One of the most worshipped gods in the country, Lord Ganesha is well represented in various forms in the UNESCO world heritage site of Ellora Caves in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district.
Ellora, which is home to artworks dating back to the 5th to 10th centuries, showcases the one of most important gods in Hinduism either dancing among yakshas (nature spirits) or imitating his father Shiva’s dancing form Nataraja.
Located 30 km from Aurangabad city, Ellora is a complex of 34 caves comprising artworks from Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Ganesha cannot be seen as an independent deity in the early carvings in the caves and is represented as a part of a group of deities.
“In the early caves, we find Ganesha around Shiva’s dancing form Nataraja imitating him. This underlines his position as a yaksha and Shiv gana amongst other ganas. This was the representation of Ganesha in the 6th century,” Indologist Saili Palande-Datar told PTI.
In the caves dating back to the 6th or 7th century, Ganesha is seen with Saptamatrikas or mother goddesses (Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Shivaduti or Indrani, Narsimhi, Chamunda, Kaumari and Varshi) and not as an independent figure, she said.
Ganesha is represented in a carving in cave 25, popularly known as Rameshwar cave, which showcases an event in the life of Lord Shiva and Parvati.
“The presence of Ganesha in this particular carving of Shiva can be connected to the name ‘Sakshi Vinayak’, which translates as a witnesser of many events,” Palande-Datar said.
Near the sanctum sanctorum of Kailasa, one finds the sculpture of Soma Skanda, depicting the family of Shiva, but Ganesha is absent in the family portrait. However, he can be found in the larger display of the Shaiva pantheon in one of the shrines on the circumambulatory path of Shaiva Panchayatana.
At the entrance of cave 16 again carved by the Rashtrakuta dynasty, a large Ganesha is found at the entrance itself.
Ganesha is the presiding deity of Muladhar Chakra in the 1,000 petaled lotus symbolising Kundalini Jagran.
“In the Nandi Mandap’s ceiling (cave 16), we find one of the oldest paintings of Ganesha,” Palande-Datar said.
An interesting fact about the carvings of Ganesha in Ellora is the absence of his vehicle ‘mushak’ or mouse, an expert and guide Madhusudhan Patil claims.
“Ganesha became an independent deity in the carvings from the later period. But he is represented without ‘mushak’. This is because the ‘Ganesh Purana’, which has the reference of ‘mushak’ for the first time, was written in the later period,” Patil said.
The paintings of Ganesha sitting on ‘mushak’ came in the later period, he claimed.
The biggest sculpture of Ganesha is in cave 17, where he is carved with a bowl of laddoos in his hand, Patil said.
Ellora expert Yogesh Joshi underlines the importance of Lord Ganesha in Ellora.
“In the early mediaeval period, when the Yadava dynasty ruled around Ellora with Devgiri fort as its base, many independent idols of Ganesha came up in Ellora and the area around the fort,” Joshi said.