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Ganesh in South-East Asia

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Ganesh worship has been disseminated in nearly all the Far-East Asia countries. More or less numerous representations of this god are known in the following countries :

Afghanistan, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Japan, etc.

We have not visited these countries, except Bali. Thus, documents and images available to us are fewer in number; indication is given about copyrights.

Ganesh in Afghanistan

Recent long periods of war have most probably destroyed most museums and archeological sites in this country.

Afghanistan is one of the countries where most antique discoveries about Ganesh have been done. His local name was Maha-Vinâyaka. Specialists quote the following representations :

Found in Gardez, then deposited at the Dargah Pir Rattan Nath (Kabul), a marble Ganesh dated from the year 753. Before the war, the statue was already damaged and showed an influence of the Gandhara Realm in north-west India in the first centuries A.D. style. The Ganesh body is covered by a tiger skin and His head is surmounted by a fashionable crown.

Found at Sakar Dhar, north of Kabul, another Ganesh statue is supposed to be deposited at the Narsinghdvara in Kabul. Ganesh is accompanied by two Gana Dwarf Shiva's servants; Ganesh is 
their chief like on several Gupta North India powerful dynasty (3rd to 
6th century images. This leads to afford a high antiquity to this Ganesh, may be 4th century.

Akra is a place not far from the Afghanistan border, in NW Pakistan. A terracotta of the 5th century has been dicovered there (quoted by Getty). Another terracotta comes from Parkahar and could be a later one. Those terracotta slabs used probably to be offered by devotees. In both cases, they represent a dancing Ganesh.

Ganesh in Bangladesh

Sources of information on the statuary, or other traditional forms of religious hindu culture, are few on the Web, about this country. One may notice :

Banglapedia Encyclopedia
Virtual Bangladesh
Archeological Sites in Bangladesh
Bangladesh Tours and Travel

This country was a part of India before the Independency period and obviously it has known cultural developments similar to those found in Western Bengal, for instance the Pala art.

The earliest Hindu stone sculptures of Bengal originated in the late Kusana period (3rd-4th century AD). With the stone sculptures we have to include, no doubt, a few terracotta sculptures which are of great interest, such as the four-armed Mahisamardini figure from Sarsabaz (Bogra), now in the Mahasthan Museum. This is the most magnificient early image of the deity not only from Bengal but from the Indian Subcontinent. (Fig-1) Perahps this unique image clearly points to the reason why the goddess Durga-Mahishasuramardini became so prominent and popular in Bengal and has maintained the same status even up to this age.

Male Divinities Prominent and popular Hindu male deities were Brahma, Visnu, Surya, Shiva and Ganesha.

A minor but popular Hindu deity of Bengal is the elephant-headed Ganesha, who is shown seated or standing, but a delightful form of the god shows him dancing, and this form of Ganesha from Bengal excels the forms of the deity from other parts of the subcontinent. Ganesha appears as an independent deity, but sometimes he is shown with Lalita (a special form of Parvati), with Gauri and child Shiva, with the Matrkas (Mother goddesses) and with the Navagrahas (nine planetary deities). Ganesha appears also in the Buddhist context in the paharpur temple and halud vihara in Bangladesh. The most graceful form of the seated Ganesha is from Mandhuk (Comilla), now in the Mainamati Museum. The image is inscribed and belongs to the first regnal year, perhaps of Gopala II (c 9th century). The deity sits in a position called royal ease (maharaja-lila) holding clockwise in his four hands a fruit (matulunga or bijapura), a radish with leaves (mulaka), a bowl of sweets (modaka-bhanda) and a battle-axe (parashu). The radish is a special attribute of Ganesha images from Bihar-Bengal. A snake forms the sacred thread (yajnopavita) of the deity, and a playful rat (musika) is shown as his mount (vahana) on the pedestal. The second most important and interesting seated image of Ganesha is from Narayanpur (Comilla), now in the bangladesh national museum (BNM), Dhaka, and is dated in the 4th regnal year of the Pala ruler Mahipala i (c 11th century). The large, beautiful image holds clockwise in his four hands a rosary (aksmala), a radish with leaves (mulaka), a battle-axe (parashu) and a pot of sweets (modaka-bhanda). On top bunches of mangoes are shown with leaves, a special feature of the Ganesha images from Benagal. The rat (musika) is shown below his right foot.

