By Joseph Emerson
The well-respected Hindu god Ganesh, known as Ganesh or Ganesha, is the god of wealth, knowledge, sciences, wisdom, and prosperity. This is why he is so important to Hindu culture and religion. The statue of Ganesh at Silver Coin Indian Grill in Hoover, Alabama, shows Ganesh on a lotus, with his vehicle mouse at his feet, his upper hands holding two indiscernible items, and his lower hands in two different mudra positions. Ganesh is very important to Hindus and even has a ten-day celebration in his honor, the Ganesh Chaturthi. Another thing that makes the statue of Ganesh so important is that it is believed to make someone feel closer to him when there is an image of him nearby.
Silver Coin Indian Grill is located in The Village on Lorna Shopping Center which is on the corner of Lorna Road and Patton Chapel Road. The shopping center has a few stores and a couple of other restaurants, such as Pollo Lucas.
Ganesh is well-known and respected, the stories about him are too. There are two commonly accepted birth stories for Ganesh. Both start with the Hindu goddess Parvati. Parvati is the Hindu goddess of love, power, and renewal, she is Ganesh’s mother. In the first version, Parvati is in a bath and she longs for someone to protect her. She rubs the dirt off of her skin and rolls it into the shape of a boy, who comes to life as Ganesh. One day, Shiva attacked Ganesh because he thought he was a threat, and Shiva decapitated Ganesh. Shiva then finds a new head for Ganesh, an elephant head, and attaches it to his body. Wendy Doniger states, “According to this version of the myth, Ganesha is the child of Parvati alone—indeed, a child born despite Shiva’s negative intervention. Yet Ganesha is traditionally regarded as the child of both Shiva and Parvati.” It is true that the Hindu god of creation and destruction, Shiva, is regarded as his father in all versions of the story. In the first version, he is viewed as a father because he completed Ganesh’s body by attaching his elephant head and in the second version, because he helps bring Ganesh to life. In this second story, Parvati made Ganesh’s body, elephant head and all, out of cloth and Shiva brings him to life.
Ganesh plays a huge role in Hinduism through yearly festivals and the daily rituals. The Ganesh Chaturthi is a celebration of Ganesh’s birth that lasts for ten days. Murtis (statues) are set in homes for the celebration, and throughout the ten-day period there are four traditional rituals that are performed in Ganesh’s honor. An article on the Ganesh Chaturthi says:
A ritual called Pranapratishhtha is observed where a priest chants a mantra to invoke life in the deity. Prayers are then offered to Ganesha’s idol in 16 different ways. This ritual is called Shhodashopachara… …The Uttarpuja ritual is then performed which is about bidding farewell to Ganesha with deep respect. This is followed by Ganpati Visarjan, a ceremony wherein the statue is now immersed in water. While carrying the statue to the sea and while immersing it, people generally chant in the Marathi language ‘Ganapati Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya‘ which means ‘Goodbye Lord, please come back next year. ‘Ganesh Chaturthi 2020
Along with the four rituals during the celebration, there is still an obligation to worship Ganesh and the other Hindu gods daily in Hinduism using an image, offerings, prayer, and chants, especially at the beginning of ceremonies because Ganesh is the lord of beginnings in traditional Hinduism.
The statue at Silver Coin has many features that make it interesting. The statue seems to be made of resin, which is a less than common material in Ganesh murtis, but is a popular material for other kinds of statues and is a sturdy yet a moldable and easily shapeable substance. On the statue, Ganesh’s upper hands are holding two of many possible religious items that Ganesh is associated with. In many murtis, Ganesh is often depicted holding rope, axes, conch shells, his broken tusk, or a handful of sweets, but you cannot tell which ones Ganesh is holding from this photograph. His lower hands are in the mudra forms for warding off fear and for giving charity and offering, commonly seen on religious images in Hinduism. Also on the statue, Ganesh is sitting on a lotus flower, a typical setting for statues similar to this one, and a rat, his vehicle, is looking up at him with adoration. A study on religious statues states, “The lotus is the foremost symbol of beauty, prosperity and fertility. According to Hinduism, within each human is the spirit of the sacred lotus. It represents eternity, purity, divinity, and is widely used as a symbol of life, fertility, ever-renewing youth” (Home). The lotus flower is a symbol of enlightenment in Hinduism and is highly regarded.
The image of Ganesh at the Silver Coin Grill can be interpreted in a couple of ways. The first way that the statue could be seen is as just a statue used for decoration. That is the way that many outsiders would view the statue, before knowledge of Hinduism and how they use statues for all sorts of ceremonies and worship. A Hindu would recognize the statue to connect with and worship their god, Ganesh, instead of just decoration. One instruction on praying to Ganesh states, “An idol or photograph of Ganesha will help bring you closer to him. This is the first step in worshiping Ganesha, without it, you will be unable to move forward” (How to Pray to the Hindu God Ganesh). Statues or images are used to place their gods in a place with them in order to feel closer to them during worship. Another step in Hindu worship is to give offerings to the gods, like foods, spices, or flowers, which is to please them in hope for their favor. The statue of Ganesh is showing the abhaya mudra in his right hand and the varada mudra (the mudra of charity and compassion) in his left hand. These two signs together could be interpreted as gaining protection from fear if you give an offering in the bowl laid out in front of the statue. According to tradition, whoever worships Ganesh and pays the offerings is supposed to be protected from fear, obstruction, and gain knowledge and wisdom.
The murti at Silver Coin Grill is a great image that represents the history and culture of Hindus and the religion that they practice. It represents what they believe and how they do so. It is a beautiful statue in the way it looks and the way it represents the Hindu society here in Birmingham, Alabama.
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Joseph Emerson ‘24 was a student in the first-year seminar on Religious Images in Birmingham (UCCA 102) in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in Fall 2020.
Published November 23, 2020.