Elaine and Jim
Wolfensohn gift

Travelling exhibitions | Introduction | Blue case | Red case | Yellow case | Melbourne cup

Red Case: Myths and rituals

Unknown artist

Ganesha the elephant-headed Hindu god

Unknown artist Seated Ganesha 9th - 10th century, Bronze, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Seated Ganesha 9th–10th century bronze National Gallery of Australia enlarge

Hinduism is the main religion and philosophy of India and Ganesha is one of its most popular gods. He is the god of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is also worshipped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. Ganesha is one of five main Hindu gods; the others are Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga.

A number of stories explain how Ganesha came to have an elephant's head. One version tells of how, one afternoon, the goddess Parvati wanted to take a bath. She created a young boy, Ganesha, to protect her privacy while she bathed. Her husband, Shiva, came home and found this strange child who would not let him visit his wife. Outraged at Ganesha's disrespect, Shiva cut off his head. Parvati was so upset at the loss of her new son that Shiva agreed to bring him back to life. He did so by attaching the head of the first animal to be found asleep and facing northward: an elephant.

This sculpture of Ganesha is over 1000 years old and is made of bronze, and would have been used in Hindu festivals. If you look closely, you will see that Ganesha’s stomach has been rubbed so much that it is smooth and shiny. That’s because Hindus believe that rubbing Ganesha's stomach will bring good luck. Ganesha holds symbols in his four hands: a goad (for prodding elephants and making them move forward), a noose (a coil of rope for catching all difficulties), a broken tusk held like a pen (he broke it while writing the Indian story the Mahabharata), and a rosary. He holds a sweet in his trunk (perhaps that’s why he has such a large stomach).

  • Imagine you have special powers, like Ganesha. Draw some objects that could help you with your special powers.
  • What other characters can you think of that have special powers?
  • What do they use to help them produce their special powers?
  • Ganesha is holding an object in one of his hands that you can also find in the suitcase. Which object is it?