Hermeneutics of Ganesha:

Psychoanalysis, Hindu Wisdom and Transgressive Sacrality

[Part I / Part II / Part III]

RE: Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book [Susantha G.]

Geopolitics of academia and the (controversy over the) ‘Lord of Obstacles’ - a song of Thanksgiving in honor of Liberty! [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

[IndianCivilization] Dr. Ravi Kapur on the life of sadhus in Bharat [Kalyanaraman]

.... Fw: [IndianCivilization] Dr. Ravi Kapur on the life of sadhus in Bharat [Loganathan]

Propitiating the ‘Lord of Obstacles’ (Vighna-Vināyaka) - or what happens when the Fool dabbles in psychoanalysis! [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

Obnoxious anti-Hindu comments in Walters Art Gallery booklet about Ganesha sculpture [Kalyanaraman]

Is Ganesha a eunuch as opposed to the virile Bhairava? Like the Vedic Agni, this ‘great brahmin’ (butcher!) seems capable of giving birth to his parents! [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

Re: Is Ganesha a eunuch as opposed to the virile Bhairava? Like the Vedic Agni, this ‘great brahmin’ (butcher!) seems capable of giving birth to his parents! [Stuart Sovatsky]

Has the castrated Ganesha been reduced to the ‘crooked’ enjoyment oral sex with his limp trunk? In-deed, for the psychoanalytic fantasies of an impotent ‘Indology’! [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

Do virile Hindu ‘heroes’ (nāyakas!) need a brahmin ‘eunuch’ to initiate us into the incomparable pleasures of ‘oral sex’? ask Abhinavagupta! [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

Murti-s [images] of Shivalinga and Ganesha [Kalyanaraman]

Re: Murti-s of Shivalinga and Ganesha [Ram Varmha]

Re: Murti-s of Shivalinga and Ganesha [Kalyanaraman]

Re: [akandabaratam] Re: Murti-s of S’ivalinga and Ganes’a [Loganathan]

Musha, Mushika [Ram Varmha]

Re: Musha, Mushika [Kalyanaraman]

Why does the pot-bellied Lord of Wisdom romp around on a teeny-wienie mouse? ask his thieving younger brother, Mr. Subrahmanyam! [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

Psychoanalysis in Its Death Throes: The Moral and Intellectual Legacy of a Pseudoscience? [Sunthar V.]

Washington Post: Courtright [Mary Hicks]

My rejoinder: WASHINGTON POST AND HINDUPHOBIA [Rajiv Malhotra]

Rajiv Malhotra’s rejoinder: Washington Post and Hinduphobia [Sunthar Visuvalingam]

Psychoanalysis, Hindu Wisdom and Transgressive Sacrality: 'Provincializing Europe' through the Hermeneutics of Ganesha? [Sunthar Visuvalingam]



Subject: RE: Comments on the recent controversy concerning the petition against Courtright’s book

From: Susantha Goonatilake
Sent: Monday, November 03, 2003 7:35 PM

I broadly agree with what Rajiv is saying. The study fields that he mentions started about 25 years ago as a response to western hegemonic thought. But they were picked up as mechanical tools by others to do its opposite on South Asia. Post-colonial studies became pro-colonial studies. Feminism whose aim was to understand what white males left out, became repeating what white females said. So without a Huntington you have civilizational ideologues for the West.

What you are saying about Indic Hindu studies is worse in Buddhist studies. Buddhist studies in the 19th & 20th C were an attempt to grasp what Buddhism was. It was a goof effort. During the last 25 years there has been an anthropological turn in Buddhist studies and instead of careful scholarship one has gross inventions and partial truths that do not meet basic criteria of scholarship or test.

Nobody messes up like this with China (I have seen Western scholars kowtowing there), Japan or even South-East Asia (I am writing this from Cambodia). But we have to see this in broad geopolitical terms. In 25 years’ time India—in spite of numerous problems—will probably be the number 3 or 4 economic power in the world. With this clout it can dictate the terms of scholarship and its anti-Indic biases. I think one should let the Indic studies community know this inevitability. 

Yours Truly,

Susantha Goonatilake PhD

[response to Rajiv’s original post of 30 Oct. 2003 (without other responses) at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/1203]

Subject:  Geopolitics of academia and the (controversy over the) ‘Lord of Obstacles’ - a song of Thanksgiving in honor of Liberty!

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam
Date:  Thu Nov 27, 2003; 5:17 pm [Abhinava msg #1367]


When Liberty Valance rode to town

The women folk would hide, they’d hide.

When Liberty Valance walked around

The men would step aside

Cause the point of a gun was the only law

That Liberty understood.

When it came to shootin’ straight and fast,

He was mighty good.


From out of the East a stranger came,

A law book in his hand, a man.

