Ganesha – Unique Images from the Pahari School of Painting



Ganesha is a much-revered god in Hinduism. He is an ishtadevata (favourite God) of many devotees and is worshipped by millions of Hindus across India. He is known as the remover of obstacles, Ganesha is offered ‘puja’ at the beginning of any new endeavour by Hindus. He is also called Ganapati, Ganaraya, Vinayaka, Vigneshwara among many other names. He is the God of intellect and wisdom. He became prominent as a deity in the 4th and 5th century. The scriptures dedicated to Ganapati are the Ganesha-purana, Mudgala-purana, Ganapati-atharvashirsha upanishad and Brahmandapurana. Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and Parvati. His vehicle is the big rat or mooshaka. He is the Lord of the ganas; semi-divine beings who are a part of Lord Shiva’s retinue. Ganesha is the only deity with an elephant’s head.  Worshipped before every new beginning and placed along with Goddess Lakhsmi mostly in shops and other establishments; Ganapati is also prayed to before embarking on a journey for a trouble-free experience and smooth transit.

Vakratunda Mahakaaya
Suryakoti Samaprabha
Nirvighnam Kuru Mey Deva
Sarva Kaaryeshu Sarvada

“The Lord with the curved trunk and a mighty body, who has the lustre of a million suns, I pray to thee Oh Lord, to remove the obstacles from all the actions I intend to perform” …. …. from the ‘Mudgalapurana’

Ganesha’s Unique Birth

Many stories exist regarding the birth of Ganapati. According to the Matsya Purana, Lord Shiva used to arrive during the bathing time of his consort Parvati, which used to annoy her. In order to stop this, she is believed to have taken the oils and other ointments along with the impurities from her body she formed it into a live boy-figure by sprinkling some water from the Ganges. She kept him to be her door keeper while she was bathing. Lord Shiva arrived and wanted entry. However, he was denied the same and a quarrel ensued. He got angry and cut of the boy’s head. Parvati came out and was very upset. Lord Shiva asked his attendants to get the first head that they could find to bring back the boy to life. The first head happened to be an elephant’s which was fixed on the boy’s trunk and he came back to life. This appeased Parvati and her son became Ganesha or Ganapati, the elephant headed God. There is another mythological story regarding the birth of Ganesha. Goddess Parvati is believed to have worshipped Lord Vishnu for a son. Lord Vishnu himself came to her as a boy-child. All the Gods came to congratulate her and fixed their gaze on the child. Only God Shani did not look at the boy as he was cursed that anything he fixed his gaze upon would perish. However, Parvati insisted and the moment Shani gazed upon the child, the child’s head flew off to Vaikunta. Parvati cursed Shani and was inconsolable. Lord Vishnu went in search of a head and came back with an elephant’s head. Parvati fixed it on the trunk of the child and Lord Brahma infused him with life.

Another story as per the Varaha Purana, Lord Shiva himself produced Ganesha, on request of holy sages to produce a being to combat obstacles. From Lord Shiva’s countenance emerged a beautiful young boy. Parvati got jealous of him and cursed him saying he will have an elephant’s head and a protruding belly. Lord Shiva blessed him saying he will be the leader of the ganas and everybody will worship him first on all occasions. Ganesha’s consorts Siddhi and Buddhi came to him by a competition with his brother Kartikeya. Both were asked to circle the entire world in order to win the maidens’ hand. While Kartikeya went off on his peacock, Ganesha simply quoted from sacred literature relating to geography that he had already done the tour. 

Lord Ganesha in the Pahari School

Lord Ganapati’s iconic representations are many. He has 32 forms. He is shown with a red countenance as ‘Rakta Ganesha’ in 15 forms to symbolise the brilliant shining effulgence of the rising sun. He may be shown standing, seated, dancing or with a musical instrument or on his mother’s lap. He is seen with two to sixteen arms in different representations. He has been well depicted in all schools of miniature painting. Let us check out some unique depictions of Ganesha from the Pahari Schools of miniature painting in India which flourished in the 17th to 19th centuries stretching from Jammu to Garhwal, in the sub-Himalayan India, through Himachal Pradesh. Pahari painting, meaning a painting from the hilly regions (pahar means a mountain/hill in Hindi), is used for a form done in miniature formats, from Basohli, Mankot, Nurpur, Chamba, Kangra, Guler, Mandi and Garhwal.

