Even before the film “My Friend Ganesha” captured the nation’s imagination, the figure of Ganesh, or Mumbai’s Ganpati Bappa, has always commanded our attention.
My mother has always selected her Ganesh idol based on what attracted her at first glance but some devotees pick up ones resembling their favourite cricketer, pugilist or even film star. I kid you not when I say I have seen “Bahubaali” Ganesh and even ‘Bajirao’ ones.
The most exceptional ones Ma has ever selected were a toddler sporting a flimsy nightie-like outfit and another one a carbon-copy manifestation of the Tirupati. When I quiz a local veteran idol maker about the popular idol varieties, here’s what he has to say.
“Yes, traditional style idols such as Bal Ganpati, Tambdi (Red) Ganpati, Pune’s famous Dagdusheth or Manacha Ganpati, or even Pandurang or Peshwa Ganesh idols will always curry favour as will simple idols in Padmasana (sitting cross-legged) poses,” says idol maker Desai from the central suburbs, as these represent prosperity and calmness.
Continuing in the same strain, he avers, “We do create idiosyncratic pieces but only on order, as they are very faddish and it’s uncertain if they will be selected for worshipping at homes.” He has also noted the steep rise in demand for eco-friendly idols in the last five years or so, and believes that the supply matches the demand.
Ganesh in eco-activism and sustainability
From the mandatory Plaster of Paris idols that harm the environment in a fashion paralleling plastics, the last few years have seen eco-friendly alternatives that are getting increasingly popular. There is the fish-friendly Ganesh, Tree Ganesh (water the clay idol to see it melt and its hidden seeds begin to sprout), Gobar Ganesh, etc.
“It goes beyond eco-friendliness, it’s about loving and sustaining our nature,” says Sudha, a college student who insists that her family choose an eco-friendly figurine every year for the last two years.
“What we take from nature we should ensure to return unchanged and unharmed, especially when it’s about worshipping Ganpati – the Lord of all,” she says breaking into a smile. She also clarifies how important it is to keep the decoration green so as to keep the carbon footprint at a minimum.
Ganesh on American television
The transient (read un-researched) nature of American television is evident in many instances. Since we are on the topic of Ganesh, let’s weigh our options. The TV show ‘Supernatural’ that relies heavily on Judeo-Christian mythology handles other mythologies with less-than-required respect.
The episode titled “Hammer of the Gods” from Season 5 has demon-hunting brothers Dean and Sam Winchester visit a motel that’s the meeting spot of all kinds of gods including Ganesh and Kali, who are not nearly as powerful as the Christian God.
What takes the cake is Lucifer manages to kill Ganesh and Kali is only saved by Archangel Gabriel. Another series “American Gods” has faced its share of flak for its own insensitive portrayal of Ganesha as well.
So much for protests against cultural misappropriation, especially to a totally lovable figure like Ganpati!
Ganesh in painting
Ganpati is a popular choice for paintings. Just walk on the promenade lining the Jehangir Art Gallery and you will see Ganesh paintings outnumber any other subject. It’s little surprise then that some of the most well-known Ganpati paintings have been courtesy Indian artists, one of whom was born in Pandharpur.
One of India’s most prominent artists late M F Husain repeatedly showcased Ganpati in his works. In his famous Indian Civilisation series, the artist began by ceremonially painting Ganesh before all and invoking his blessings.
Ganpati is represented as a four-armed man with an elephant head here. Be it the Kite Series or the equally loved Ashtavinayak Series, Ganesha has been shown in a different light in Husain’s works.
Ganesh in music
Take any Carnatic music concert; it’s sure to begin with the Sanskrit kriti “Vatapi Ganapatim Bhaje”, with grand lady of Carnatic music late M S Subbulakshmi’s dramatic and dulcet rendition still a classic favourite in most homes in South India while the Tamil composition “Mooladhara Moorthy” is another Ganesh inspired gem.
An alt rock/pop band from Kolkata called The Ganesh Talkies has influences ranging from the Bappi Lahiri’s disco aesthetics to classic ’90s Indi-pop culture among other socio-political strains. While Ganesha’s spirituality may not have influenced them directly, the name did get them their share of audience attention and more.
American Rapper MC Yogi aka Nicholas Giacomini is visibly influenced by Indian myths especially in his musical output, with tracks such as Ganesh is Fresh, Son of Shiva and a hit album called “Elephant Power”. Popular kirtan singer Krishna Das has voiced many paeans in honour of Ganesh with “Shree Ganesh Mantra” being quite the crowd puller at satsangs still.
Another sacred music composer cum kirtan artist Douglas or Jai Uttal’s “Ganesh Sharanam” was also quite well-received. David Newman (Durga Das) another renowned kirtan artist has made quite the mark with “Ganesh Gayatri” and “Jai Ganesh” among other songs dedicated to Ganpati.
For what it’s worth, American and world music lovers have been more welcoming of our little Bappa than has been their mainstream television industry.
Ganesh as divine inspiration
Rukmini has 13 gold pendants, depicting Bappa in his various forms and she means to continue collecting. “I love his pratima (image) and what’s a better way to carry him around than in this fashion. In fact, I think I make quite a fashion statement with a different Ganpati pendant around my neck every day.”
She is hardly an isolated case. We all know friends who collect Ganesh images or things such as phone covers, laptop sleeves, wall hangings, etc. with his image on it. Bappa has his own cottage industry of providing divine inspiration right in devotees’ homes.
Ganesh from around the world
However tiny he may be in front of divine Hindu behemoths like Shiv and Vishnu, our Lord Ganesh has created his own niche and following not only in our hearts but the world over.
Be it in Japan as Kangiten, Shoten and Binayaka, in Thailand monikered Phra Phikanet, Manjangan in Indonesia, or our own Jain and Tantric variants, it really feels like East or West, Bappa is the best! Even in pop culture of today or of yore.