Not merely an auspicious votive icon of rare significance, the artist seems to have had in mind far wider and deeper meaning and cosmological contexts in conceiving in a single wood-piece an icon of Brahma, one of Ganapati’s own, and those of Saraswati and Lakshmi around the figure of the central deity the mouse-riding Ganesha . Puranas talk of Shrashti Ganapati – Ganapati, the Creator, as one of the forms of Ganesha. Such assertion seems to contradict the common theological position which unanimously assigns to Brahma the Creator’s status, though it does not. As acclaim various Puranas, Brahma, when unable to contain unruly ‘ganas’ – cosmic elements obstructing Creation, invoked Ganesha – Lord of ‘ganas’, and sought his help in containing them and rendering the act of creation possible. Ganesha contained them and it was only after it that the Creation was begun, and hence in Creation his role was as significant as Brahma’s. In theological tradition his Shrashti Ganapati form denotes this role of Ganesha in the myth of Creation.
This wood-carving, representing clockwise the icons of Brahma, Ganesha, Saraswati and Lakshmi around the central figure of Trimukha Ganapati, illustrates this myth of Creation. The cycle begins with Brahma who occupies the top right corner. The ‘kirtimukha’ motif – auspicious but awe-striking, comprising the apex of the ‘prabhavali’ symbolises unruly cosmic elements that disrupt Brahma’s act of creation. Perhaps on Brahma’s invocation, there emerges Lord Ganesha occupying in the statue top left corner. Now the clock advances. On bottom left corner emerges Saraswati, the power of mind and self, by which Brahma effects the Creation. Hereafter Brahma’s role is over. Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu’s consort representing fertility, riches, food, prosperity and abundance is now the custodian of the Creation’s upkeep. She occupies bottom right corner in the representation. All four divine figures : Brahma, Lord Ganesha’ mini icon, Saraswati and Lakshmi are seated on large lotuses, symbolical of water, earth and sky, and correspondingly, of all three cosmic regions, and the ‘prabhavali’ that takes off from a multi-tiered lotus pedestal, of the created world comprising trees, creepers, birds among others. They all are seated in ‘lalitasana’, though while Lakshmi has her left leg suspending, Saraswati has her right.
The image of Trimukha Ganapati enshrining the centre has been conceived with three faces and six arms carrying in them a battle-axe, goad, broken tusk, mango, snake and mace, and in side trunks, lotuses, such as carry the elephants in Gaja-Lakshmi iconography. Usually a lotus with golden hue comprises the seat of Trimukha Ganapati; however, in this image he has under him his routine vehicle mouse. A Shrashti Ganapati manifestation, he is not riding the animal. In an effort to contain unruly cosmic elements he is on move which reveals in his figure as the cosmic dance, the divine instrument that subdued, a dance-form to which Lord Vishnu as Krishna resorted when subduing Kaliya.
Whatever its symbolic dimensions, 'prabhavali', or the fire-arch, is one of the most attractive features of this art-piece. It consists of rings of stylised creepers comprising leaves and flowers. It has a lotus base and is topped by an artistically carved 'kirtimukha’. Its whiskers, flanking like wings of mythological fairies on both sides, artistically balance the entire composition.
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.