Four-armed Gaṇesha 

Four-armed Gaṇesha, Nurpur painting, circa 1810, Chandigarh Museum, India. Ganesha on a lotus pedestal. Image Source

A miniature of Nurpur school described by Martin-Dubost, Paul in Gaņeśa: The Enchanter of the Three Worlds’’ (1997) is as follows: “On a terrace leaning against a thick white bolster, Gaṇeśa is seated on a bed of pink lotus petals arranged on a low seat to the back of which is fixed a parasol. The elephant-faced god, with his body entirely red, is dressed in a yellow dhoti and a yellow scarf fringed with blue. Two white mice decorated with a pretty golden necklace salute Gaṇeśa by joining their tiny feet together. Gaṇeśa counts on his rosary in his lower right hand; his two upper hands brandish an axe and an elephant goad; his fourth hand holds the broken left tusk.” This miniature is at Chandigarh Museum, Chandigarh, India.

Ganesha on a Lotus Pedestal

Ganesha on a lotus pedestal, Guler painting, circa 1770-1805, Brooklyn Museum, U S A. Image Source

The god Ganesha is seated on a lotus pedestal on a marble terrace with trees on its sides and a grassland behind. Ganesha is painted a reddish-brown in this miniature painting from Guler. He is in ‘padmasana’ the lotus pose, wearing a white ‘dhoti’, a jewelled crown, long necklaces, armlets and bracelets. Ganesha has the crescent moon and a third eye, three of his four hands hold emblems – the elephant-goad, the axe, modak, a favourite sweet; the fourth hand is shown in the varada-mudra, a gesture of gifting. His vehicle mooshaka is not seen. The terrace is of white marble with latticed railing. The painting has a dark blue border surrounded by a flecked pink border which adds to the composition. This could be the work of famous artist Nainsukh of that time. This painting is at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, U S A.

Ganesha Ready to Throw His Lotus 

Ganesha ready to throw his lotus, Basohli School, circa 1730, National Museum, New Delhi. Image: Wikimedia

A Basohli miniature painting described by Martin-Dubost, Paul in Gaņeśa: The Enchanter of the Three Worlds’’ (1997) is as follows: “Attired in an orange dhoti, his body is entirely red. On the three points of his tiny crown, budding lotuses have been fixed. Gaṇeśa holds in his two right hands the rosary and a cup filled with three modakas (a fourth substituted by the curving trunk is just about to be tasted). In his two left hands, Gaṇeśa holds a large lotus above and an axe below, with its handle leaning against his shoulder. In the Mudgalapurāṇa (VII, 70), in order to kill the demon of egotism (Mamāsura) who had attacked him, Gaṇeśa Vighnarāja throws his lotus at him. Unable to bear the fragrance of the divine flower, the demon surrenders to Gaṇeśa.” This amazing miniature is at the National Museum at New Delhi, India. It shows Mughal influence given the ‘mihrab’-like arch in the backdrop.

Indra Worships Ganesha

Indra worships Ganesha, from the Tehri-Garhwal series of the Gita- Govinda, circa. 1775–80, The Met, New York, U S A. Image Source

A very unique miniature showing Lord Indra, the king of the devas (god-like deities) and Svarga (heaven) in Hinduism. He is associated with the sky, lightning, weather, thunder, storms, rains, river flows, and war. He is bowing to Ganesha seated on a throne-seat under an ornate canopy.