The kind of a man the West would need

To tame a troubled land;

Cause the point of a gun was the only law

That Liberty understood.

When the final showdown came at last

A law book was no good.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962 Western ‘black-and-white’ classic starring John Wayne).


The new century will be marked by several dramatic changes that will leave their effect on knowledge, science and technology. One would be the shift of the centers of gravity of the world in economic and political terms away from its present Eurocentric moorings to Asia, a process that will occur amidst pervasive globalization. Another set of changes is in the science and technology field, primarily with a shift to information technology and biotechnology, both of which are heavily culture-impregnated. These changes will deeply influence geopolitical relations in science and technology. The paper documents the shift to Asia and the role of Asian civilizational knowledge in the manufacture of aspects of modern science in the last decade or two. The examples taken are from the fields of medicine, psychology, cognitive sciences, Artificial Intelligence (AI), mathematics and physics. The paper also explores some speculative future possibilities in Asian inputs including in social theory for new technologies. It suggests the use of Asian metaphors in theory construction and gives some estimates of future potentials in the field as well as a rough estimate of the current Asian civilizational knowledge pool.

"Coming Intellectual Shifts to Asia: The Indic Possibilities," Susantha Goonatilake (Indic Colloquium, July 2002)


It’s a sad movie in many ways. Ford is closing the book on his meditations on progress here. The black and white photography itself is rather depressing -- most of the scenes, including all the important ones, seem to take place at night, in the dark. And what do they show us? [...] the West began with Indians and buffalo, and the only law was survival. Then the cattlemen moved in and took the land over and the law was that of the hired gun. Now the West has been settled by hard-working farmers and turns into a garden, once the power brokers are out of the way. But it’s a wistful garden. The cactus roses have disappeared and been replaced by turnips. And the rowdy, raucous, plain-speaking heroes and villains have been replaced by pretentious blowhard politicians of the sort that Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) has become. [...] John Wayne is, of course, the hero of the tale. You can tell because, in addition to his John Wayneness, he wears the only black and white outfit in the cast [without the blue tie? - SV], which draws attention to his figure whenever it is onscreen. [...] When he enters the political meeting toward the end, banging open the swinging doors, staggering slightly, bearded, shabby, his magnificent white hat replaced by a battered gray one, slightly bleary, he looks and acts like a man who has been defeated but has not yet died, putting up a brave front with nothing left behind to prop it up. He’s not bad in this scene. For the most part, though, he plays John Wayne, the resolute man of principle.


(John) "Ford’s Last Big one," Comment by Robert J. Maxwell (Deming, New Mexico), 28 July 2003


Dear Susantha,

 I agree with you that the controversy over GaNeza is just an episode, despite its significant reverberations and repercussions, in a looming ‘confrontation of civilizations’ that has been very long in the making, dating back perhaps to even before the modern colonial period. As far as ‘knowledge production’ in the West is concerned, it is pertinent to note the manner in which (not just institutionalized) ‘Orientalism’ has co-opted each new revolution, originally subversive of its own civilizational matrix, so as to unleash its disaggregating effects onto its Other:

·         Freud developed his psychoanalytic theory gradually from insights derived from his firsthand attempts to help his patients drawn mainly from the Viennese bourgeoisie; his non-licensed fan-club makes a living by transforming other cultures into ‘patients’ in need of Western ‘medicine’.

·         Foucault’s entire ‘nihilist’ critique was directed at the power-knowledge nexus underlying modern ‘scientific’ discourse (to the point of initially embracing the Khomeini revolution as a potential liberation...); his imitators rehearse the same motions but to undermine traditional civilizations.

·         Nietzsche sought to destroy the philosophical legacy of the Enlightenment and thus pave the way for a return to the esoteric inspiration behind (pre-Socratic) Greek thought; the neo-conservative ‘Straussians’ find therein the license to destroy all other socio-religious orders.

·         Edward Saļd attempted a ‘humanized’ deconstruction of Orientalist praxis; while he is labeled an intellectual ‘terrorist’ by ‘Western’ apologists, the privileged ‘subalternist radicals’ who swear by him would write off (not just) Eastern self-identities themselves as colonial constructions.


This is an ‘East-West debate’ that cannot be won by mere argument however logical, well-researched and cogently presented: those who ‘call the shots’ won’t even condescend to grant your case a proper hearing...until it becomes obvious that it is in their own vital interests to do so!

 I guess that, like myself, Osama ben Laden has been watching too many John Wayne movies—maybe we should urge Congress to pass a bill banning the continuing export of such ‘sensitive’ Hollywood Westerns to impressionable Third World countries...least of all Saudi Arabia or Iraq!

I really enjoyed listening (and talking) to you at Menla!



P.S. You can hear the ‘title song’ (didn’t feature in the movie...) in MP3 format (on RealPlayer) here (under heading Making of Gene Pitney).


