Ganeshism: a celebration of Lord Ganesh in art

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Mahen Chanmugam has been painting for over thirty five years, and has devoted the last twelve to portraying Lord Ganesh. His art attempts to present the complex symbolism and iconography surrounding Lord Ganesh in a colourful, contemporary form.

The combination of his elephant-like head and a quick moving vahana (vehicle) represents tremendous wisdom,intelligence and presence of mind

With his paintings, Mahen tries to reach back to the past, while looking forward, balancing the challenges between the spirit of modernism and the need to capture the essence of a traditional art form, undiluted.

Drawing inspirations from the mythology and philosophies of Hinduism, his canvases are saturated with intense colour, evocative of the bright powdery pigments that decorate the entrance to Hindu temples. Bright fluorescent pink cells sit alongside lime-green lotus petals and multicoloured Chakras float across saffron skies, with tiny mirrors shimmering around silvery Ganeshes. His forms are uniquely constructed and set in luminous coloured spaces that defy being tied down to any spatial context. The ever present images of the lotus heart and petals splashed across his life-sized canvases act as an eloquent metaphor for the regeneration of the soul.

He has worked with all types of media, having mastered, then abandoned, oil painting for the brilliant hues, he now works on materials are varied as canvas, wood, sackcloth, and even concrete and stone. He currently lives in Sri Lanka with his fiancee and cats amongst the water monitors in Colombo.

Ganeshism-a celebration of Lord Ganesh in art by Mahen Chanmugam was held at Barefoot Gallery in Colombo from May 15th 2008 to June 01st 2008. The unusual exhibition of paintings has drawn a large number of Ganesh devotees and art lovers.

Mahen Chanmugam lighting the oil lamp

Mahen Chanmugam’s sister Sharmini Boyle lighting the traditional oil lamp

Traditional oil lamp is lit

American Ambassador Robert Blake viewing Ganeshism

Mahen Chanmugam at Barefoot Gallery

“Lord Ganesh is universal, and the philosophy surrounding him is Buddhist as much as it is Hindu. I subscribe to these philosophies, but I was always more compelled to create something rather than represent something” says Mahen Chanmugam (43). He was born in Sri Lanka. His family converted to Christianity three generations ago. His first memories of Ganesh imagery were the dark earthy pigments of the temples he visited with his father as a child.While he has been painting since childhood Mahen has no formal schooling. At the age of 16 he started working in printing, quickly moved on to graphic design and left Sri Lanka to work in Hong Kong and Singapore. As he says, “I have always had this amazing determination that I wanted to be an artist”.

He discovered the existence of Vinayaki in 2007. The earliest evidence of a female Ganesh or Vinayaki is a weathered terracotta plaque from Rairh in Rajhasthan, which dates back to the first century. Mahen says: “It is not widely known, but there are records of Vinayaki’s in 64 Yoginî enclosures or temples. Eighteen of these temples have been indexed in India with one, supposedly, in Sri Lanka. The real statues at temples have mostly been disfigured, but there are references and writing on the subject in various publications. Because there are such few visual examples it is for me as an artist a total liberation from the 32 classic postures and forms-and it gives me a licence to be more interpretive”.

Art enthusiasts viewing the various forms of Lord Ganesh

Sometimes paintings can inherit memories

Dance of creation- Acrylic on canvass 120*90cm

Vinayaki in Pink- Acrylic on canvass 46*35cm

Vinayaki in Silver- Acrylic on wood 82*95cm
Vinayaki in Blue-Acrylic on canvass 46*35cm

Vinayaki is a feminine form of Ganesh. Sri Kumara a text dating back to the sixth century invokes Vinayaki in the following words:

“Prostrations to the Goddess Vinayaki, who is an elephant above the neck and below is a youthful female”.

She is commonly believed to be the Shakthi of Ganesh/Vinayaka or thecreativeness of the God. According to J.Herbert (1930), the Gnaesh Shakthi is represented sometimes as a twin figure, one is Buddhi (supra mental power of understanding), the other is Siddhi (higher cleverness and superhuman power both) or Riddhi (perfection); these goddesses are represented with nprmal human bodies, but in esoteric situations, the Shakthi is named Vinayaki/Ganeshani, andis represented with an elephant head and a woman body.

