This wood-carving, a relief carved imitating lintel-slab adorning the entrance of an early temple, Shaiva or Vaishnava, represents Lord Ganesha with Lakshmi on his right, and Saraswati, on left. Such carvings with Ganesha as the deity enshrining a temple’s ‘lalata’ – centre of lintel, flanked variously by Sapta-matrikas – Seven Mothers, Nava-grahas – nine planets, sometimes by Lakshmi and Saraswati, as in this panel, and even Dashavatara – Vishnu’s ten incarnations, comprised an essential component of the temple architecture in India since early days. Such lintel-slabs, with the auspicious presence of Lord Ganesha, defined a temple’s entrance, charged the ambience, and assured the well-being of all reaching there, so much so that his blessings extended not merely to those who entered the temple but blessed were they too who happened to pass across.
Ganesha emerged as the Hindu temple’s universal ‘lalata-bimba’ icon by around the eighth century. Earlier a Vishnu-temple had an icon of Garuda, Vishnu’s mount, as its lintel image, whereas a Shiva temple, a Shiva-linga icon. Later in Puranas, perhaps with emphasis laid on the ‘agra-puja’ of Ganesha – first priority to Ganesha in worship rituals, by Lord Vishnu himself, Ganesha emerged as the common icon for both classes of temples, Shaiva and Vaishnava. For further emphasising this universal acceptance of Ganesha with his icons were carved the icons also of Lakshmi, Vishnu’s consort, and Saraswati, the Consort of Brahma. This made Ganesha a god equally venerable amongst both, the Shaivites and the Vaishnavites. His popularity as an auspicious god beyond sects went so far that even Jains, though with a different nomenclature, admitted Ganesha into their pantheon as the god of auspicious beginning as well in many instances as the temple’s ‘lalata-bimba’ image.
As the ‘lalata-bimba’ is considered the symbolic representation of the entire temple, the ‘garbha-graha’ – sanctum sanctorum, in particular, this wood-panel has been conceived to represent the shrine, not the isolated images of some deities. All images have been carved on the recessed part of the panel suggestive of the temple’s interior – garbha-graha. For completing the analogy and defining the temple’s exterior the artist has carved moulded projections and symbolic motifs of ‘shikharas’ – temple-towers, over all three deities, Lord Ganesha in the centre, and Lakshmi and Saraswati on two sides.
For defining the status of Lord Ganesha as the central deity of the shrine the artist has carved under his icon a lotus base, symbolic of ‘vedika’ – sanctum. Thus, flanked by Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, riches and fertility, and Saraswati, the goddess of learning, art, literature and creativity, and being in absolute command of unruly cosmic elements this image of the auspicious god Lord Ganesha stands for the best in the world and so in the world beyond.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.