[rest of this thread at Multiculturalism, caste, universalism and the survival of communal diversity: a belated Indian Thanksgiving?]


[Sunthar’s attempt to mediate opposing positions of Kalyan and Loga on applicability of psychoanalysis to Ganesha]

Subject: [IndianCivilization] Dr. Ravi Kapur on the life of sadhus in Bharat

From: S. Kalyanaraman
To: Abhinavagupta
Sent: Sunday, December 07, 2003 10:00 AM [Abhinava msg #1389 – thread presented in reverse order]


I think psychoanalysis is a fraudulent pseudo-science. The likes of Cartwrights [Courtright - SV], Wendy Donigers, Kirpal Singhs [he’s a gypsy not a Sikh! - SV], Ravi Kapurs are not adding to the corpus of vidyā or knowledge. Many of these pundits are hoaxes trying to steal some headlines from the pseudo-secular press and taking a dig at Hindu Dharma by devious means and out to malign the sacredness with which a Hindu looks upon a Sadhu. Just knock off, Kapurs, don’t step on our toes.

NISTADS is headed by a pseudo-secular.





Dr. Ravi Kapur on the Life of Sadhus in India [emphases below added by Sunthar]

Rajiv Malik

DELHI, INDIA, December 5, 2003: Dr. Ravi Kapur, a psychiatrist,
trained in
India and UK, is currently the JRD Tata Visiting Professor at
the National Institute of Advanced Studies,
Bangalore. He has been the
Deputy Director of the same institute and before that the Professor and
Head, Department of Psychiatry at the prestigious National Institute of
Mental Health & Neurosciences. He is Fellow of the Royal College of
Psychiatrists, the Indian National Academy of Sciences and the
National Academy
of Medical Sciences. Dr. Ravi Kapur delivered a public
lecture entitled- “The making of a Sadhu: An enquiry into higher states of
mental health,” jointly organized by National Institute of Science,
Technology and Development Studies and India International Centre under the
series-DIMENSIONS of SCIENCE, on the evening of December 1, 2003.
The conference hall was packed with intellectuals, researchers,
psychologists, psychiatrists, media persons, former bureaucrats and diplomats,


[complete article at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/akandabaratam/message/8675]


Said Dr. Kapur, “Many of the sadhus I met survived on a meagre diet of
cereals and fruits. They were mostly not bothered as to wherefrom their next
meal is going to come. When I asked this question to one of them, he told
me- ‘I challenge God not to give me food.’ “

According to Dr. Kapur total availability to the needy and sick,
cheerful temperament and high level of energy were some of the
qualities which were common to most of the sadhus he had met. They pursued
their goal—moksha with boundless energy.

Dr. Kapur said that in India the young people are told since
childhood that they should not waste their semen or
tejas which is very
precious. “When I asked the sadhus, how they fulfill their desire for sex,
most of them told me that when they are immersed in meditation and bhakti,
the joy and ecstasy they experience gives them much more satisfaction than
they would get from any sexual indulgence. In fact sex was nothing
as compared to the ecstasy they experienced when they were in
communion with the God. To describe this feeling of ecstasy, they said
that they felt a flow of energy rushing from the back of their spine to the
top of their head.”

Talking about a sadhu who lived at a height of 15,000 feet without wearing
much clothes, Dr. Kapur said – “When I asked him how he coped with the
loneliness at such a height, his answer was, “I have
ladoos [sweets] in both
my hands. When someone comes here, I feed him and feel absolutely blissful.
And when there is nobody here for six months, I am in total communion with
God and am again completely blissful. So both my hands are full of ladoos

“Almost all the sadhus I met, I asked if they possessed any special
powers. One of the sadhus to who I addressed this question responded by
saying- ‘Yes I have special powers. I can make very good rasam (a spicy
,’ “said Dr. Kapur.

During this two hour meeting, people listened to Dr. Kapur’s
lecture with rapt attention. An interesting question answer session also
followed after the lecture was delivered.


Subject:  Fw: [IndianCivilization] Dr. Ravi Kapur on the life of sadhus in Bharat

From:  Dr. K. Loganathan
Sat Dec 6, 2003  8:35 pm


Dear Dr. Kalyan

You are totally mistaken about the relevance of Psychoanalysis for understanding Hinduism especially the Tantric developments. While Western psychoanalysis may be inadequate (certainly not fraudulent), it does not mean Psychoanalysis as a whole is irrelevant. What it means is that we need a new psychology such as Agamic Psychology I have developed and which is an improvement on Freud and Jung.

What we have to do is to bring out the psychoanalysis in the Indic traditions instead of shutting off every psychoanalytic way of studying the Indian traditions.


