Upon announcing the gift of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd (JDR 3rd) collection to Asia Society in 1974, JDR 3rd stated, “My own experience tells me that anyone who becomes acquainted with the arts and cultures of Asia acquires a greatly augmented sense of appreciation and respect for its peoples. We hope that the collection, integrated into the Asia Society’s programs, can help instill in Asian-American relations an added sense of importance and opportunity.”1 In the early 1970s, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd acquired a superb statue of Ganesha, the beloved elephant-headed deity of South Asian origins from a New York art dealer under the advice of their advisor Sherman E. Lee. Ganesha reflects the Rockefellers’ preference for artworks of high-quality workmanship that represent the great religious traditions of India (Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain). The Rockefellers acquired Ganesha, which is larger than most sculptures in the collection, with the intention of displaying him for an American museum audience with little knowledge of India’s rich cultural heritage.

Since an invocation to Ganesha traditionally commences new undertakings to ensure success—particularly challenging journeys, it is fitting that this section of the exhibition focuses on Ganesha as part of a larger exploration of the post–World War II legacy of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd.

1Asia Society Advance for Release in Morning Papers, 1974

India, Uttar Pradesh
8th century
Asia Society, New York: Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, 1979.13


Ganesha’s status as a major deity in eighth-century northern India is beautifully demonstrated by this piece in his dancing aspect (Nritya-Ganapati). This sizeable sculpture depicts Ganesha with an elephant head and ten arms that yield, in clockwise order, a plethora of objects in their hands: a broken tusk (upper right), battle-axe, bowl of sweets (laddus or modaka), rosary, and snake. As befitting a revered deity, his body is richly adorned with jewels, a headdress, a lion-skin skirt (visible at the hem line), and a multi-stranded sacred thread, which drapes over his shoulder and torso. He is framed by a mandorla (or body halo, now partly missing) and celestial musicians. Ganesha dances in rhythm to their drumming and cymbals on a lotus throne (asana) supported by two rat mounts (vahana). In the early 1970s, JDR 3rd and Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller acquired this piece from a New York art dealer under the recommendation of their advisor Sherman E. Lee.
Uma-Maheshvara (Shiva with his consort)
Thakuri period, 10th century
Stone with traces of gold leaf
Asia Society, New York: Estate of Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller, 1992.2


The abraded surface of this stele indicates that it was once the focus of Hindu puja, or worship, while its narrative content portrays Ganesha as one of a lively triad of dancing ganas (dwarf attendants to Shiva). At the bottom center is Virabhadra, a favorite gana of Parvati, who appears to assume the role of leader of the ganas due to his central position. He is flanked by the elephant-headed Ganesha and the emaciated Bhringi, as well as an array of gana musicians. Ganesha’s four arms link him to the four-armed Shiva. The theme of this elaborate composition was frequently rendered by the Newari artists of Nepal and is closely related to a passage in the Kumarasambhava. To the delight of the divine parents who sit lovingly together in postures of ease, the ganas celebrate the birth of Karttikeya in the couple’s celestial abode on Mount Kailasa. Karttikeya (also known as Kumara or Skanda) assumes a place of honor beside Shiva, and astride Nandi, the god’s sacred bull. The motif of a mountain peak, articulated here by a tiered arrangement of rock formations, not only captures the spirit of the Himalayan range in Nepal, but is a symbol of the Hindu temple.