Lord Ganesh is everywhere. His image appears on tshirts, village walls, inside tri-shaw taxis, and sometimes, even in Budhist and Taoist temples. His physical form is delightful to look at. He is elephant headed, has a large bellied body, many arms, he has a snake around his waist and he rides on a mouse. He enchants the faithful and transcends every cultural boundary. He represents hope, optimism, goodwill, and some healthy indulgence. His magnanimity shows us that spiritual awareness is not at odds with the good life.

Dance III, Acrylic on wood, 100x100cm.

Lord Ganesh is to Hindu philosophy what diagrams are to mathematicians. The symbolism of his many arms and hands offer a diagram for meditation, and his hands can be viewed as a philosophical template. In one he holds a noose symbolizing restraint and the bondage of desire. In another, he holds an axe to break the ties of materialism. The sweets in a third hand symbolize the pleasures of knowledge and spiritual wisdom, while his fourth hand is raised in the symbol of enlightenment which comes from liberation of all desire. The ever present mouse symbolizes the ego, which he always rides or has at his feet,

Dance IV, Acrylic on canvas, 74x105cm

Modern science describes the whole of the universe as energy in one form or another. Matter itself is merely condensed energy as Einstein’s formula, E=MC2 proclaims. At the core of matter, Lord Ganesh swirls through his cosmic dance of creation as Nritya Ganapati, illustrating a concept that describes the divine operations of the universe.

Dance of creation II, acrylic on wood, 130x270cm

According to quantum field theory, all interactions between the constituents of matter take place through the emmission and absorbtion of virtual particles. More than that, the dance of creation and destruction is the basis of the very existence of matter, since all material particles ‘self-interact’ by emitting and reabsorbing virtual particles. This shows that every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance – a pulsating process of creation and destruction.

For the modern physicist, then, the Dance of Creation is the dance of subatomic matter, a continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos, the basis of existence and of all natural phenomena. The metaphor of the Cosmic Dance unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics. It is indeed, as Coomaraswamy beautifully puts it, “poetry, but science nonetheless”.

Dance of Creation VI, pencil on board, 29x42cm

Yoga texts identify seven chakras or energy centers in the body, rising from the sacrum, the base of the body, to the skull. When seated in the primary position of meditation, the lotus position, the spine is closest to the earth, grounding energy in gravity at the first energycentre, the muladhara chakra, which is governed by Lord Ganesh.

Only when the first chakra is activated will the serpantine energy of kundalini uncoil and begin its ascent. Once the power of kundalini energy is awakened it spirals upwards through the spine, activating each energy centre until it explodes into the core of the pineal gland, which tantric mystics call the “third eye”.

Thousand petalled lotus of light II, Acrylic on canvas, 152 x 122cm.

The pineal gland releases the concentrated column of energy through the crown chakra. an experience described as “feeling the self dissolve into a thousand petalled lotus of light”. In this state individual consciousness merges with universal consciousness and all illusions of separateness dissolves, and that alone remains which is soundless, formless, has no beginning and no end.

As the presiding deity of the muladhara chakra, the seat and foundation of kundalini power, Lord Ganesh is invoked as the prime force to awaken the coiled serpent, kundalini.

For Mahen Chanmugam painting Lord Ganesh, the deity with the elephant head, is a personal journey that was inspired by his spiritual connection to Lord Ganesh. In 1994, while working and living in Singapore, Mahen began a study of the iconography and symbolism of Lord Ganesh. He started exploring the classic forms, postures and the iconographic principles of perfect poise within the 32 forms Lord Ganesh appears in and translated these into contemporary representations.

Untitled. Acrylic on antique window, 90x35cm.

Whereas the image topic is constant, the paintings now capture a range of emotions and themes. Today his art looks at Lord Ganesh’s iconography as a philosophical template that symbolizes liberation from ego, acceptance and the laws of cause and effect. Paintings like the Thousand Petaled Lotus of Light and Lord Ganesh with a Flute visualize the deity as a force that enables consciousness to evolve from its lowest to its highest.

Untitled. Acrylic on canvas, 142x92.
Lord Ganesh with flute. Acrylic on canvas, 142x92cm.
Untitled. Acrylic on wood, 115x115cm.
Untitled. Acrylic on canvas, 100x75cm.
Untitled. Acrylic on antique window, 65x40cm.
The watchman's bell. Acrylic on wood, 122x140cm.

Mahen has worked with all types of media, having mastered, then abandoned, oil painting and airbrush illustration for the transluscent brilliance of acrylic. He now works on materials as varied as canvas, wood, glass and mirror and sometimes, even on rice bags and other industrial packing material. He has had five solo exhibitions in Singapore and Sri Lanka and he paints and lives with his wife, two children and cats in his home studio, amongst the water monitors and bats in Nawala.

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