Gaṇeśa of Singosari

The Goddess Pārvatī gave birth to Gaṇeśa during a long-lasting absence of her husband Śiva. When Śiva returned he found a young boy – Gaṇeśa – near his residence. Assuming the boy was an enemy the outraged Śiva decapitated the boy. This, of course, caused immense grief to Pārvatī. So, in order to comfort his wife Śiva quickly revived Gaṇeśa’s life by seizing the first head of a living being he encountered. The first living creature he encountered happened to be an elephant, thus Śiva decapitated the elephant’s head and put it on Gaṇeśa’s body.

Birth of Ganesha

During the fifth century A.D. the popularity of Gaṇeśa increased in India. Beside belonging to the Śiva cult, Gaṇeśa also was worshipped as a separate deity. He was, and still is, invoked by the people to remove any obstacles they may encounter out of their way. This is also why his vehicle is the rat, for the rat is skilled in avoiding any kind of obstacle he may come across.

 Ganesha's Rat

Over time, Gaṇeśa’s popularity even reached the Royal Courts of Java. The Gaṇeśa statue of Singosari is built by King Kritanagara (1268-1292). The deity sits on a throne which is surrounded with human skulls around it. There are also skulls depicted on Gaṇeśa’s body. An explanation for the depictions of skulls can be found in King Kritanagara’s philosophy (weltanshauung), namely tantrism. Tantrism, in this context, is characterized by ritual performances and concessions that are conducted at burial grounds, or other places were dead bodies are cremated.[1]

Ganesha's ring of Skulls

The Gaṇeśa statue of Singosari is an expression of Indo-Javanese culture that developed from the eight to the fifteenth century.[2] The Indo-Javanese culture was mainly based on Hinduism and Buddhism that had arrived in Java from the Indian subcontinent. This particular period in time is often also referred to as the ‘Classical Period’ of Indonesian culture, which is subdivided in two periods: an early and a late period. The Early Period is called the ‘Central Javanese Period’, which begins in the eight century and lasts until the beginning of the tenth century. The Late Period, then, lasts from the tenth century until the fifteenth; this period is also referred to as the ‘East-Javanese Period’. It is also in this particular period that the Gaṇeśa statue of Singosari was made.

 ganesha rosary

Ganesha's SunThe Gaṇeśa of Singosari is estimated to date from the end of the thirteenth century. The statue is sculpted from andesite, a volcanic rock with a more refined structure compared to other types of volcanic rock. The statue is 1.54 meters tall and weighs as much as 2500 kilos.[3] This statue has several features that are not seen on any other Gaṇeśa statues in Indonesia. Gaṇeśa is seated on a pedestal of skulls, and behind the statue there is a wall, which on both sides display some kind of circles – possibly a sun and a moon.

Ganesha's Left Knee

His seated posture consists of a bent left leg that rests on the pedestal, and a pulled up right leg. It seems as if the legs are decorated with a pattern of skulls, for it is rather difficult to recognize garment on his legs. Gaṇeśa is depicted with a plump body, a fat belly, big popping eyes and thick and short legs. The statue shows Gaṇeśa with four arms. On both sides of the upper part of the statue a broken tusk is depicted. In the upper left hand Gaṇeśa holds a rosary, while holding an axe – with the blade pointing upward – in the upper right hand. Just like on many other Indonesian Gaṇeśa statues, the sacred thread is depicted in the form of a snake.

Ganesha's Sacred Thread

He holds skull in each of his lower hands, and reaches out with his trunk to the skull in his lower left hand. Skulls are the main decoration of his ornaments, such as earrings, (wrist, arm and ankle) bracelets, coronet and garment. According to a literary interpretation of the twelfth century Javanese court poem (kakawin) ‘The Smaradhana’ (written by Mpu Dharmaja), Gaṇeśa is considered as the victor of the battlefield, sitting on top of the defeated enemies’ skulls. [4] The fourteenth century Gaṇeśa statue of Karangkates in East Java is also depicted sitting on a pedestal of skulls. The depiction of skulls are not unique to Gaṇeśa statues alone, for they are often seen on statues of other deities as well. In this context, then, the depiction of skulls resembles certain demonic characteristics.

Gaṇeśa Karangkates



[2] Pauline Lunsingh Scheurleer, Aziatische Kunst, Volume 28, No. 2, June 1998.


[4] Pauline Lunsingh Scheurleer, Aziatische kunst, Volume 28, N0. 2, June 1998, p.8.
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