Ganesh collection

S Balakrishnan
Lord Ganesh is the favourite god of children. No doubt about this because of His unique elephant head with the trunk, big ears, twinkling eyes and pot belly. Children get easily attracted to these unique features of Ganesh, the Elephant God.  It was no wonder that as a little boy studying in third standard I too was attracted to Pillayar (as Lord Ganesh is called in Tamil Nadu); I started pestering my parents to get me a doll/idol of Pillayar so that I could playfully worship Him. My pestering was rewarded with a small metal icon of Pillayar of the size of 1 ½ inches. Maybe my parents acceded to my request under the misconception that I was turning pious and religious at that very young age itself.  The line of shops inside the Sri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai had a limitless choice but I was charmed by this tiny statue; if my memory does not fail me after 58 years, the idol cost Rs. 5 in the year 1964.  The wooden stool at home turned upside down was the makeshift temple or chariot for the tiny Pillayar idol. The thick cover of old notebooks served as walls and roof of the temple/chariot. My sisters’ ribbons – despite their protests – turned as hangings/torans. No costly gadgets or outings but within indoors such simple toys and discarded or daily use items gave us so much of fun and pleasure. We would anoint Him with a spoon of oil stolen from the kitchen and bathe Him with shikakai paste, turmeric powder and water. He patiently bore all our childish torture and gave us company for 5-6 years until we grew too big for this small statue. I wonder how much would such a solid metal Pillayar, crafted so finely, cost now, almost 60 years later - around 400 rupees? Well, even if you offer one lakh rupees I would not spare Him. He is so dear to me, being the first of my Pillayar collection.
The second Ganesh came almost a decade later to guard our new house. The newly-constructed house was facing a street straight ahead; this was considered inauspicious. A statue of Pillayar placed facing the street would ward off this vaastu problem, it was suggested. Thus came this almost 6" tall stone Pillayar from ‘Poompuhar’, the Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation showroom in Chennai. I wanted to buy a statue made as per shilpa shastra, so I chose Poompuhar. I think I paid 250 rupees for this granite statute.  He was placed inside a niche in our compound wall, facing the street ahead, with daily worship by my parents. Passers-by also paid obeisance to Him and even offered coins which money was used for His puja. When we had to dispose of that house this Ganesha started living inside our house, in the showcase. The belief is that idols of 6" should not be kept merely as a showpiece in the house and that they should be under daily worship.  But I convince myself that as He is slightly shorter than 6" He can guard us from the comfort of the showcase. Hope He is also convinced!
I was not collecting Ganesh idols but the third Ganesh came by Himself in Orissa (Odisha) in 1983.  My time in Orissa was up as I was due for a transfer elsewhere (it was Gangtok, Sikkim).  So I was collecting handicraft items of Orissa made of different materials.  It was a difficult choice as the variety of Orissa handicrafts is so vast and varied! At the Puri Zilla Palli Silpi & Silpa Vikash Co-op Stores in Pipli, on the way to Puri/Konark from Bhubaneswar, I saw a cute, tiny, white Ganesh inviting me to pick Him up. Made of POP (Plaster of Paris), He was casted in a standing posture within a height of 1 ¾”. I found Him to be a fine specimen of Orissa art work but the price was 4 rupees, a considerable amount in 1983 when I could finish my breakfast with two masala dosas and a cup of special tea for 2.10 rupees! Despite 40 years having gone by, this POP Ganeshji with His Mooshika mount is still in good form, as fine as He was in 1983.  What a lovely Orissa Pillayar!
A pricey Vinayak beckoned us in Port Blair, Andaman Islands, in 2009. We were window shopping the line of shell handicraft shops there when this 1" red coral Pillayar temptingly smiled at us. “What a lovely and rare idol!” My wife exclaimed. I knew then & there that she would not let this Ganesh slip from our hands. Without caring for my permission, she immediately swiped her credit card and possessed Him for 300 rupees. This Ganesh occupies the pride of place in the showcase.
Visiting the Sri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai after many years during an office tour, I found an idol of Pillayar made of grains. Bound together by resin, this dhaanya (grains) Pillayar is a mould idol of horse gram and green gram. I suppose I bought this 3 ½” idol for 75 rupees. Well, fifteen long years have passed by and my memory could falter.
Mine was not a conscious collection of Ganesh statutes. The Pillayars came in search of me, if I may say so.  In the market there is such a vast variety of Ganesh idols in different materials, including those from China, that one would go crazy collecting them. Instead, let Ganesh come in search of you on His own.  As they hail in Maharashtra, “Ganapathi Bappa Morya”,   ’O Lord Ganapathi, our father, go ahead. Please come back again the next year’!  … [email protected] / 9840917608 Whatsapp