Niranjan Shah, a civil engineer, who pioneered famous high-rise buildings in Baroda, is a broadcaster in India and the USA and a prolific writer. Under “A Letter from Grandpa.” he has been writing since 2002 on India’s historical, philosophical, and literary heritage. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Niranjan Shah
My dear Nikita and Sanjna:
Indian community celebrated Ganesh festival last month all around the world. Ganesh worship is popular in India since Vedic times. Ganesh was being equally worshipped all around the world. Statues of Ganesh are found throughout the Malay Archipelago in great numbers. The forms of Ganesh found in Hindu art of Java, Bali, and Borneo show specific regional influences. The gradual spread of Hindu culture to Southeast Asia established Ganesh in Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand. In Thailand, Cambodia, and among the Chams in Vietnam, Ganesh was mainly thought of as a remover of obstacles. Before the arrival of Islam, Afghanistan followed Vedic culture. A few examples of sculptures from the 5th to the 7th centuries have survived, suggesting that the worship of Ganesh was then in vogue in the region. In China earliest known stone statue of Ganesh carries an inscription dated to 531. In Japan, the Ganesh worship was first mentioned in 806.
Strangely enough, apart from oriental countries, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia and the Honduras of Central and South America, have rich temples like India. Among the deities worshipped is Ganesh also. The icons permeated the Inca mythology and gained much influence in these countries. Ganesh idols from the temple of Diego Riviera in Mexico City, various Ganesh images in the Guatemala Museum, Vera Cruz and Quiragua in Guatemala prove this adequately. Excavations in Mexico have revealed numerous Ganesh idols. Ganesh worship was popular in Central America among Aztec culture also.
Now let us see Ganesh worship in Europe also. “Rome, like Egypt,” says Pococke in India in Greece page 180: “was colonized by a conflux of the Solar (Surya) as well as Lunar (Chandra) races (of India).” Edward Pococke was British historian and spent all his life to show India’s cultural influence in Europe and America.
According to Franz Cumont author of The Original Religions in Roman Paganism: “It was easy for the Indian divinities to cross the seas and enter Rome.” Franz Cumont was a Belgian archaeologist and historian, a philologist and student of epigraphy, who brought these often isolated specialties to bear on the syncretic mystery religions of Late Antiquity, notably Mithraism. Cumont was a graduate of the University of Ghent (PhD, 1887).
“The great heroes of India are the gods of Greece. They are in fact — as they have been often rationally affirmed and as plausibly but not as rationally denied! And this same process of deification, both among Greeks and Romans continued.” Edward Pococke in India in Greece page 142.
In 1806 Sir William Jones drew a close comparison between a particular form of Ganesh, and Janus the two-headed Roman god. Jones felt the resemblance between Ganesh and Janus was so strong that he referred to Ganesh as the “Janus of India.”Another early 19th century Indologist, Edward Moor, repeated the speculation by Jones, helping to keep the Janus idea alive. Moore expanded the claims of an association based on functional grounds, noting that Janus, like Ganesh, was invoked at the beginning of undertakings, a god, who was the guardian of gates. Ganesh was asked to guard the gate.
“The most celebrated temple of Janus, for there were several others in Rome, stood in front of the Curia.” Writes Cumont in Studio Pontica page 85.
Dorothe Chaplin writes in Matter, Myth and Spirit or Celtic and Hindu Links on page 37: “Ganesh is depicted on a carving at Rheims in France with a rat above his head.”
Rome was spread over seven hillocks of which one was named as Janiculam. The original name was Sanskrit Ganesh-alayam, the temple of Ganesh. Maria Graham writes in Letters on India: “Sir William Jones has so carefully and eloquently compared Indian Ganesh with the Roman Janesa that we can scarcely doubt their identity. They both equally presided over the beginning of things and action.” Next we will see Ganesh worship in ancient America.
– Grandpa’s blessing