He may have an elephant’s head with a curved trunk, big ears, and the huge pot-bellied body of a human, but despite his physical curiosities Ganesh is the Lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is also worshipped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth, the destroyer of vanity, selfishness and pride, the personification of the material universe in all its various magnificent manifestations. I particularly like the ‘magnificent manifestations.’

Set amongst rice paddies and the longan orchards in what might seem a patch of land way out in the sticks, 35km from Chiang Mai, the site for the Ganesh Himal Museum was specifically chosen by its owner, Pandara Theerakanond. Doi Ithanon, in whose shadow the museum sits, is the last tip of the Himalayan range that connects to India, linking the place of worship and education to the country where the elephant-headed god is one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon.

You enter the complex through a narrow gate, welcomed by the smell of incense wafting through the air and the occasional melodious ‘bongggg’ of a deep-toned bell. The busily attractive courtyard, with its worshiping hall, shrines, pools and gardens, is a melange of Asian architectural styles; Mogul from the north of India, Lanna from northern Thailand, Apsara wall reliefs from Hindu mythology, outside of which is a whole building devoted to the ornate architecture of Islam. For many people it is a place of worship, for others it’s a chance to see effigies of the most famous Hindu god in all of his thirty-two combinations, each with a different significance.

The onset of Mr. Theerakanond’s obsession with all things Ganesh began when his father made him a gift of a small statue of the god – a curious gift for a 19-year old you might think. Thirty-six years later his collection now stands at around two thousand pieces, with half the collection on display in two buildings just outside the main devotional complex. Images of the god in all shapes and sizes crowd the space, from one of the rarest in private hands, Ganesh with a female body, full bosomed with nipped-in waist worshiped by ladies praying for a baby, to the whimsically cheap, chubbily cheerful pottery versions in gaudy colours, the likes of which would have been given away as prizes at an Indian country fair. Masks, puppets with hinged hands, head, feet and trunk, porcelain figurines, bronze castings, elegantly carved wood sculptures, the collection is diverse and extensive to say the least.

Each combination of one to five heads and between two and sixteen arms has a different meaning and is worshipped by a different strata of society, need or occupation. In many representations each hand will carry a weapon, which probably accounts for the sixteen-armed version being the idol of choice of soldiers and policemen, while his masculine image sat on a lion is worshipped by those who wish to wield power over their many subordinates. The most popular form is with five heads and ten arms, although at one time only people of the highest position could own one.

As interesting and attractive as the courtyard and buildings are, it is the newly-built, two-storey building in peach and ochre that provides the entertainment value. Just inside the entrance is a small café and a larger gift shop, outside of which, one of the better quality wax models of a monk sits. Totally realistic, including the mug of tea on the bench beside him, the only obviously noticeable discrepancy between fact and fiction is that his feet hover an inch above the fake grass his bench rests on.

The kitschiness begins with a pool with the goddess Lakshmi as its focal point (painted blue, as are a number of Hindu deities, apparently to indicate all-inclusiveness). A recorded loop tells us that “Lakshmi is the angel of prosperity, riches and happiness; she emerges from the mouth of Vishnu who has transformed himself into a turtle to allow her to stand on water.” And she does indeed have a turtle as a water-borne platform.

Circulating languidly around the goddess, gold plastic plates with a candle in the centre of a circle of lotus blossoms carry prayers and wishes in much the same way a krathong carries away your troubles during the Loi Krathong festival. Light the candle, place the plate on two golden hands, pray and then put the plate in the water (which circulates thanks to a pump in the corner of the pool), carrying the plate/candle/flowers in a clockwise direction, some to continue their loop indefinitely, others to arrive at the feet of Lakshmi.

An external walkway takes you to a room above with a different version of Lakshmi, once again standing in a pool with blossoms circulating around her, but it’s the smaller space at the rear of the building that attracts the ladies. It’s here, for the princely donation of 20 baht, that they can drape themselves in beautifully coloured saris and jewelled accoutrement, prior to mounting the elegantly curved stairway, stopping halfway to be photographed under the stained glass window before arriving at the spacious upper floor where Indian dance music fills the air and the sari-clad maids twirl in imitation of Bollywood actresses, occasionally accompanied by young men in turbans and long coats decorated in gilded embroidery, as they snap selfies to their heart’s content.











What appear to be elegantly ornate, hand-painted arches are actually covered in wallpaper, an updated version of the flock wallpaper seen in every Indian restaurant of the mid-20th century. Displayed in this large, open space is an almost life-size waxworks of the marriage of Ganesh to Riddhi (representing prosperity) and Siddhi (intellectual and spiritual power), two maids created by Lord Brahma to cheer Ganesh up because he couldn’t find an inamorata who didn’t care for his trunk and was causing major disruptions at the wedding of demi-gods because of it. They complained to Lord Brahma who agreed to help them, giving Ganesh his own pair of life’s partners. The guests have the appearance of a jolly crowd looking for a good time, decked out in all their party finery; bearded brahmas, multi-coloured, multi-headed and multiple-limbed major and minor deities, male and female alike looking at you from provocative kohl-highlighted eyes.










Ganesh Himal Museum, 277, Moo 10 T.Yang, Yang Kram, Chiang Mai 50160

GPS: 18.560171, 98.825453



Chiang Mai uncovered magazine