India, Uttar Pradesh
Gupta period (320–600)
5th–6th century A.D.
19 5/16 x 26 3/4 x 8 1/8 in. (49.1 x 67.9 x 20.6 cm)
Currently On View
Ganesha is the elephant-headed son of Shiva, one of the three most important deities of the Hindu pantheon, and his consort, the goddess Parvati. He is widely worshiped as the remover of obstacles and the bestower of good fortune, prosperity, and health. The origin of his hybrid body—consisting of an elephant’s head with one tusk and an infant’s torso with distended belly—is related in Hindu legends. Parvati is said to have created Ganesha in human form to act as her door guardian. When he refused to admit Shiva to Parvati’s chamber, the god cut off the child’s head. In order to placate the distressed Parvati, Shiva replaced the head with that of the first living thing he could find—an elephant. Hindu deities are often depicted with multiple heads and arms, a physical expression of the multiplicity of their superhuman powers. Due to the damaged condition of this superb terra-cotta relief, it is no longer possible to identify the deity’s usual attributes—an axe, a rosary, and a bowl of sweetmeats—which would have been held in his hands. The serpent hanging across his torso signifies his relationship to Shiva, who also bears this attribute. Many Hindu brick temples were decorated with terracotta plaques such as this one. The plaques are distinguished by their naturalistic modeling, well illustrated in the sensuous and powerful sculpting of this image, which is unusually expressive, and notable also for its large size and early date.