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December 5, 2022

An Unforgettable Elephant-headed God

Photographing the Hindu Deity Ganesh

Over a period of two years, pictures of this sculpture surrounded by a hedge at the crossing of two streets in Healdsburg failed to make the cut. 

I’ve wanted to write about it. I walk or drive by often. Several attempts to find the right light failed. In some attempts, Ganesh himself refused to emerge, frustratingly camouflaged in shadow. 

Photography is like that. It’s part of the fun and frustration of the art. What the mind’s eye sees is not what the camera sees, and vice versa.

On this occasion, Ganesh presented himself. Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. Perhaps, he waited for the right moment so I could thank my Indian friends who hosted me on the East Coast. 

The captain of my adventure there is a dear friend—a stayer-in-toucher, an organizer, a giving guy such as you don’t often meet. He goes by many names: Manish, Turtle, Captain, maybe even Ganesh. It seems fitting that this photo appeared in coincidence with the gifts of friendship and hospitality from welcoming friends who gather, walk, talk and bike with the Captain.  

If this sounds a bit allegorical, it is. It emulates the magic of Indian cultural stories. Allegories probe life beyond what is seen. In Western culture, the Book of Revelation is like this. In Indian culture, the Mahabharata is like this. 

A translation by Romesh Dutt, preserving the rhyming couplet structure, is an excellent read of the world’s longest epic poem. There is a lovely part before the great battle where Arjuna takes a moment to pause between battle lines with his elephant and elephant driver Krishna—somewhat unbeknownst to Arjuna as a God.

Arjuna is struggling with realities of the world: Why go to battle; why draw arrows to kill uncles and teachers? Deep questions of inner struggle. 

When Krishna answers, Krishna reveals the mystery of the universe. Essentially, he tells Arjuna the world is not as you see it. For a brief moment, Krishna reveals his mind, and being a God, the universe is revealed. 

Suffused through matter is an undestroyable unity of energy. You play a role. However, you are not as you appear. Thank you, Ganesh. 

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