This extraordinary image of Ganapati (the Buddhist name for Ganesh; Tsog Dak is the Tibetan name) is fashioned from a single, large piece of rock crystal with gilded copper mounts with applied stones. The size of the rock crystal gives the piece considerable weight for its size – it weighs almost two kilograms.
The image features a curling trunk, a pair of tusks, and mournful rock crystal eyes with black pupils and reddish sclera surrounded by pearled gilded metal mounts with prominent tear ducts. The gilded copper crown (from which a pair of ears also protrude) is in floral form with nine peaks. It is embellished with twelve gems in box mounts. The gems may be a reference to Ganapati’s role as god of wealth.
The upper part of the reverse of the image is enclosed in gilded copper with an applied hook to allow the image to be suspended, perhaps in a shrine.
At one point the image was coated in a yellow pigment and animal glue mix but this has now largely worn away. It is not unusual in the Buddhist world for religious objects and images of deities to be made of precious material and then to have them covered with gilding or some other colouring in lieu of gilding. When items are viewed purely on aesthetic grounds then this practice may not make sense but these objects are first and foremost items of a religious nature. The use of precious material in the first instance is an act of merit. To then cover this material with gold leaf or a coloured pigment is a further act of merit.
A Tibetan ritual dagger (phurbu) made entirely of rock crystal, attributed to the 17th-18th century and 25.5cm long which comprised Lot 13 in Sotheby’s New York, ‘Indian, Himalayan, South-east Asian and Indian Miniatures’ sale of September 20-21, 1985, similarly seems to be have been coated but with much of the coating having worn away. Sometimes images of bodhisattvas in translucent jade were entirely covered in gilding in Ming China, and some Buddha images in Burma today are so entirely covered in gold leaf and other material that the original material has become entirely obscured and the shape of the image distorted.
The use of inlaid stones and the form of the metal work suggests that the Ganapati possibly was made by Newar craftsmen operating in Tibet, possibly in the Gyanste region.
Examples of Tibetan items that use rock crystal in whole or in some significant part include:
– altarpieces in rock crystal with gilded copper mounts with heights varying from 20.6cm to 50.8cm and which were attributed to the 17th-18th centuries which comprised lot 4 in Sotheby’s New York, ‘Indian and Southeast Asian Art’;
– a rock crystal hookah base with gilded copper mounts, 29.8cm tall and ascribed to the seventeenth-eighteenth century, comprised lot 5 in the same auction;
– a gilt and silvered iron sceptre with a rock crystal head shaped as a skull, 38cm long, attributed to the fifteenth century, which comprised lot 92 in Christies’ Amsterdam, ‘Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art’, November 18, 1996;
– a gilded copper and rock crystal stupa, 33.5cm tall, ascribed to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in the Tibet Museum and illustrated in Shanghai Museum (2001, p. 128);
– a set of three ritual weapons – aphurbu, a chopper and an axe – in gilded bronze and rock crystal, ascribed to eastern Tibet and to the seventeenth century or earlier, ranging from 20.3cm to 22.5cm in length in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and illustrated in Pal (1990, p. 246);
– a water ewer of rock crystal with silver mounts and precious stones, ascribed to the eighteenth century, 29.2cm tall, n the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and illustrated in Pal (1990, p. 249);
– a ritual dagger (phurbu) of rock crustal, jade and gilded copper, ascribed to central Tibet, circa 1700, 62cm long, in the Art Institute of Chicago, and illustrated in Pal (2004, p.271);
– a ritual dagger (phurbu) of rock crystal, attributed to the 17th-18th century and 25.5cm long which comprised Lot 13 in Sotheby’s New York, ‘Indian, Himalayan, South-east Asian and Indian Miniatures’ sale of September 20-21, 1985, and lot 314 in Sotheby’s New York, ‘Indian and Southeast Asian Art’, September 19, 1996;
– a pair of rock crystal frogs with gilt copper bases, 15.2cm long, ascribed to the 19th century and which appeared as lot 198 in Sotheby’s New York, ‘Indian and Southeast Asian Art’, September 16-17, 1998; and
– a pair of silver mounted rock crystal ewers, ascribed to the 19th century, 33.3cm tall, and included in the same sale as lot 199;
There is a wide variation of datings ascribed to Tibetan rock crystal items. But with the patina on the gilded copper mounts of the Ganapati here a dating of around the early nineteenth century is suggested.
This item was obtained from the Scottish art market. It is not unusual for South Asian and associated items to be sourced from Scotland. Many Scots were employed in the Indian colonial administration and today many families in Scotland and the English border areas retain colonial keepsakes.
Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, is one of the most widely worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India and Nepal. Hindi sects worship him regardless of affiliations and devotion to Ganesh extends to Jains and some Buddhist sects including the various strands of Buddhism found in Tibet.
Ganesh is widely revered as the Remover of Obstacles, the god of wealth, and as a patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom.
Among Buddhists, Ganesh generally is known as Ganapati. Many Buddhist traditions regard elephants as sacred. Buddha’s mother, Mahamaya had the dream of a white elephant announcing his birth.
Ganesh appears in Mahayana Buddhism, not only in the form of the Buddhist god Vinayaka, but also as a Hindu demon bearing the same name. His image appeared in Buddhist sculptures during the late Gupta period. As the Buddhist god Vinayaka, often he is shown dancing. This form, called Nritya Ganapati, was popular in northern India. Later it was adopted in Nepal, and then in Tibet where he is known as Tsog Dak.
Tibetan representations of Ganesh tend to be ambivalent. In one form, he is shown being trodden under foot by Mahakala, a popular Tibetan deity. Other depictions show him as the Destroyer of Obstacles, sometimes dancing.
It is difficult to determine the form of Ganesh or Tsog Dakhere. But the facial features and the crown are in keeping with Tibetan images with show him in the dancing form.
Pal, P., Art of Tibet, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1990.
Pal, P., Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2004.
Shanghai Museum, Treasures from Snow Mountains: Gems of Tibetan Cultural Relics, Shanghai Museum, 2001.