Subject:  Propitiating the ‘Lord of Obstacles’ (Vighna-Vināyaka) - or what happens when the Fool dabbles in psychoanalysis!

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam
Date:  Sat Dec 6, 2003; 11:27 pm [Abhinava msg #1389]

Much of the symbolism invested in the ‘consecration’ (dīkSā), as revealed by Heesterman, points to the dīkSita standing in the relationship of enemy, or at least of rival, to himself as ‘sacrificer’ (yajamāna) before, after and outside the duration of the dīkSā[...] The hidden rivalry of the VidūSaka with regard to the hero would be simply because the former represents the dīkSita aspect of the latter as ‘sacrificer’ (yajamāna). [...] This would also account for Cārāyana’s big (‘basket-like’) ears for the latter is a womb-symbol (...). The source of the VidūSaka’s ‘perversity’ is the same as that of his infantilism (...), and though these two aspects may be distinguished in him through separate sets of symbols and gestures, they sometimes converge to fuse inextricably as in the appellation ‘wicked brat’ (duSTa-baTuka). The infantile stage attained through the dīkSā thereby reopens (at least theoretically) all those possibilities contrary to the alternatives that the sacrificer has effectively chosen and crystallized in his normal person, and to that extent the dīkSita will necessarily appear as the enemy or rival of his normal self. But since the rejuvenating dīkSā is undergone by the sacrificer for his own benefit, this rivalry is only an element of a larger cooperation. As these two poles have been split in the drama-sacrifice into the figures of the VidūSaka and the hero (nāyaka), the former is seen to serve no purpose whatsoever of his own but only selflessly furthers the legitimate life aims (puruSārthas) of the hero and within this cooperation, presented as an inseparable friendship, is comprised an element of opposition that shows through as a perversity of will or bungling stupidity [14] (or a curious combination of both). The infantilism of the VidūSaka merely states that he is the undifferentiated substratum from which is differentiated the organized but limited adult personality of the hero; his perversity however (compare the psychoanalytic characterization of the child as a ‘polymorphous pervert’) emphasizes

1)    Through his rivalry, that he is simultaneously the substratum of the villain’s personality (hence their hidden affinities) or simply of the forces opposing the purpose of the hero, and

2)    Through his transgressions, that he is opposed to any kind of order including that inherent in the hero’s design.

Yet, paradoxically enough, if the hero’s purpose is accomplished, this is only because he integrates within himself all that the VidūSaka represents, something that is expressed through his submission to the contrariness of the latter, his unswerving attachment to him. (...). It is through his Mitra-aspect that the VaruNa-VidūSaka of the ritual preliminaries (pūrvaranga) would, in the play proper, have become the chief resource of the hero (...). This identification of the VidūSaka with the dīkSita aspect of the (nāyaka) hero-sacrificer (yajamāna) during his embryonic regression can be easily reconciled with his brahmįn (purohita) identity proposed above, when we recognize that this splitting of roles has been already dramatized in the agonistic pre-classical sacrifice in the [15] cooperative rivalry of the couple sacrificer/brahmįn priest. Heesterman’s studies reveal that the brahmįn-purohita not only assumed the scapegoat function (like the jumbaka) in taking over the impurity and evil of the dīkSita but was also, like the dīkSita, the rival of the sacrificer (...). It is the psychological (rather ‘psychoanalytic’?)  reality of the dīkSita being the rival other within the very self of the sacrificer that is translated in the sacrificial drama into the brahmįn-rival. “The idea of the rebirth of the sacrificer out of himself is not in opposition to the idea of rebirth out of brįhman sacrifice. The equation of the sacrificer with the sacrifice is well established; Prajāpati, the first sacrificer, is at the same time the sacrificial victim while he is also interchangeable with brahman. Moreover the king (…) is proclaimed a brahmįn as is also the common sacrificer in the dīkSā. In the legend (of Zunahzepa) the two aspects of the ritual birth are expressed simultaneously. Thus we may view (...) the brahman as that part of the sacrificer’s own personality from which he is reborn ‘out of himself’. For the brahman as half the self, half the body of the sacrificer, cf. Aitareya BrāhmaNa 7.26.4…in the ritual the king sacrificer is born out of himself as brahman, on the other side the brahman is the womb of the king-sacrificer” (...). There are frequent instances not only of the VidūSaka attributing his own actions to the king or the latter’s characteristics to himself (hence, a [16] deliberate ‘confusion’ of the two roles) but also of his assimilation to the purohita. The theory behind this ‘confusion’ of roles is best expressed in the hero Avimāraka’s glowing tribute to his VidūSaka: “Comic in (sportive) assemblies, a warrior in battle...undaunted before foes; my heart’s great festival....but these word bubbles are enough! ‘Tis my body in two divided.”