The earliest evidence of female Ganesh or Vinayaki is w weathered terracotta plaque from Rairh in Rajasthan, which dates back to the first century. These feminine Ganesh forms have been discovered in 64 Yogini enclosures or temples. Eighteen such Yogini temples have been indexed in India with one supposedly in Sri Lanka.

Musician Series 1
Acrylic on canvass 152cm*125cm

Then on the horizon, I saw you arrive riding a rat in 4 wheel drive and on the wet sky in Sanskrit and sandalwood another of your 51 names were inscribed

Vinayaki in Abhaya
Acrylic on canvass 95cm*60cm

The names of lord Ganesh reflect all the qualities, all the powers of this beloved God. Devotees believe that these powers have no limitation

Ambassador Robert Blake and Nazreen Sansoni at the venue

Lord Ganesh has as many names as the letters in the Sanskrit alphabet

Acrylic on canvass 60cm*45cm

Acrylic on fibre glass 100cm*60cm

Acrylic on canvass 120cm*90cm

There are various anecdotes which explain how Ganesh broke off one of his tusks. Devotees sometimes say that his single tusk indicates his ability to overcome all forms of dualism. One such anecdote relates that Parashurama, an avatar of Vishnu went to pay a visit to Shiva but along the way he was blocked by Ganesha. Parashurama hurled himself at Ganesha with his axe and Ganesha (knowing that this axe was given to him by Shiva) allowed himself out of respect to be struck an lost his tusk as a result

Every year, the fourth day after the no-moon day (Amaavasya) in the month of Bhadrapada (September according to the English calendar) is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha. This day is known as Vinayaka Chaturdhi or Vinayaka Chavithi

Offerings of flowers and rice accompany the 21 names of Lord Ganesh

Never look at the moon on Lord Ganesh’s birthday

Eight times at your feet, I fell

Acrylic on canvass 46cm*35cm

Path to release 2
Acrylic on canvass 152cm*125cm

Om Ganeshaya Namana

My sins are simple;
My crimes eventful

Ganesha is identified with the mantra Aum. The term Omkarasavarupa (Aum is his form), when identified with Ganesha refers to the notion that he personifies the primal sound

Dance of creation is being photographed

Eight times rang the temple bell ~ In response to the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian island Bali, Mahen painted Lord Ganesh dressed in the school colours of his old Christian school uniform, the deity’s hands displaying the V-sign in a bid for peace.

The eight incarnations of Lord Ganesh are given in the Mudgala Purana written in 16th century.
They are:


Lord of the curved trunk
Destroyer of Matsara
Demon of jealousy

2. Ekdanta

Lord with only one tusk
Destroyer of Mada
Demon of drunkenness


My Lord with a big belly
Destroyer of Moha
Demon of illusion


Lord of the elephant face
Destroyer of Lobha
Demon of greed


Lord of the big belly
Vanquisher of Krodha
Demon of anger


The misshapen
Destroyer of Kama
Demon of desire


Lord o all obstacles
Destroyer of Mama
Demon of ego

8. Dhoomravarna

Destroyer of Ahamkara
Demon of self-infatuation


Related: A Photo Journal of Lord Ganesh

“He has sweetly graced me, with joyous compassion”

Sri Ganesha Saranam ~ on Saxophone by Kadri Gopalnath


  1. srihar says:

    Congratulations for the work done

  2. Mahesh says:

    veryyy good one

  3. kalusudda says:

    Thank you very much for the great presentation. You made me feel as if I was there! :)

  4. Sneha Jain says:

    I love Ganesha’s paintings. these r incredidible

  5. Wow… absolutely beautiful! I also love Ganesh and painting Ganesh, your pictures are an inspiration. Wish I could be at the exhibition.

  6. priyanka says:


  7. Jyotsna says:

    Wow..!! Ur really blessed by Lord Ganesha… these painting r awesome….