Tatpurushaaya Vidmahe
Vakratundaaya Dheemahe
Tanno Danthihi Prachodayaat 

“We meditate on that super power, we invoke the single tusked boon giver, Ganesh”…Ganesh Gayatri mantra from the ‘Ganapati Atharvashirsha Upanishad’

 There is a floral and verdant backdrop to the composition. Ganesha wears a crown; all his emblems and his vehicle mooshaka is not seen, he holds a rosary in his front right and a modaka, his favourite sweet-dish in his front left hand and one in his trunk. This rare miniature from Tehri-Garhwal is at The Met, New York, U.S A.

Ganesha’s Bath

Ganesha’s bath, Kangra miniature painting, 18th century, Allahabad Museum, U.P, india. Image Source

This miniature painting from the Kangra School depicts a scenario happening on Mount Kailash, the abode of Shiva and Parvati. Ganesha, who is depicted red, is being bathed by his parents; Shiva is pouring the water while Parvati is bathing him. There are mountains in the background though they are in a green space with a flowering tree. Goddess Parvati is dressed in finery along with pearl jewellery and mahawar, a red lac dye on her hands. Shiva is shown with a garland of skulls holding a ‘kamandal’ like vessel from which he is pouring the water. This beautiful miniature capturing a domestic scene is from the Allahabad Museum, Prayagraj, India.

Simha Ganesha

Simha Ganesha, Kashmir (most probably Basohli), 18th century, British Library, London, U K. Image: Wikimedia

This miniature painting is one of 12 miniatures from a manuscript of Hindu rituals and devotional tracts written in the Sanskrit language, in Sarada script with 74 pages and kept in the British Library at London, U.K. In this composition Ganesha is sitting on a lotus throne carried by tigers, which is a very rare depiction in paintings. He is holding his emblems and has a snake around his neck. The composition shows Mughal influence with arches having ewers and flagons in the backdrop; also, an arch and some ‘parchinkari’ or pietra dura kind of inlay work design. The floral scroll adds beauty to the composition of Ganesha who is traversing a grassy floral landscape with his vehicle mooshaka.  Simha Ganesha has many forms. He maybe seated on a tiger and also display another lion, emblems could include a twig from the kalpavriksha, the musical instrument veena, a lotus flower, a floral bouquet and a pot of gems in his hands. He may have a mixed face of a lion and elephant. This form symbolizes courage and strength to the devotees.

Ganesh Panchayatana

Ganesha centric panchayatana, Kangra, circa 1800, The Walters Art Museum, U S A. Image: Wikimedia

This Kangra composition resembles an Indian ruler’s court with Ganesha as the main judge. But actually, it is a format of Ganesha panchayatana. Panchayatana puja has been attributed to Adi Shankara, the 8th century Hindu saint, but there is evidence that it might have been there before his birth. The form has Ganesha in the centre with Lord Shiva at top left, Durga or Adi Shakti at top right, Lord Vishnu at bottom left, and God Surya at the bottom right. The five gods represent five elements, ether, fire, air, earth and water. Lord Ganesha corresponds to water. 

In this composition there is a portable canopy held above the gods and a rich carpet is below. All are sitting on lotus thrones. The gods are seen with their emblems. This miniature is with Walters Art Museum, Maryland, U S A.

Vishnu with Lakshmi and Ganesha

Vishnu with Lakshmi and Ganesha, Chamba, Himachal Pradesh, circa 1725, LACMA, U S A. Image: Wikimedia

This drawing from Chamba shows Ganesha and Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. It was meant to be filled with colour but is an unfinished composition. However, the drawing is very clear and we can see the emblems of the gods depicted. They are seated on lotus thrones with bolsters. This Pahari drawing is from the L A C M A, Los Angeles, U.S.A.

The Pahari School, an important miniature school of India comprising of artworks from princely states of Kangra, Guler, Nurpur, Basohli, Mankot, Nurpur, Chamba, Mandi and Garhwal on various subjects have also focused on Lord Ganesha, an iconic godhead in India and some other places of the world.

References –

  1. Thomas, P./Epics, myths and legends of India, Bombay: D. B. Taraporewala and Sons.
  2. (accessed 14.9.2023) 
  3. 15.9.2023) 

(accessed 15.9.2023) 

  1. (accessed 15.9.2023) 

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