Sunthar V., “Introduction,” to Abhinavagupta’s Conception of Humor (1983)


Why is GaNeza, the ‘Lord of Obstacles’, also called (often in the same breath as Vighna-) ‘Vināyaka’? Of course, as lord (pati) of (Rudra-Ziva’s) (grotesque) hosts (gaNa), GaNapati may be said to be a ‘leader’ (nāyaka) of sorts. Perhaps, he also ‘leads’ (nayati from the root *-) his devotees along the right path (and not just to success) in all their undertakings. But why (the prefix) Vi-nāyaka? Simply, because he leads obstacles ‘away’ (vi- in the sense of separation) from us? In Sanskrit, vi- often has an intensive sense, thus vi-jaya (one of the 10 secret names of Arjuna...) would be a superlative ‘victory’ (jaya). This might be associated with the notion of variety (vividha), hence vi-marza (the key term in Abhinava’s theory of knowledge) might be understood as being focusedly (self-) aware and from all possible angles. However, vi- also has the wholly contrary sense of privation (viNā): thus, to be vyanga (vi + anga = ‘limb’) is to be disfigured (vi-kRta, like the de-formed vi-dūSaka). The VidūSaka himself seems to be the ‘abuser’ or ‘reviler’ (*dūS-) par excellence (= vi-), now with negative connotation. That this coincidence of praise/blame within a ‘polished’ Sanskrit particle reflects a structuring principle animating the religious tradition is recognized in the epithet ‘great’ (mahat) applied to the clown of the theater: the mahā-brāhmaNa is both much more and much less than the brahmin. 

Freud’s theorizing on the role of repression (or ‘censorship’) within the individual psyche led him to speculate on the contrary forces that might have been active in the emergence and early development of language(s) as reflecting the ambivalence underlying the diverse orderings of culture. What drew and held his attention was the fundamental ambiguity (vi-!) that would have been preserved in the semantics of ‘primitive’ words and affixes, catering to the same psychic necessity that has subsequently found expression in the intricate mechanisms of ‘wit’ (related to Sanskrit ‘vid’ = to know), whereby the ‘infantile’ unconscious offers a verbal ‘bait’ to our internal (-ized) censor thereby allowing a repressed thought, emotion or tendency not only to express itself with impunity but even win over the vicarious participation of an adult audience. If we now subsume the notion of the ‘unconscious’ within the dimension of an esoteric knowledge that would be grounded in (super-) Consciousness (as represented by the all-consuming appetite of the pot-bellied god), such ‘twisted speech’ becomes the prerogative of the (ladoo-sharing) healer rather than of the patient. Despite its materialist underpinnings and reductive tendency, Freud’s ‘psychopathology of everyday life’ reveals how all of human behavior is as expressive as a forbidden language. Is it so surprising then that Jacques Lacan, the therapeutic buffoon to whom psychoanalysis now owes so much of its prestige among the ‘human’ sciences, had not only studied the linguistic insights of (Ānandavardhana and) Abhinavagupta but also cited the Indian theorists of ‘suggestion’ (dhvani) in support of his own formulation that the ‘unconscious’ is structured like a crooked (snake?) tongue (a dramaturgical text describes the VidūSaka as ‘double-tongued’ dvi-jihva)? 

Other Hindu deities—like the Vedic king of the gods, Indra, or the Tamil war-god SubrahamaNya (Skanda)—have greater claims than the pot-bellied elephant-trunked mouse-riding GaNeza to being a heroic ‘leader’ (nāyaka), but have never been honored with such an exclusive title of ‘supreme leader’ (vi-nāyaka). Our one and only Vināyaka may be fully understood, it seems to me, only in juxtaposition and contrast to the protagonist (nāyaka = ‘hero’) of the Sanskrit theater, who is presided over by the royal Indra. The pot-bellied (Mahodara) crooked-stick wielding VidūSaka, who is likewise presided over by the sacred syllable Omkāra, is in fact the ‘anti-hero’ (German: Gegen-spieler) of the play. This (dramatic transposition of the) vi-nāyaka ‘unwittingly’ creates obstacles in the path of the nāyaka but thereby contributes willy-nilly to the eventual fulfillment of the latter’s desire (typically his union with the heroine, nāyikā, who represents the whole kingdom). Nārada, the trickster-sage, plays a similar role in Hindu mythology by provoking discord among even the gods and goddesses (one text describes the VidūSaka as a ‘quarrel-monger’ kalaha-priya) but, again, all’s well that ends well. In a profound sense, then, the ‘Lord of Obstacles’ would not just manifest the ‘crooked will’ of the ‘enemy within’ who keeps thwarting the best-laid plans, but also embodies the ‘willingness’ of his sacrificing worshippers (of us, nāyakas and nāyikās!) to encompass and turn to advantage this indefatigable ‘contrariness’ so as to achieve our larger purpose.

