A top holiday boss’s obsession with collecting Ganeshas
A Ganesha so small that it measures only 1.3 mm and placed in the eye of a needle in a test tube by an artist from Warangal, AP; a sandalwood fan with Ganesha figures from Churu in Rajasthan; Ganesha made from fish scales by fishermen from Murshidabad in West Bengal; or painted inside an eggshell/inside a bottle, by an artist from Chennai; an idol of Ganeshini, a female form of the god in brass; and even a painting of a Ganesha done by Australian aboriginal people in their boomerang-filled art form.
And many more from all parts of India and the world – from Peru to Beijing – and in different materials, poses and shapes – from Lalique crystal to Lladro porcelain Ganeshas, are all part of this eclectic collection.
Sterling Holidays chairman Ramesh Ramanathan’s “magnificent obsession” with collecting figurines and paintings of the elephant god has seen his collection swell to more than 2,500 Ganeshs over the past 30 years. “My collections don’t have antiques; they represent the arts and crafts of the country and the world,” he says.
Moreover, as he says, he does not collect Ganesh as a religious rite. “But it’s more like a representation of a ‘form’ that lent itself to a myriad of poses and materials. I have seen the expression of art and craft forms from India and some neighboring countries, through this medium. It is an expression and a testimony to the diversity of cultures in India. It is not a spiritual quest.
His house is full of idols and paintings of Ganesha; in cupboards, on side tables, on the walls – there are at least 700 on display – and for those who can’t find the space, they are all grouped together in the loft. “I can say that the lord is literally watching me from above,” adds Ramanathan with a chuckle.
Ramanathan says he has been an avid collector since growing up in Coimbatore – from matchbox labels to marbles and cocktail sticks. “I always had this fascination with Ganeshas. There was a temple with three Ganapati at the end of the street where we lived and I prayed there often, and certainly before my exams. It was always in my subconscious. Today today, besides the Ganeshas, he has a collection of “only birds” stamps — about 4,500 stamps!
Besides the collection itself, Ramanathan has interesting stories of how he obtained some of the Ganeshas – the pursuit being as adventurous as the acquisition. Like the miniature Ganesha that can be seen under a magnifying glass. The artist was Ajit Kumar, whom Ramanathan had heard about in the newspapers. During a first approach, the artist refused to sell thinking that he was a merchant. When Ramanathan explained that he was a serious avid collector, Ajit visited his office several months later and gave him the piece. “I had many experiences like these where people gifted me Ganeshas. Recently Ajit sent me a Ganesha, just 1.2mm, in gold,” he adds.
Or, the aboriginal (native people of Australia) artwork of Ganesha that his nephew in Australia gave him on his 60th birthday. e birthday. The nephew explained to the local artists with pictures of Ganesha and they came up with their own colorful rendering and in their own style. A painting dear to Ramanathan. The first Ganesha he bought was in 1992 in Ooty, a large softwood panel made by artisans in TN that still adorns a wall in his home.
Ganesha, he says, is such a malleable god, subject to so many interpretations, that he comes in so many different shapes, sizes and poses. Not only the base material from which it is made, but also the multitude of forms and expressions. There are Ganeshas in different semi-precious stones, Lladro porcelain; French crystal Lalique; in amethyst; in lapis, Amazonite; in over 100 different semi-precious stones, silver coated metal, Ganeshas in bone inlay, various metals including idols in the “lost wax” method of bronze, several different varieties of wood, jute, bamboo, string, areca nut, pith, pencil lead, aluminum foil, paper mache, terracotta, porcelain, wax, mud, sand, granite, marble, soapstone, turmeric – the list goes on.
The Ganeshas of Ramanathan come from all over India and the world – from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, Tibet, Beijing, Thailand, among others. He says the Ganesh very well represent the diversity of Indian culture and art forms, but project unity in form.
The collection also comes from different cultures – paintings from Tanjore, Bastaar dhokra, filigree from Orissa, Kavad from Rajasthan, Sankheda from Gujarat, fresco from Kerala, metal embossing, cross stitch over thread, wooden dolls from Chitrakoot in UP, Kondpalli and Etikoppa of AP, Channapatna in Karnataka, Ganapati Diyas, modern sculptures, paintings, marble and wood inlays, origami and paper quilling, lost-wax bronze-beaten metal, plus a small sculpture by the sculptor and painter , B Vithal.
Ramanathan, who spent a small fortune collecting Ganeshas, now wants an institution to house his collection so that it can be displayed to anyone who is interested. His two daughters work abroad and it is not sure whether they can transport and maintain the figurines. “I would like to give the collection for exhibition to an institution that can take care of them and with the promise not to sell them. I could also provide a small corpus to maintain them,” he explains. the obstacle eliminator, will soon find a way for him.
July 07, 2022