There are no Ganesha sculptures in Mallai – except for ….

Wishing all viewers a very happy and prosperous new year 2009. A friend commented that over a 100 posts and not one dedicated to the Ganesha – the remover of obstacles. So today we see him, not just any post but one that poses a lot of questions into the origin of Ganesha worship in South India.

This is another of the puzzles of Mahabalipuram – there are almost over 50 representations of Shiva with his family – as Somaskanda ( Sou Uma skanda – With Uma and Skanda) – reminds me to a post on them. But conspicuous by his absence is Ganesha.

Hang on, i know some of you are already jumping – yes – the Ganesha Ratha is the only shrine still under worship in Mahabalipuram. But when it was sculpted it was sculpted as a shrine for Shiva. Why and how it got converted to a shrine for the Son is an interesting legend by itself. Lets see the chronology one by one:

Leaving aside the Pillayarpatti caves that are assigned to an earlier period, the earliest reference to Ganesha worship starts with the famous war of Vatapi. Those who have read Author Kalki’s Sivagamiyin Sabatham ( Sivagami’s Vow) would immediately recollect the scene. The trusted General of Narasimhavaraman II – Paranjothi helps him to avenge his father’s defeat at the hands of the Chalukya king, Pulakesi II in the year 642 CE. ( They prepared for the war for 12 years !!) – but standing on the dawn of the battle day, Paranjothi sees a Ganesha sculpture on the walls of Vatapi and prays to him for his success. On the victorious battle field he undergoes a change of heart and takes to life of a saint – as siruthondar becomes a Nayanmaar, takes back the statue of Ganesha to worship as Vatapi Ganesha. So is he the first instance of Ganesha in Pallava land.

Well, the story gets interesting now. Sambandar and Appar have sung the greatness of Ganesha. See below verse references:

Sambandar’s Verse

the supreme god in Valivalam where many people who are the incarnation of unbounded liberality, crowd.
when Umai assumed the form of a female elephant.
Civaṉ assuming the form of a strong male elephant.
was gracious enough to beget kaṇapati who destroys obstacles to devotees who worship his feet.
Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)

Appar’s Verse

the elephant faced god, Kaṇapati who wanders frightening in the minds of people who rise suffering intensely, having very many desires.the two lights which have the strength to dispel darkness and the great mountain, Kayilāyam.we are the kindred of the God who has Keṭilam having water which confers good on people who bathe on it.
Translation: V.M.Subramanya Aiyar–Courtesy: French Institute of Pondichery / EFEO (2006)

So, its clear that Ganesha was worshipped and well known as the son of Shiva and Parvathi during their times itself.

There are lot of scholarly debates about the authorship of the Mahablipuram monuments, yet fortunately the Shore temple’s builder is clear – Rajasimha Pallava.

We come back to the Ganesha Ratha. Yes, it does have a Ganesha Statue installed and under worship. But ( here i seek help from the masterly work of Sri. Swaminathan sir) – read below one of the earliest extracts of a foreigner accounts of Mahabalipuram – 1788 AD

The Ganesa Ratha had originally a linga in the sanctum, and seems to have been taken away by Lord Hobert, who was Governor of Madras from 1794 to 1798. A compensation of 20 pagodas was given to the villagers and took away to England. His successor, the second Lord Clive (1798-1803), took away the Nandi of this temple. Chambers: 1788

So, how did the Ganesha come – again a note, this time by a noted historian

When that linga was carried off by Bu…, the people of this place took an image of Vinayaka which was near and put it into the Garbagriha. On the wall to the south of the Garbagriha is some inscription written, the character of which is unknown.
—– (1803:Lakshmiah)

Ok, for the people who are still unconvinced – inscriptional evidence

This is a lengthy inscription of eleven verses in Sanskrit from the ` Ganesha Ratha’.. the fifth verse states, “This temple of Sambhu (Siva) was caused to be made by King Atyantakama, conqueror of his enemies’ territory and renowned by the title Ranajaya.” The name of the temple is then given: “Atyantakama-Pallavesvara-Griham” (“The Isvara (Siva) temple of the Pallava (king) Atyantakama”).
‘Atyantakama’ and ‘Ranajaya’ were titles of Pallava kings

So where does this lead us – in all of the cave temples, Bas reliefs and Free standing Rathas of Mahabalipuram there is not a single representation of Ganesha. He first comes in the shore temple. We have already carried a brief intro of the shore temple

Shore Temple Intro post

Now lets test your powers of observation once again. Can you spot him.

You can see that there are various Ganas occupying similar positions. so what do we conclude ?

Well, the objective of this site is to spread awareness and spur people to search for answers. So i just leave you with some closeups of Ganesha – may he remove all your obstacles and the new year usher a grand year of joy and prosperity.

14 thoughts on “There are no Ganesha sculptures in Mallai – except for ….

  1. Nice article, Vijay. Even though Pullayar was from north, I consider him as one of the Tamil gods…he is very close to me! 🙂 – Shriram

  2. There are many individual Pillayars made in Pallava period, along almost all temples found in ECR, where we clean at least one temple in a month. Shall send samples to you by individual mail. CAn’t we attach a photo here directly to this link, Thirumalai Veerasamy please help 🙂

  3. Good questions and points Vijay. There is a general belief spread by some scholars that Vinayakar has come to Tamilnadu during Pallava period. But, as you have shown, there are references of Vinayaka in dEvAram which sounds like the concepts of Vinayaka as the son of Siva-Parvathi and being the remover of obstacles were very much in common consciousness. There is a reference of a god who likes erukkampoo in puRanAnURu – but erukkam being a favorite of Siva also this god could be understood as Siva also.

  4. Hi Chandra,

    The period we are talking of is pre Mahendra – so structural temples along ECR don’t count.
    As regards uploading direct – we can’t have that in a blog comment.


  5. hi shriram,

    This is a road to discovery – got nothing to do with faith. That’s why we don’t feature most main dieties. We must learn to look at history away from faith.


  6. Wonderful work. Being far away, I can only send you a flying kiss for the efforts you are making . Incidentally scholars are of the opinion that Ganesha (Pillayar) is a Dravidian Icon. Thank you.

  7. hi satheesh

    The vatapi agathiar legend is popular ( vathapi jeeranobhava – ie vatapi get digested) – but we need to look for clues away from legends sometimes


  8. Very very interesting Vijay a valid question.But what is the hymns associated with Appar and Sambandar where wrongly associated with them…after all the songs were collected later by Nambiandar Nambi ..he could have wrongly attributed to them …

  9. Dear Karthik, The Hymns of each are clearly distinct and were collected with great effort and it is not my intention to question the integrity of one who could have included himself in the list if he wanted to


  10. There are many representations of Ganesha in Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. If am not wrong even Gnanasambandar, has mentioned about this temple as early as the 7th century, as “Aalavai Iraivan”. There are sculptures depicting people carrying Ganesha Idol on a procession like the ones performed by many these days before immersion…
    Yes most parts of the older temple was demolished during the Islamic invasion. Malli Kafur in 1930’s and the existing structures could easily be dated as a “later period” but the point is worshiping of Ganesha and the rituals were always in place… Definitely prior to that 🙂

  11. Dear Ramjee, What you see of Madurai Meenakshi Amman is almost entirely post Malik kafur 1314 CE. The point here is the progression of Ganesha worship from a minor sect ( Ganapathiyam), being slowly inducted into the Hindu Pantheon – first as chief of Ganas – Gana athipathy and then slowly as son of God.

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