A unique form of a five-headed image of Ganesha seated on a roaring lion comes from Rampal (Munshiganj), but its present whereabouts are not known. The deity, dated in the 12th century, is ten-armed of which a few attributes are damaged. Six seated Ganeshas are shown on the back-plate above the flying Vidyadharas. This unique type of Ganesha has been called Heramba-Ganapati by Bhattasali following the dhyana given in the Sharadatilaka.

The graceful dancing form of Ganesha, called Nrtya-Ganapati, is a masterly creation of the Bengali sculptors. The dancing Ganeshas either have six or eight arms and they are accompanied by two musicians, Go-karna (having the ears of a cow) and Gaja-karna (having the ears of an elephant). A dancing Ganesha is shown either on a lotus or on a rat.

An eleventh century image, from North Bengal, of the eight-armed dancing deity on a rat is in the collection of the Museum of Indian Art in Berlin. The deity holds clock-wise: abhaya-mudra, a rosary, the battle-axe, his broken right tusk, nrttya-hasta, a blue lily (utpala), a snake and a pot of sweets. The two musicians, Gaja-karna and Go-krana dance while playing cymbals and drum. The spotted rat watches the dance of the Lord with wonder.

On the web, representations of Ganesh from Bangladesh are rare. Two websites only can be indicated here :
- For handicraft work, the commercial Lotus Sculpture website. We can see some of its images here : Click here
- For antiques works, the extensive Huntington Archive is very useful and we may admire some Ganesh on display at the National Museum of Dhaka and check that they look similar to the indian Ganesh of the Pala art : Click here

Ganesh in Myanmar

It's a country where Ganesh was very popular during the Indian Gupta period, especially in South Birmania. Ganesh was and is still known and worshipped as Maha-Peinne (the Great Bliss. He was considered as "The Lord who removes obstacles". One quotes Ganesh statues in Pagan :

 The Shwesardaw pagoda where Ganesh is a protector-deity
 In the ruins of a hindu temple, a four-armed Ganesh sitting in padmasana
Meditation posture (lotus posture)
 A three-headed Ganesh from the 12th century
 In the Museum, a 11th or 12th centuried Ganesh, sitting in padmasana.

Ganesh in Cambodia and Vietnam

From the 6th-7th century, i.e. long before the Khmer period, Ganesh was represented in stone and bronze as well. According to Georges Groslier, there were, in 1931, in the collecteions of the Albert Sarraut Museum in Phnom Penh (cambodia), about twenty Ganesh from the before-Khmer and Khmer period. This Museum became National Museum in 1951; it organized a special exhibition in Year 2000, consacrated to Ganesh. Twenty five statues in stone, seven in bronze and only one in wood gave a comprehensive idea of the Khmer art, from the very early times (6-8th centuries) to the Khmer (9-15th centuries).

To make the descriptions easier, we will consider here Cambodia and Vietnam as the same geographical entity, which is also true from a political point of view, at certain periods. This area, adjacent to Thailand, was a Hindu country till the late arrival of Buddhism; thus, it abounds in temples and hindu god representations, mainly in Cambodia. The Champâ region (east Cambodia) was very famous for the predominant Shiva worship. Ganesh arrived there with Shiva just after the very early angkor period (7th and 8th centuries) ; this is mentionned on temple inscriptions.

At that time, Ganesh was designed with only two arms and was rather similar to the Indian Gupta representations like in Udayagiri (Madhya Pradesh) : large ears like fans, no visible neck, no head-dress, two arms, a belly slightly protuberant only, and a left-turned trunk.

The khmer representations are not aware of the indian forms like dancing Ganesh, Ganesh with His Shakti parèdre, énergie créatrice du dieu or Ganesh with His parents (Umâ-Maheshvaramurtî). The dancing Ganesh is so commun in India that it's striking He did not arrive to these other countries. Likewise, tantric images associating the Shakti are quite unusual and secret. As for Ganesh with His parents, the non-indian images appear lately and associate Ganesh usually with Shiva, but much less often with Pârvatî Ganesh mother and Skanda Ganesh brother.

In Cambodia :

  Sandstone sitting Ganesh from Tuol Pheak Kin (Kandal, Cambodia) 7th-8th century, early Angkor period, National Museum, Phnom-Penh. In His left hand, He holds a bowl where the trunk is soaking, and a radish in His right hand.

