Song of Surrender

Friday, 6 December 2013

A Dancing Ganesa from the Pala era

By Chithra Madhavan

One of the most glorious epochs in Indian history was when the Pala dynasty ruled over most of what is today Bengal, Bihar and Bangladesh between the 8th-12th centuries A.D. Although much of Pala art is Buddhist, it also has many images belonging to the Hindu pantheon. Stone carvings of Nataraja, Surya, Uma Maheswara, Ganesa and Vishnu of superb workmanship belonging to this era can be seen in various places. Many of the metal sculptures of this period are also excellent pieces of art.

An image of Ganesa, carved of black stone, now in the Government Museum, Chennai, belongs to the Pala times. The stone on which it is carved is broken at the top, but fortunately, except for some minor damage, this image is intact.

This exquisite sculpture of this deity (Nritta Ganapati) dancing on a full-blown lotus is in tri-bhanga, with three bends in the body and eight hands and not four as is normally seen. His left leg, slightly bent, rests on the lotus. In the uppermost right hand, Ganesa holds a garland of beads (japa mala), held ever so delicately with just one finger. Another hand holds the axe (parasu), the third, unfortunately damaged, is in the gesture of assuring devotees not to fear (abhaya hasta), and the fourth right hand is seen hanging reaching down to the waist and holding an object not easily identifiable.

The topmost left hand is uplifted and does not hold any attribute so as to enable Vinayaka to depict various mudras; the second holds the elephant-goad (ankusha), the third holds an object not easily identifiable, but probably is the pasha (elephant-goad) and the fourth reaches out to a cupful of modaka. This image is much bejewelled with crown, necklaces, bangles, armlets and anklets.

Flanking the feet of the deity are tiny figures of two Siva ganas playing musical instruments. The one to the dancer’s right plays on two vertically placed drums, while the musician to the left sounds the cymbals. Both the artistes are apparently watching the dancer in blissful rapture, going by the expression on their faces. On one side of the base of the pedestal of the image is Ganesa’s mouse-vehicle (mushika-vahana) and on the other side is a supplicant devotee.

The sensitive onlooker can actually visualize this stone Ganesa dance. This anonymous sculptor of the Pala times surely deserves our appreciation.

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