British Museum blog

Celebrating Ganesha

Detail of Ganesha statue
Manisha Nene, Assistant Director, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Carved schist figure of Ganesha (1872,0701.59)

Carved schist figure of Ganesha (1872,0701.59)

Today is the Hindu festival of Ganesha Jayanti, Ganesha’s birthday. It has a special significance for the British Museum this year because we are starting to install the next Room 3, Objects in Focus display about Ganesha. It will bring together a stone sculpture of Ganesha from the British Museum collection with aspects of the contemporary worship of the elephant-headed god in Mumbai. The main annual Ganesha festival, Ganeshchaturthi, is celebrated in August-September, but now is another significant time for worshippers of Ganesha.

A contemporary statue of Ganesha for the display has already arrived from Mumbai

A contemporary statue of Ganesha for the display has already arrived from Mumbai

Different traditions celebrate Ganesha Jayanti on different days. It is usually observed in the month of Magha (January-February) on the fourth day of Shukla paksha the bright fortnight or waxing moon in the Hindu caldendar, particularly in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. The celebrations of Ganesha Jayanti in the month of Magha are simple, with devotees observing a fast. Before worship, devotees take bath of water mixed with til (sesame seeds) after smearing a paste of the same substance on their body.

Domestic shrines and temples are decorated for the occasion. Special offerings are made to the permanent Ganesha images which are worshipped daily. In some places Ganesha is symbolically worshipped in the form of a cone made of turmeric or cow dung. Food offerings of ladoos (sweet balls) made of til and jaggery (sugar) are offered with great devotion. In some households and temples small images of Ganesha are placed in cradles and worshipped.

Baby Ganesha in a cradle. © CSMVS

Baby Ganesha in a cradle. © CSMVS

The practical reason for making offerings prepared of til and jaggery or applying sesame paste to the body is that when this festival is celebrated it is mid-winter and the body requires high energy supplements. The devotees consider their beloved Ganesha as human being and offer preparations of sesame and sugar to provide energy and keep the body warm.

Unlike the Ganeshchaturthi festival which we will feature in the display, the Ganesha Jayanti festival (Magha shukla Chaturthi) is publically celebrated in a relatively small number of places, where specially-created clay images of Ganesha are worshipped and immersed in the sea or river after 11 or 21 days.

During this month the devotees go on a pilgrimage to one of the many Ganesha temples across India. In Maharashtra there are eight places which are particularly sacred to Ganesha, known as Ashtavinaykas (Ashta means eight and Vinayaka is one of the many names of Ganesha) and the pilgrimage is known as Ashtavinayaka yatra. These are at Morgaon, Theur, Lenyadri, Ozar, Ranjangaon, Siddhatek, Pali and Mahad.

The India Leadership Training Programme

Matthew Cock, Head of Web, British Museum

I was lucky enough to be part the British Museum’s team running the first module of the Leadership Training Programme, which has just finished in Delhi. The programme was initiated by the National Culture Fund (NCF) under the Indian Ministry of Culture, with 20 delegates drawn from museums across India – from Delhi to Kolkotta, Mumbai to Chennai – including directors, curators, conservators and administrators.

Programme delegates with Neil MacGregor and Shobita Punja and staff from the British Museum and NCF

Programme delegates with Neil MacGregor and Shobita Punja and staff from the British Museum and NCF

The course is spread over three modules, the first focused on strategic, leadership and management skills, the second in March at the British Museum, on the more practical specialisms of a modern museum such as interpretation, documentation, marketing and education. The final module will be in Mumbai in May. I have no doubt that the two-way exchange of knowledge between delegates and British Museum staff will continue between modules and hopefully beyond the end of the course.

The training sessions were held at the National Culture Fund, in their offices next to the National Gallery of Modern Art. The sessions were long and energetic, with lots of discussion, workshops and case studies from both within and outside the Museum sector, and plenty of passionate debate about ways of leading institutions in times of change. On the day I joined the course, delegates made short presentations following visits to the National Museum of Delhi and the Sanskriti Museums, where they identified opportunities and prioritised changes that could be made to improve the visitor experience.

Our NCF hosts looked after us really well – particularly at lunchtime, where each day brought a new selection of delicious hot food, with local breads freshly cooked on site.

It was a fascinating experience, and though I didn’t have much time to see a lot of the city in the four days I was there, I learnt a lot about Indian museums, and the amazing quality of their collections. I’m looking forward to working with the delegates again in March, and continuing the discussions we began on the use of digital in many aspects of museum work.

Find out more about the India Leadership Training Programme

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