What other contemporary science is there that would help us fathom, and in his own crooked way, this supreme embodiment of Hindu wisdom?


 P.S. I’m consolidating a listing of all the recent posts around the GaNeza controversy at the Abhinava Forum-Index (see keywords below).

P.P.S. How come the ‘ascetics’ [above] seem to draw all their metaphors from food? ...just like the impoverished imagination of the VidūSaka!


[Rest of this thread at


“Telling the Indians what they really are as opposed to who they think they are” - is Indology really ‘psychoanalysis’ in disguise?


Geopolitics of academia and the (controversy over the) ‘Lord of Obstacles’ - a song of Thanksgiving in honor of Liberty!]


[Divinities:Ganesha; Esotericism:Psychoanalysis; Politics:Orientalism]


Subject:  Obnoxious anti-Hindu comments in Walters Art Gallery booklet about Ganesha sculpture

From:  S. Kalyanaraman
Date:  Sat Jan 3, 2004; 9:18 pm [Abhinava msg #1491]

Open Letter to Trustees of the Walters Art gallery, Baltimore, Maryland, USA:

I request devotees of Ganes’a worldwide, to contact and/or write to the Trustees of Water Art Galley museum authorities to withdraw their book about Asian Art and/or expunge the derogatory remarks made in the book which hurt the sentiments of Hindu worldwide:

“Asian Art in The Walters Art Gallery: A Selection,” by Hiram W. Woodward, Jr. Publisher: The Trustees of The Walters Art Gallery, 600 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201; Excerpts from Page 20:”Ganesa, is a son of the great god Siva, and many of his abilities are comic or absurd extensions of the lofty  dichotomies of his father...Ganesa’s potbelly and his childlike love for sweets mock Siva’s practice of austerities, and his limp trunk will forever be a poor match for Siva’s erect phallus.”

It appears that, Hiram W. Woodword, the author and The Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery, who are the publishers, are basing these obnoxious anti-Hindu comments on the ‘academic’ work of Prof.Courtright (Emory University) recently withdrawn from circulation by Motilal Banarsidass.

The Art Gallery trustees should be aware that Ganes’a is venerated not only in India but also in many other parts of the world. Ganes’a is a cultural icon, for example in Indonesia where Ganes’a adorns the 20000 rupiah currency note (the obverse of the note shows a classroom with children) and Ganes’a icon adorns the entrance of Bangkok Institute of Technology as a divinity of education, and in Thailand, Ganes’a is venerated in Buddha Dhamma.

Such derogatory comments about divinities, GaNeza and Ziva, in a public museum hurt the sentiments of millions of Hindu worldwide and damages the image of the Waters Art Gallery which should be an institution for objective public display of art from many parts of the world. The damage caused to the psyche of the students, children and parents alike who visit the Art Gallery with such unauthenticated and baseless comments is incalculable. Art Gallery is obligated to the world citizens to present the art forms as ennobling representations of human thought and should not be presented to demean Hindu dharma or hurt the sentiments of many people of the world who hold Ganes’a in great adoration and devotion.

The Art Gallery should not only offer a public apology to all Hindu and all world citizens who venerate Ganes’a and S’iva, but also compensate for the damage caused by donating to the promotion of Hindu dharma.

Dr. S. Kalyanaraman kalyan97@yahoo.com Sarasvati Research Centre, Chennai, India 600015

4 January 2004

Walter Art Gallery 600 North Charles Street Baltimore, MD Phone: 410-547-9000. Gary Vikan is Museum Director.



Subject:  Is Ganesha a eunuch as opposed to the virile Bhairava? Like the Vedic Agni, this ‘great brahmin’ (butcher!) seems capable of giving birth to his parents!

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam
Date:  Sun Jan 4, 2004; 6:25 pm [Abhinava msg #1494]


Courtright then quotes Edmund Leach, an anthropologist [165], in support of his interpretations, and continues (p. 111-112) –

“This combination of child-ascetic-eunuch in the symbolism of Ganesa – each an explicit denial of adult male sexuality – appears to embody a primal Indian male longing: to remain close to the mother and to do so in a way that will both protect her and yet be acceptable to the father. This means that the son must retain access to the mother but not attempt to possess her sexually. As a child, a renouncer, or a eunuch, he can legitimately maintain that precious but precarious intimacy with his mother because, although he is male, he is more like her then he is like his father. This may explain why Ganesa takes on these qualities through his own choice or why he willingly accepts them as mutilations from others – even from Parvati herself – so long as they will guarantee his continued proximity with her.”

