A Kalighat painting showing the goddess Pārvatī enthroned with the infant Ganesha in her arms. The painting dates to c.1865 and was produced for pilgrims worshipping at the Kalighat temple in Kolkata, India.
The painting, which bears the inscription ‘Ganesh Janani’ (Mother of Ganesha), depicts the goddess Pārvatī seated on a silver throne as she cradles her son, the elephant-headed god. The goddess wears an elaborate crown and both deities are adorned with intricate silver filigree. Ganesha is one of the most popular gods of the Hindu pantheon. As the god of wisdom and the one who overcomes obstacles, he is worshipped before religious ceremonies and new undertakings, and is invoked at the beginning of texts.
One of the most popular myths on Ganesha’s origins tells how the goddess Pārvatī longs for a son while Lord Shiva, her consort, is away. She moulds a boy from the dust on her body and placing him at the door of her chamber, instructs him to admit nobody as she bathes. Shiva returns to find he is denied access to Pārvatī’s rooms by a stranger; a skirmish ensues and he cuts off the boy’s head. When a grief-stricken Pārvatī threatens to destroy the universe, troops are despatched in search of a new head; chancing upon an elephant, they use it to restore the boy to health. Shiva names him Ganesha and decrees he will be worshipped by mankind before any new undertaking, making him the Remover of Obstacles, the Lord of Beginnings.
What is the Kalighat School?
The Kalighat School of painting began in the early 19th century. When the paintings first appeared they depicted religious themes. Images of deities, or illustrations of episodes from the Purāṇas and the epics were produced for sale to pilgrims visiting the Kalighat temple in Kolkata. The example shown here was painted by patuas or village artists at Kalighat around 1865. The mass production of such images was made possible by the manufacture of a more affordable, thinner quality paper.