  Sitting bronze Ganesh in the Bayon style (end of 12th or early 13th century) at the Phnom-Penh National Museum. The elephant-headed god is sitting in a yogi posture on a triangular bronze plaque which was originally fixed to another bigger pedestal by means of rings.

  Some other statues, in various conditions of preservation, are quoted in the booklet : "Ganesha of the National Museum" (Phnom Penh); this booklet has been printed for the exhibition mentionned above.

  Ganesh from Triton (Rochefort Museum, France). It's a two-armed standing tall statue which was 2m high (now, legs are broken at the knees level and it measures 1.4 m high). Ganesh is holding a water-pot (kalasha ) in the left hand and a rosary (mala ) in the right hand. His ear is ornamented with a stone scroll, which would be is a typical Cham element of design, and not Khmer. Ganesh wears a beautiful belt made of kilted tissue. His trunk is quite rolled on itself.

  Two-armed sitting Ganesh (7th century), h : 0.80 m. from Phú Ninh. Quoted by Brown (1992)

  The Prasat Bale temple (10th century) was devoted to the cult of God Ganesh. Images of this God have been discovered near the Kuk Trapeangkul temple.

In Vietnam :

  In the very famous Cham Museum of Art in Danang (previous name was Tourane, Vietnam), one may admire two major pieces of this Cham art : the first one is beautiful two-armed sitting Ganesh, fairly squat, with a long left-turned trunk; it has been dated from the 9th to 10th century and was discovered in the B3 temple of the Cham Miso’n archeological site; it looks like the Khmer sitting Ganesh from Tuol Pheak Kin (housed in the Phnom Penh Museum, Cambodia).
The second one is a standing Ganesh (height 0.80 m); he has four arms. He wears a dhoti, tied by a string at the waist level. The lower left hand holds a bowl full of sweet, tested by the trunk. Ganesh wears some jewels and a holy snake-shaped cordon. His head is bare; He looks rather squat and simple.

As early as 1932 Henri Parmentier, a French archaeologist, writes in a publication about the findings of these Ganesh from Ganesh Mi-So'n. Mi-So'n, about 60 km from Danang, was the most renowned centre for the Shiva cult. Many temples dated from 4th to 7th century are found there.

  In the Saigon Museum, is located a Ganesh with three deep set eyes, an usnisha Symbol of the spiritual energy of the Buddha protrusion at head-top, which a particular mark of Buddhist statues.

From the 8th century forward, it seems that the Ganesh cult had carried this god up to a major rank. These Champa statues, as well as those in Thailand, had their own temple. So, archeologists have found inscriptions dedicating temples to Ganesh :

In Angkor Borei, dating from 611, an inscription reports a donation of slaves to several deities, among whom Ganesh is named as Mahâganapati.
In the same place, an inscription of the Jayavarman 1st (656-681) reign, dedicates a sanctuary to Shri Ganapati.
Another 9th centuried inscription, under the rule of king Yashovarman 1st (889-900), alludes to the Ganesh from Chandigiri (Chandanâdriganesha = Ganesh of the Sandal Mountain) (Chocung Prey) where are just located ruins, on a hilltop, of an ancient Ganesh temple.
A Champâ inscription, from 817, indicates that a temple has been built for Shri-Vinâyaka in Po-Nagar.
A 10th centuried temple is reported in Prasat Bak, but various other Ganesh images have been found, scattered throughout the regions of this country, where this god was known as Prah Kenes, associated with Shiva, the God of the Mountain.
An inscription dating from the 7th century in Prasat Prei Kuk refers to a Ganesh inside a brick recess, described in the early 20th century, but now missing.

Names used for Ganesh are Vinâyaka, Vighneshvara (Lord of obstacles) and Vighnapati. In inscriptions from the Angkhor period, one mostly finds Vighneshvara, the Master of Obstacles. Till now, Ganesh is one of the most popular gods in the country; He chiefly intervenes in the domain of magic practices.

Different forms of His image can be found in handicraft, in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Ganesh in China

Religious art works dedicated to Ganesh in China are rather sparse, but some very antique. One knows that Ganesh has migrated simultaneously with Tibetan Buddhism to China. Secret worshipping cults in esoteric tantric temples have been practised there. The following sites have been described :

  Khotan (Turkestan, Sin-K'iang); on a stone panel coming from Endere, one can see a dark brown four-armed Ganesh; he wears a tiger skin over tight trousers. On images from this region, Ganesh uses to wear a crown. He holds a radish in one hand.