The reader is also told that Ganesa represents “a primal Indian male longing: to remain close to the mother and to do so in a way that will protect her and yet be acceptable to the father. This means that the son must retain access to mother but not attempt to possess her sexually.” [166]

Vishal Agrawal and Kalai Venkat, “3.4 Ganesha as eunuch,” When The Cigar Becomes A Phallus-Part 2, Sulekha


Pachali Bhairava has the habit of leaving Pharping each morning to bathe in the Ganga at Benaras and returning to Kathmandu in the form of a handsome man. In this way, he seduces a young girl of the butcher caste (Nepali: Kasai) [...]  Before long, she too becomes curious and he finally agrees to reveal himself provided she throws some grains of rice as soon as she sees his real identity. She too forgets and flees as soon as she is confronted by her grotesque lover. Bhairava pursues her through the night, but day starts to dawn and he seeks to hide himself. He reaches a cremation ground and wraps a bamboo mat around himself, such as the Newars use for their dead. This one had in fact been used to bring a corpse to the cremation ghat. He has no time to disappear totally underground and the stone venerated today is his buttock! Another version explains the close relationship of the Kasai caste with the god Ganesha. The seduced butcher girl becomes pregnant and her fear at the grotesque appearance of her lover provokes the premature birth of the child, who is adopted by the Kasai. The child is none other than Ganesha, who is venerated by the butchers of South Katmandu in the form of a small bronze statue attached to a drum that they play during different ceremonies. [p.23]


The Sthapita lights the homa fire. Ganesha Purna Bahadur or Kasai, who that night incarnates Ganesha, son of Pachali Bhairava and Ajima, starts to sacrifice the goats. He must sacrifice them in his arms while the music is now played by the Kasai. With the animal in his arms, he first cuts its jugular vein and then cuts off its head. [...] While the Indian Ganesha has remained an auspicious and Brahmanical divinity, the Newar Ganesha regularly and publicly receives blood sacrifices during the course of their festivals. All the same, the fact that Ganesha is incarnated by a Kasai finds some justification in Hindu mythology where the birth of the elephant-trunked god is generally considered to be marked by impurity. As revealed in their origin myth, it is the impurity of the Kasai -- the result of his profession of bloodletting -- that gives him the right to kill the sacrificial victim [p.38] Finally the Kasai musicians arrive accompanying Ganesha, the son of Pachali Bhairava and Nay Ajima (Newari: Nay = Nepali: Kasai), incarnated by Ganesha Purna Bahadur. Ganesha is also called by the name of Nay Ajima, the concubine of Pachali Bhairava. Ajima is the general word, in Newari, to indicate the feminine aspect of the divinity. The Kasai procession stops before going inside the pitha and awaits for the astrologically auspicious moment for the meeting of father and son. When the moment arrives, the Malakar musicians come to welcome the Kasai and accompany Ganesha to his father. The ritual manifestation of jealousy between the patra khola (true) Ajima, dressed in black, and Nay Ajima, dressed in white, is expressed by altercations between the Jyapu and the Kasai, followed by the inevitable reconciliation. The Pachali Bhairava jar is violently shaken when the small statue of Ganesha takes his place beside it, a sign that Ganesha (or Nay Ajima) has finally arrived. Purna Bahadur takes his place on the altar near Bhairava, and sits next to the stone representing Ganesha. [Contrary to what Anderson writes: “Ajima dressed completely in white ...” (162). As opposed to Anderson, who speaks only of Ganesha, Nepali speaks only of Nay Ajima. Slusser, for her part, confuses the two Ajimas for a single one, whom she connects with the Kasai woman of the myth. This confusion, first between Nay Ajima and Ganesha, and then between the two Ajimas, is perfectly understandable, given the fluidity of their symbolic identities at the mythico-ritual level. [p.39 & note 16]


The jumbaka had to be a brahmin, charged with evil, and the king himself was reborn as a brahmin on receiving the diksha. The purity of the brahmin and the impurity of Bhairava seem to form the two extremes of the dialectic of the transgression that transforms the royal adept into a maha-brahmana (a brahmin par excellence). While the impurity of the royal dikshita is expressed through his identification with Bhairava as incarnated by the Malakar, his “brahmin-hood” is rather represented by his supposed “son” the god Ganesha. The true aspect of the “beautiful” Bhairava is as grotesque as that of the jumbaka, and he is as gluttonous as the sarva-bhakshaka (omnivorous) Ganesha. It is Bhairava himself who is (re) born as Ganesha from the womb of Ajima, who would have the same role here as the sacrificer’s wife in the Vedic paradigm. What is more, the violent shaking of the jar at the precise moment of Ganesha’s arrival confirms that it is Pachali Bhairava who also plays the role of the “mother” by giving birth to himself. Finally — and despite the distribution of roles at the social level of the festival — Bhairava, Ganesha and Ajima are a single symbolic entity derived explicitly from an embryonic process. That is why Ganesha -- who himself has a belly like a jar (kumbhodara, lambodara, mahodara, etc., the last being also the name of one Vidushaka) -- is explicitly identified with his own mother (Nai) Ajima (cf. note 16). The crucial point here is that, despite the absence of the purohita and the practical effacement of the brahmins, as strictly defined, from this Newar festival, the hold of Brahminism is exercised above all at the symbolical level. The mythico-ritual universe mediated by the classical brahmin largely surpasses both his social body and the insistence on purity that forms the basis of the Hindu hierarchy. [p.56]


