Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Perennial Charm Of Lord Ganesha

Noted sexologist Dr. Prakash Kothari has a secret passion: that of collecting Ganeshas

Photos by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day, last year, noted sexologist Dr. Prakash Kothari saw a silver coin at ‘Todywalla Auctions’ at Mumbai. On one side was written 'Sree Ganapati' (Lord Ganesha), and on the other, Sree Pantpradhan (Prime Minister). Ganapati was the family God of the Peshwa rulers of Maharashtra (1674-1818).

Kothari was immediately attracted to it. He felt a desire to obtain it. But Malcolm Todywalla said that there were several buyers. Kothari said that he would pay the highest price. Malcolm nodded.

When the auction took place, a tense Kothari remained at home.

The next day Malcolm called him up. And Kothari hastily swallowed when he was told the price he would have to pay would be Rs 4.75 lakh. Nevertheless, he kept his side of the bargain.

Kothari is one of the leading Ganesha collectors in India. Apart from coins, he has small statues in terracotta, metal, bronze, brass, copper, silver, and gold. “I have the rarest collection of Ganeshas, from the first to the 20th century,” says Kothari, while on a recent visit to Kochi. These include a Ganesha with three braids. The seller came to Kothari and said it was a fake Ganesha. So he bought it for a few hundred rupees.

However, when Kothari was leafing through the book, 'Ganesha The Enchanter of the Three Worlds', by Paul Martin-Dubost, on the third page he saw a full-page picture of Ganesha with the same three braids. The 15th century ivory statue was stored in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. “But what I have is in bronze,” says Kothari.

He also has an extensive collection of stamps. During pre-Independence, there was a state called Duttia in Madhya Pradesh. This was the only state which came out with stamps on Ganesha. “There were stamps of half-anna, one anna, two anna, and four annas in 1890,” says Kothari, He also has stamps from Thailand, Indonesia, Czechoslovakia, USA, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Apart from the stamps, there are envelopes and postcards.

But his collection began rather accidentally. On a Friday, a few years ago, Kothari had gone to Mumbai's Chor Bazar. While there, he saw a beautiful bull on a 20 mm sealing. Below it, there was something written in the Brahmi script. And, on the other side, Kothari saw a Lord Ganesha with two hands.

Curious, Kothari bought it. And thereafter, he took the help of renowned researchers to find out the period to which it belonged. The Pune-based archaeologist and Padma Shree awardee Dr. Madhukar Keshav Dhavalikar said it could be the third or fourth century. Shrinivas H. Ritti, a professor of epigraphy and ancient history at Karnataka University, Dharwad, said it could be fourth or fifth century. Kothari sent a photo of it to Shailendra Bhandare, Assistant Keeper (South Asian Numismatics), at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, who said it could be the third or fourth century AD.

The oldest epigraphic evidence of Ganesha, belonging to 531 AD, was found in northern China. “In India, there have been Ganeshas after the sixth century AD,” says Kothari. “So, in effect, with a third or fourth century Ganesha, I have the oldest one in the world.”

Asked about his plans regarding his collection, Kothari says he will be bringing out a 120-page coffee table book. “And I expect it to do well, since Ganesha is the most celebrated deity in Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Tantrism,” he says. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)

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