In the rock-cut temples of Bezaklik, there are several frescoes in which representations of Ganesha are found. They usually depict him seated with six arms. holding sun and moon banner and probably the matulinga. Behind his head is a nimbus (prabha-valaya). An interesting feature of these representations of Ganesha is that the elephant face does not follow the usual representation of the god because the trunk somewhat resembles the snout of a wild boar.

At Khaklik, about 75 miles from Khotan, two painted repre- sentations of Ganesha have been found. Of these, one depicts an emaciated Ganesha. Three of his hands are seen : they hold a bowl of sweets, goad [ankusha) and radish each. The upper left hand is not clearly seen. The god is shown wearing a dhoti like lower garment [antariya) and an upper garment (uttariya]

Another figure shows Ganesha seated on a cushion with prabha-valaya at the back. He wears a crown and jewellery on his person. The trunk is turned towards right and he appears to be looking at the female attendant on his left. He has four arms, each holding a radish, a modaka, an indistinct object and one hand is seen resting on the thigh. He wears a bluish lower garment.


With the introduction of Buddhism in Mongolia, Ganesha reached that land. Buddhism spread there through Tibet and and the Tibetan monk Hphagspa carried Mahayana Buddhism into Mongolia in the 13th century and is said to have converted even the Emperor Kublai Khan. To the Mongols, Mahakala was only the manifestation of Siva and it was, therefore, quite natural that Ganesha should have become popular in Mongolia. The dancing form of Ganesha (Nritta Lord Ganesha) is to be found among the "five-hundred gods of Nar-than". He is shown on his mount (vahana} rat which holds the jewel chintamani in its mouth. The four hands hold each an axe (parasu). radish {mula- kanda}, bowl of sweets and a trident- According to a legend, the father of Hphagspa is said to have invoked Ganesha who took him up with his trunk, carried him to the top of Mount Meru and showing him the country of Mongolia said, "Thy son shall subjugate this whole country", which proved to be true.

Sri Lanka

A fine image of Ganesha is sculptured on a pillar in a Siva temple at Polonnaruva. It is carved in a niche crowned by a Kitti-mukha. He is seated and has four hands of which the lower left holds modaka. In the temple of Subrahmaniam at Katargama, about 150 miles from Colombo, Ganesha occupies an indepen- dent position. He is worshipped even by Christians and Muslims.


The Burmese are professedly Buddhist and follow the Pali canon of the Southern school. Buddhism was introduced in Burma in the latter half of the 11th century. However, Hinduism ,appears to have already penetrated into Burma long before Buddhism. This is evident from innumerable images of Saiva and Vaishnava gods and goddesses which have so far been found in that country. There is abundant evidence—epigraphi- cal and otherwise—to show the existence of a considerable number of Hindus, particularly Brahmins, in Burma as priests, astrologers, architects, etc., who probably occupied positions of influence and responsibility. This perhaps took place in the 5th-6th centuries A. D. during the time of Imperial Gupta Rulers. It were these people who introduced and carried with them images of various deities of the Hindu pantheon.

A good number of Ganesha images have so far been found in lower Burma, for in upper Burma Mahayana Buddhism held sway. Ganesha being the god who removed obstacles and granted success in any undertaking, his images were carried by merchants and traders who went out of India in order to achieve success in trade and commerce beyond the seas. Their journey was extremely hazardous and full of dangers. It is, therefore very natural that they carried with them small portable idols of Ganesha. Professor Ray rightly observes that, "Ganesha found popular favour mainly with the commercial section of the popu- lation". In Burma, especially in the delta regions of lower Burma, Indian immigrants had settled in large numbers. In this region, which was their commercial stronghold, a number of small images of Ganesha have been found. They are modest in size, crude in execution and are devoid of any artistic merit. They were probably carried from place to place by merchants and traders as they travelled far and wide in the country.

There are two interesting images of Ganesha in the Rangoon Museum. Both are small in size and are carved in low relief. One of them shows the god seated in padmasana and six armed. The attributes in his hands are not clearly visible. The upper left appears to be holding a discus (chakra) and a noose (pasa) while the lower hands hold the bilva fruit and the trunk respec- tively. Both the images betray poor workmanship.

Professor Ray has noticed fragments of images of Ganesha within the precincts of the Shwesandaw Pagoda; Pagan, where, he is placed along with other Hindu divinities at the corner of the different pyramidal structures as guardian deities of the Buddhist shrine.


Thailand (popularly known as Siam) came into contact with India at a very early period. The stylistic evidence shows the influence of the Amaravati school on Siamese art in the early centuries of the Christian era. Later still the Gupta, Pallava and Pala elements are noticeable in Siamese art. It appears that the southern part of Thailand came first into contact with India. It was easier for Indian traders to push further eastward from lower Burma into Thailand. This should explain the strong Burmese Hindu influence on the Mon art during 6th-8th century A. D.

The Mons were devout Hindus. Notwithstanding the fact that the Thais adhered to Buddhism later, Ganesha was popular among them all. Several statues of Ganesha have been found. Among these, those of the Ayuthian period are noteworthy. The early art of Ayuthia (Ayodhya) betrays strong Indian influence.

In the famous Hindu temple at Bangkok, there is an interes- ting bronze statue of Ganesha. He is shown with his legs superposed. He wears a naga yajnopavita. In his right hand is to be seen the broken tusk while in the left is a manuscript. This can be taken, with a reasonable amount of certainty, to be the representation of Ganesha as a scribe {lekhaka) for the sage Vyasa who is traditionally supposed to have dictated the whole Mahabharata to Ganesha. This is not unlikely in view of the fact that the great epic had already reached as far as Cambodia by 6th century. It may also suggest Ganesha's association with knowledge (jnana).


