I was given my first Ganesha in 1998. I was in a women’s prayer group in Indianapolis. I was moving to Bellingham, Washington, and at our final meeting the group gave me a small bronze Ganesha. The small statue had a card attached that explained, “Lord Ganesha, the elephant headed God was born to earth as son of Shiva and Parvati. He is the remover of obstacles from our spiritual paths. Seeking his guidance his devotees meditate upon the image of Lord Ganesha before starting any new venture.” I had never seen Ganesha prior to receiving my gift. They gave it to me to bless my journey. I have carried that small statue with me as I have moved, achieved, failed, started, stopped, climbed, crawled, crashed, and flown over the last 15 years.
I was amazed when I saw Ganesha as I walked into the space where my yoga retreat was being held. A large stone version of my statue stood before me to the side of the stairs that lead to the dining area. As is the Balinese way, statues of gods were placed throughout the property. My heart danced a bit when Ganesha greeted me in Bali.
I knew searching for Ganesha would be a part of my Bali experience. He was everywhere. Outside of temples. Inside shops. Next to street vendors. Sometimes he was dancing. Sometimes he was reclined. Sometimes he was carrying an axe. He often he had many arms. My search was fueled by my intense desire to rid myself of the obstacles I place in my way, and to own my knowledge and intuition more deeply. Ganesha seemed to hold the key to all that.
I found my first Ganesha in the monkey forest. Amidst cheeky monkeys trying to steal food from my small purse, “The grandpa of the monkey forest” sold me a small, delicate watercolor Ganesha that he had painted. The kind man told my roommate and I his personal story, intertwined with the stories of the monkeys. This Ganesha was still joyfully rotund, but also tiny and precise. He possessed a certain amount of cunning. I thought about the fact some scholars point to Ganesha as both remover and creator of obstacles. I thought about the idea that an obstacle can be both a crisis and an opportunity. I thought about the connection between my ego and obstacles. Perhaps the removal of obstacles is simply a question of perspective and letting go? Maybe we can just ask to see obstacles differently and new understanding will come?
I kept searching and found my second Ganesha at a small store in Ubud. This was a more upscale artsy boutique than some of the other shops into which my roommate and I had wandered. I was immediately drawn to the wooden statues that sat inside the shop. There were statues of Balinese dancers in intricate poses, so detailed you could see their eyelashes batting and their hands gently caressing the air. There were elegant painted wooden eggs. There were also statues of Ganesha. I immediately gravitated to the beautiful Ganesha sitting powerfully in the petals of a lotus. Brilliantly colored in regal shades and brushed in gold, this Ganesha brought beauty to his story. His fist held an axe with certainty. There was beauty and force in his grip, as if he could cut through the densest jungle. In him, I saw a connection between beauty and strength. In him, I saw hope that no obstacle is too great. I bought him and sat him on the desk in my room when I arrived that night. He watched over my roommate and I the rest of the retreat. He continues to watch over me at home.
My third Ganesha arrived along our hike through the rice terraces outside of Ubud. We walked through a sea of green waving rice along worn gravel paths. The hot air was filled with a richness that I had never tasted. The blue sky. The bright sun. The gentle sound of the water in the small streams that allowed the rice to grow. I was keenly aware of the time of year, of the season. This walk would be different after the rice was harvested and the rains came. Beautiful, but different. Now, this walk was heaven. Artists sold their work along the path in small huts. The work beautifully reflected local stories and artistic tradition. Texture. Color. Materials. The artists seemed to breathe in Bali and exhale its sweetness to the world. Ganesha found me on this walk. I saw him and knew. Framed in traditional Balinese wood, this Ganesha beckoned. This moment was perfect, and Ganesha seemed to say you can carry the sunshine with you along your path. This does not have to end here. Maybe he was saying I will protect your sunshine? Maybe he was saying I will bring you sunshine? Maybe he was saying I will give you strength to make sunshine? I know something moved me deeply that afternoon. I spoke briefly with the artist’s wife, and bought the picture. We continued on our way.
I am now home with the small Ganesha from 1998, the pictures and statue of Ganesha I found in Bali, and a Balinese necklace with a Ganesha charm I purchased at my yoga studio after I returned. I now carry the necklace with me in the velvet bag in which my grandmother kept her pearls. I am surrounded in Ganesha’s loving embrace. Just as he was quietly present in the Balinese landscape, my hope is to carry him with me here. Removing obstacles. Building my inner voice. Helping me find strength to make sunshine.