via The Print, 29 June 2023: Ganesha, India’s beloved god, has a complex history spanning thousands of years, with uncertain origins and influences from diverse religious traditions across Asia.
As with Ganesha’s origins in India, it is not clear how exactly he arrived in Southeast Asia. Quite abruptly, from 550–600 CE, Ganesha sculptures appeared in Cambodia and Thailand. Around this time, Ganesha spread throughout South Asia, laying the foundations for his present-day popularity. It appears that there was an exchange of Puranic Ganesha-related ideas between South and Southeast Asia at an early stage. But thereafter, the evolution of the god followed very different trajectories in these regions, questioning the notion of Southeast Asia simply following ‘Indian’ innovations.
As various forms of Hinduism developed in mainland Southeast Asia, Ganesha was propitiated at the start of all rituals. So his role as the Lord of Obstacles took firm root. In Cambodia, especially, Ganesha was treated as a major god capable of granting moksha, ultimate liberation, to his devotees—something that, in the Indian subcontinent, was mostly associated with Shiva and Vishnu. In Cambodia, temples were also erected exclusively for Ganesha, whereas in medieval India, he was generally depicted in sculptural niches as a minor god. Mainland Southeast Asians also did not take to Ganesha’s rat vehicle, which he gained in India. He is never shown dancing, or in familial scenes with Shiva and Parvati—though both of these forms grew popular in India through the medieval period.