26 March 2014

Celebrating Lord Ganesha at the British Museum

A temporary display has just gone up at the British Museumin London which throws light on how Lord Ganesha is worshipped in India, particularly in Mumbai during the Ganesh Chaturthi.

Curated by Manisha Nene, assistant director of galleries atChattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum) in Mumbai, the display also explains the context of worship and iconography of Ganesha.
In 2011, during British Museum's International Training Programme (ITP), Manisha Nene pitched the idea of Ganesha as part of her end-of-project presentation.

Little did she know that the idea would catch the fancy of Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, who invited her in 2012 to curate the show in collaboration with British Museum curators.
The display comprises a 13th-century sculpture of Ganesha (pictured) carved fromschist, two gouache paintings - Deccan and Tanjore style - and a 19th-century woodcut showing Ganesha seated with his consorts Buddhi and Siddhi. A domestic shrine to Ganesha has been recreated in the space, as it would be found in a Hindu home during Ganesh Chaturthi festival.

The only object in the display which was especially flown in from Mumbai is a contemporary statue of Ganesha exhibited in the domestic shrine, while the rest come from British Museum's own collection. 

The most popular stories are retold on the walls with illustrations and anaccompanying video in the exhibition shows how the Ganesha statues are made and worshipped. A rather light-hearted picture of Ganesha shown as an Indian cricketer brings home the point that there is no one way of displaying the deity.

Hindus will learn nothing new here and yet it's a wonderful display dealing with the symbolism, imagery and iconography of one of the most well-known Hindu gods in the western world. Another name by which the elephant-headed deity is known is vighnaharta - remover of obstacles. Let there be none to stop you visiting this little gem, if you happen to be in London.