India, Uttar Pradesh
8th century
H. 49 1/2 in. (125.7 cm); 1979.13


Artist Comments

Bjorn Amelan and Bill T. Jones

In the world of the Hindu gods, body shape and mass are of no concern when it comes to the mastery of gesture and the outrageous undulating placement/displacement of skel-eton and flesh that we recognize as grace. This eighth-century Ganesha from Uttar Pradesh makes a convincing case.

One can only marvel at the understanding of anatomy, the visceral sense of movement and rhythm, and the choreographic skill of the artist who produced this performance in stone. This multi-armed, squat little figure with dimpled paunch, thick legs, sensitive hands and feet, has the head of an elephant. He is in fact a dancing elephant, presaging Walt Disney's Fantasia by roughly twelve hundred years.

Ganesha is caught in an ecstatic off- centered swirl of movement. Yet there is nothing frantic or out of control here.

The alert attentiveness of his large ears make palpable his celestial accompaniment. The elegant placement of his many hands-all performing effortlessly complex mudras-are in sophisticated counterpoint to the graceful rhythm of his belt and swaying trunk.

This is a suave and elegant dancer who throws out his left hip with sensual-I dare say sexy-finesse while observing us with aloof tiny eyes, as if to say, "Jump on in! Let's see what you can do! I dare you."

Milton Glaser
This playful depiction of Ganesha charms us immediately. The sense of motion reminds us of a futurist painting or a stroboscopic photograph of a figure in motion. This sense of movement is rarely attempted in sculpture but here it is the defining characteristic of the piece. This might be called "Ganesha Swings." Cubism, the movies, and photography have all changed the way we perceive time in relationship to imagery. For us it's more natural to read this sculpture as a series of moving forms rather than a creature with ten arms. The combination of naturalistic observation and knowing stylization is impressive. For instance, Ganesha's stomach demonstrates that the sculptor really understands anatomy very well but has abstracted the forms to produce a more harmonious effect.

Gita Mehta
As the son of Shiva, Lord of the Dance, the elephant-headed Ganesha is often depicted in endearingly sensual, even humorous, dance postures, inviting devotees to approach him as the remover of obstacles. But one of Ganesha's tusks is always broken-here held aloft in a left hand-making the god particularly beloved to writers.

It is said that sitting on a riverbank a great sage dictated a poem to Ganesha. The sage's recitation continued for nights and days without pause until all Ganesha's pens had worn away. Rather than interrupt the flow of the sage's inspiration, the elephant-headed god broke off one of his tusks, dipped it into ink, and carried on writing.

With his sacrifice Ganesha ensured that mankind would possess the longest-and to Indians, the greatest-epic poem in human history, the Mahabharata.