  Khaklik (120 km de Khotan), a painting shows a quite unusual lean Ganesh (!) and, on another image, sitting on a cushion, he has a halo behind the head. Both hold the radish, the cake of sweet and a goad.

  Bezakhlik : in cave temples, several frescoes represent a six-armed Ganesh with a halo behind the head; He holds the moon, the sun, a banner and a cake.

  Kung-Hsien : a stone image dating from 531 displays a two-armed Ganesh, sitting with legs crossed. He holds the lotus in the right hand and the Chintamani jewel in the left one. An inscription describes Him as the "Spritual King of Elephants".

  Tun-Huang : painting (cave 285) from the Northern Wei period (6th century), showing Ganesh accompanied by the Sun, the Moon and the Navagrahâ The Nine Planets considered as deities. Vinâyaka has two arms and He holds the radish and the axe.

  Cleveland Museum : bronze Buddhistic sitting Ganesh dating from the T'ang Chinese dynasty from 618 to 907 period, with two stretched arms, one leg resting on the pedestal, and an underground deity supporting the throne.

  Museum für Indische Kunst, Berlin : on a manuscript from Kotcho (Central Asia).

If Ganesh in China itself is rather unusual, the chinese origin of Ganesh worship in the japanese Shingon cult may be traced back to the 9th century, according to oral and written traditions. One verifies that the Ganesh concept in China would fit with Vinâyaka as a creator of obstacles on the Liberation path : therefore, the Truth Seeker has to get the Ganesh boons thanks to adequate rituals.

About late 8th century, Amoghavajra, a famous master of buddhism, born in Ceylon, came to China where he became a disciple of Vajrabodhi. He travelled to India, between 741 and 746, so he could bring back to China the most recent developments in South Indian tantrism . Thus, the malevolent Vinâyaka's influence can be controlled by similar rituals in India and in China.

However, the predominant negative influence attributed to Vinâyaka resulted in preventing the development of the Ganesh cult in China. Nevertheless the imperial Court authorities outlawed the making and the cult of His images.

Ganesh in Indonesia

A special page is dedicated to the Indonesian Ganesh, particularly those from Bali and Java.


The Vinâyaka Ganesh form is worshipped in Japan as Kangi-ten or Daishô Kangi-ten (god of joy and harmony), or again Shôten-sama or Tenson-sama. He his supposed to have been introduced in Japan from China, circa 9th century by Koloho Daishi.

Kangi-ten is the son of Daijizai-ten (Shiva) and Shô Kannon Bosatsu (Âryâvalokiteshvara) Female counterpart of Âvalokiteshvara, Boddhisattva of compassion; Kannon Bosatsu is similar to Umâ, the Shiva Maheshvara wife. Kangi-ten is also named Nandikeshvara, "The Lord who removes obstacles". Bestowing wealth, He is very powerful.

Kangi-ten is famous, but He is considered as a secret deity and only a few documents mention Him. In temples, His image is not publicly allowed to be seen. Particular rituals (for exemple immersion of the statue in oil) are practiced by the Shingon sect.

Kangi-ten is said to be simultaneously male and female; that is obvious in tantric cults. He is there represented by two elephant-headed characters, facing each other and intimately embraced. Several types are known.

The ritual uses a small shrine in the form of a lingam, in which has been placed a statue of Ganesh embracing a she-elephant who is, in fact, the Buddha of compassion who took this form to seduce Him.

Other representations of Vinâyaka Kangi-ten are not tantric ones and only made of one personage, without female counterpart; once more, there are several variants.

The known representations of Kangi-Ten are not numerous. We may quote the following examples :

 In France, near the tiny village named Villeneuve les Genets in Burgondy, the place called "La montagne" is well known for its Kômyô-In temple, the Shingon temple in Frande and even in Europe, founded in 1989. Two main deities are worshipped there, particularly Kangi-ten, the God of Joy. The statue comes from the Hozan-ji temple in Japan.

 In the city of Yokohama (Japan), the Yokohama Gumyo-ji temple (Minami area) is famous, in that region, for its antiquity. Indeed, it is known to have been built in 737; therefore, it's the oldest temple in Yokohama; however, the main hall has been rebuilt during the Edo Era (1600-1868). The image of Buddha, carved in a trunk of Zelkova tree, is considered as a master piece of art. The Buddha has 11 heads and this statue symbolizes joices, sadnesses and other emotions Which are experimented in our world. In addition, although it is not usually displayed, a Kangiten statue stays in that temple.