Legendary accounts show that India came into contact with Cambodia at quite an early period. Tradition tells us that about the early centuries of the Christian era a Brahmin by name

Kaundinya journeyed to the coast of Cambodia and established a kingdom there. He Indianised the country completely, and the Chinese reports state : "They worship the Spirits of Heaven and make images of bronze. Those with two faces have four arms and those with four faces have eight arms". These are obvious references to Hindu gods and demonstrate how deep the Hindu influence had penetrated into Cambodia.

Cambodia is extremely rich in sculptural remains and there are innumerable images of Hindu, including Buddhist divinities. Just as in Burma and Thailand, in Cambodia too a number of Ganesha images have come to light. As already observed, the Mahabharata was known in Cambodia as early as the 6th cen- tury. It, therefore, seems likely that they knew Ganesha from an early period. This is confirmed by the evidence from the inscriptions of Angkor Borei, dated 611 A. D. which records the grant of slaves to the temple which was dedicated to several deities of which one was Ganesha.

One temple at Prasat Bak (10th century) was apparently dedicated to the worship of Ganesha. Ganesha is also depicted in the scenes in Bung Meglea and his statues have also been discovered in the vicinity of Kuk Trapeang Kul temple. Several other loose sculptures have also been found from time to time. Ganesha is known as 'Prah Kenes' in Cambodia and his repre- sentations can be distinguished on account of certain charac- teristic features. First and foremost, he is never shown as pot- bellied and bulky. He is usually shown sitting cross-legged and with two hands. The trunk is almost straight and curled down at the end ; sometimes it is upturned also. Another noteworthy feature is that the pre-Khmer images and Ganesha, as a rule, are not shown with head-dress of any sort. However, towards the 8th century we find Ganesha wearing an ornate karanda-mukuta. They are usually bare to the waist and are shown wearing a Naga-yajnopavita.

One of the most remarkable images of Ganesha is in a private collection as Speak Thmar Kendal. It depicts Ganesha sitting in a cross-legged posture. He has two hands and wears a tall conical head-gear. Curiously enough, he has four heads. It may be especially mentioned that four-headed forms of Ganesha are extremely rare and the only parallel that can be cited is from Ghatiala (Rajasthan) in India where four Ganesha images are carved on the top of a column in cardinal directions.


To the east of Funan and Cambodia was situated the king- dom of Champa which is now occupied by the central and southern Annam. The very name Champa is thoroughly Indian and it is clear from the monuments, statuary and inscriptions found in that ancient country that the early civilisation flourish- ing there was due to strong influence from India.

There is epigraphical evidence to show that temples were erected and dedicated to Ganesha. One such sanctuary was at Po Nagar. From the cultural evidence it appears that Ganesha was quite popular during 7th-8th centuries A.D. A most impressive statue of Ganesha was discovered at Mi-so'n where a Savia shrine was found. The statue is dated to about 8th century. As compared to the Khmer representations of Ganesha, this image appears rather bulky. It is characterised by rather coarse plastic treatment. Another seated image was also found at Mi-so'n. Yet the most interesting is the Ganesha image in the Saigon Museum. It is unfortunately in a mutilated condition. It shows Ganesha seated, and with two hands. Curiously enough. it has three deep-set eyes. He also has a small prabha-valaya at the back. According to Boisseller, it is the only representation of its kind in the whole of South east Asia.

Java and Ball

It appears that Java was known to Indians from a very long period, for the Ramayana refers to the islands as Yava dvipa. Innumerable sculptures of Brahmanical gods and goddesses have been found in Indonesia. In Java. however, there does not appear to be a cult of Ganesha and no temples were dedicated to him but his images have been found in the temples of Siva.

Among the statues of Ganesha in Java the most primitive is the one discovered in west Java. The carving is very crude and the statue appears to be unfinished. Some scholars would like to assign it a very early date only because it is so primitive. How- ever, the image appears unfinished and it is therefore extremely difficult to date it with precision. Another early Ganesha statue is a small bronze which is now in the British Museum.

The stone statue of Ganesha found on the Dieng plateau is believed to be the most ancient representation of the deitv in Java. It appears that, stylistically at least, it may be later than the preceding one. It shows Ganesha sitting, with four hands ; the proper right hand holding the broken tusk and the left, a bowl of sweets while the upper two hold a parasu and a akshamala. He wears armlets, bracelets, a necklace and a nagaya/nopavita. but there is no crown on the head.

One of the finest statues of Ganesha from Chandi Banon is now housed in the Djakarta Museum Practically nothing now remains of Chandi Banon, a Saivite monument near Borobudur. The statue depicts Ganesha seated and wearing a flowered garment and jewellery. In the right hand he holds a broken tusk and a rosary while in lower left hand is a bowl of sweets. The object in the upper left hand is broken.

The use of skull ornaments in the representation of Ganesha images is a purely Javanese conception. This happened because of Ganesha's association with Siva who, in the form of Bhairava, wears a garland of skulls (Kapa/a-ma/a). This is best illustrated by the Ganesha image of Bara. According to the chronogram in words on its pedestal, it is dated 1239 A.D. in the early Singhasari period. He carries his usual attributes but a number of skulls are seen on the pedestal. Ganesha is the god who removes alt dangers and difficulties. In this case he is himself protected by a large Kala head against dangerous influences threatening him from the rear. The large canines and the long tongue of the Kala recall modern Balinese masks. The back hands of Ganesha are at the same time used for the claws of the Kala.

| Links |

MantraOnNet.com, All Rights Reserved