PORTLAND.- The Portland Art Museum announced the acquisition of an important work of Indian sculpture, a stone stele of Ganesha. As the remover of both spiritual and material obstacles to success, the elephant-headed Ganesha is beloved by adherents of many faiths across South and Southeastern Asia and in Diaspora communities. The stele was made in northeastern India (the region corresponding to modern Bihar and Bengal, including Bangladesh) in the 11th century, a period when both Buddhism and Hinduism flourished under the rule of the Pala dynasty (mid-8th12th century). Like other Pala period sculptures, it is designed to be viewed from the front and would have originally been placed within a niche in a brick shrine.
Ganesha is shown here seated in rajalilasana, the posture of royal ease, with one knee up and the other relaxed. His diaphanous dhoti and shawl are rendered in shallow incised lines, fully revealing the swelling forms of his body. One hand is raised in a gesture of reassurance (abhaya mudra), while others hold a bowl of sweets and a radish. (The fourth arm is broken.) A vidyadhara (wisdom bearer) floats over Ganeshas shoulder, offering a floral garland, while a rat (Ganeshas v?hana, his mount or vehicle) looks up from below.
This acquisition complements two noteworthy examples of South Asian sculpture in the Museums collections--a 2nd3rd century stone Buddha from Gandhara and a 12th century bronze Shiva Nataraja from Tamil Nadu--and is part of a strategy to provide regional breadth in the collection and the galleries. As the deity who presides over auspicious beginnings, Ganesha is the perfect acquisition to announce the Museums renewed commitment to the arts and culture of South Asia.