 The Hoikaiji temple, of the Tendai religious branch, near the Kamakura station at Kanagawa, is characterized, in its south-eastern corner, by a Kangiten {kan-ghe-ten} shrine. The statue reaches 1.52 meters high and is formed by two elephant-headed human bodies, intimately embraced. It has been carved in the 14th century. It's a unique one and is believed to reinforce marital links and to grant boons to couples who have children. Unfortunately, the statue cannot be seen, the door of the shrine being always closed.

 A Kangi-ten statue is supposed to be secretly kept in the thirteen-levelled Umamachi temple. In bronze, 16.6 cm high only, it is dated from the 13th century (Kamakura Per Era). A public display at the Kyoto National Museum in October-November 2001 has allowed many people to see this rarest six-handed Kangi-ten.

 One can also see Kangi-ten in the Musée Guimet in Paris.

 Moreover, many Japanese temple doors display holy images of two-headed elephants wearing long dresses and embracing each other.

Ganesh in Mongolia

Ganesh has arrived in Mongolia in the wake of the Mâhâyana Buddhism too. This happened rather lately, thanks to P'ags-pa, a Tibetan monk, according to scriptures. The dancing Ganesh form was popular there, and He is represented among the 500 gods of Narthan.

A public exhibition in Paris (Treasures of Mongolia), some years ago, has displayed a thangka Sacred painting on canvas, of tibetan origin dating from the second part of the 19th century. Attributed to the Urga School, it belongs to the Bogd-khan Palace in Ulân-Bâtar. Ganapati is identified on this thangka as Mahârakta Ganapati (in mongol Erdem-khuriyachi, i.e. "The Collector of Merits"; the term erdem "knowledges", in the mongol buddhism, has the meaning of "merits"). See Beguin, Gilles et Dashbaldan D. (1993).

Testimony of the Tangouts dynasty (982-1227), paintings have been recovered in the Khara Koto stupa, in the southern part of the country, by P.K. Koslov in 1909. Nowadays, they are stored in the Ermitage Museum of Saint Petersbourg (Russia); they represent, inter alia, God Ganesh.

One will find a short selection of Ganesh in Mongolia on the following page.

Ganesh in Thailand

Since the 7th century, Ganesh has been represented on different monuments of the country as well as in Thai art. Indeed, between the 6th and 8th centuries, this country was ruled by the Mon hindu dynasty who built several Ganesh temples.

  In the Bangkok hindu temple, Ganesh holds a manuscript in one hand and a broken tusk in the other. Obviously, the legend of Ganesh as the copyist of the Mahâbhârata has migrated too...

  In Prasat Phnom Rung (Province of Buri Ram, north east of the country) has been found a statue, dated from 550/700. The style looks old-fashioned : two arms, a slim body, no neck, simple headband, another band between the breast and the belly. h : 0.24 m. Maha Wirawong National Museum, Nakhon Ratchasima. Quoted by Brown (1992).

  A Muang Pra Roth, Dong Si Mahapot (province of Prachinburi, Thailand), a tall sitting two-armed Ganesh (height 1.70m) has been found in 1972. Nowadays, He is in the Bangkok National Museum and has been dated of the 8th century. Quoted by Brown (1992).

  Los Angeles County Museum of Art : Ganesh on an elephant, Shiva on a lion and Skanda on a peacock; bronze of the 13th century, h : 0.09 m. Quoted by Brown (1992).


Most specialists state that the Ganesh images from the south-east asian countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia) have obvious cultural similarities and a strong homogeneity in style and iconography, althought the sites where they have been discovered are thousands km far from each other. Indonesia, a very vast archipelago, presents its own characteristics.

Thus, in the role of a Destructor of Obstacles, Ganesh has been a major deity in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. However, his iconography did not repeat the pot-bellied and squat aspects of the primitive indian Ganesh.

Brown (1992) studied in what and how the south-east asian artists followed or not followed the indian models. The significations attributed to Ganesh in the various countries is also interesting to compare.

Generally, the styles are neither very different, neither in accordance with a particular indian style. In fact, a few typical indigenous styles have developed here and there and have expanded rapidly to other countries. They have more commun points between them than with the original indian models.

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