Sunthar and Elizabeth, A paradigm of Hindu-Buddhist Relations: Pachali Bhairab of Kathmandu (1991)


How come the Newar Ganesha not only accepts meat offerings but is also incarnated by a butcher entrusted with the task of killing and decapitating the sacrificial animal? After all, the ‘orthodox’ Hindu understanding of Ganesha derives him from the Vedic Brhaspati, who supervised over the brahmanical sacrifice, the classical form of which admitted of no such blood-letting (the zāmitr merely ‘pacified’ the beast through suffocation). In fact, among the gods officiating at the divine sacrifice, Brhaspati was the only one who could consume the ‘injured’ portion sacred to Rudra.

So have these wily ‘North Indian’ brahmin mafia taken (not just the Newars but also) our learned Dr. Loganathan ‘for a (hermeneutic?) ride’ (as we say here in Al Capone’s city:-)?...only this time on Ganesha’s (Dravidian?) mouse!

If you want to ‘psychoanalyze’ Ganesha, try taking on first not just shamanic possession (āveza) but also the mechanism of the Vedic sacrifice...



P.S. I’ve updated the online preview version of our paper to include three new photos (printed book will have only black-and-white illustrations): close-up of Pachali Bhairab jar, Bhairab standing on Bhūteshwara stone, and Bhadrakālī exchanging swords with king Birendra Bikram Shah. Though the PDF file is huge (1.5MB), it has been optimized for the Web such that pages are streamed down on demand and in the background.


[rest of this thread at


S. Kalyanaraman, Obnoxious anti-Hindu comments in Walters Art Gallery booklet about Ganesha sculpture (Jan 3, 2004)


Loganathan, Re:  Ko-m-āli = shamanic God-dancer = Pāshupata ‘possessed’ by aTTa-hāsa = Vidūshaka’s loud laughter on New Year’s eve? (Jan 1, 2003)]


Subject:  Re: Is Ganesha a eunuch as opposed to the virile Bhairava? Like the Vedic Agni, this ‘great brahmin’ (butcher!) seems capable of giving birth to his parents!

From:  Stuart Sovatsky
Date:  Thu Jan 8, 2004; 7:39 pm [Abhinava msg #1517response to Sunthar’s post above]

Swami Kripalvanad of Gujurat reports spontaneously severing the frenulum (tissue attaching the underside of the tongue to the mouth) with his LEFT THUMBNAIL as a manifestation of pranotthāna (“uplifted prana” as occurs during teenaged genital puberty and seen as the “glow of youth” and as the “glow of saints/yogis” who, in my terms, are manifesting a postgenital puberty of the spine—kundalini and pineal—the secretion of soma or hyper-melatonin, in modern terms) to facilitate khecari mudra (puberty of tongue-pineal.) He claimed spontaneously compelled severing of the frenulum with the left thumbnail is not uncommon in the advanced phase of kundalini yoga.

I have wondered if severing the frenulum might be related to severing the fifth head of Brahman. In any case, psychoanalysts would best be advised that Indic scriptures (tantric and otherwise) often point to developmental potentials of the body-mind that cannot be reduced to genital sexuality without severe distortion. Such “postgenital” maturational phenomena are seen in charismatic/Pentecostal/gospel/hesychastic/holy-roller Christian quivering, Quaker/Shaker quaking/shaking, uju kaya tumescent spine of Raja Yoga and Buddhist meditation, in Kaligari thxiasi num, Tibetan tumo, spontaneously arising tai chi, spinal throbbing Judaic davvening, in spinal undulating African, South American and Native American trance-dance, and in other bodily “manifestations of the spirit” worldwide.

The innocent, playful, clever Ganesa, with his ambiguously curling trunk and broken curved tusk seems an amalgam of all sorts of postgenital tumescences. As the son of Shiva, we should expect no less. And it is perhaps the innocence of it all that is most vulnerable to the psychoanalytic presumptiveness.

Stuart Sovatsky


Subject:  Has the castrated Ganesha been reduced to the ‘crooked’ enjoyment oral sex with his limp trunk? In-deed, for the psychoanalytic fantasies of an impotent ‘Indology’!

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam
Date:  Thu Jan 8, 2004; 2:02 pm [Abhinava msg #1514]


“It is particularly difficult to know how to proceed from the point at which the various myths in their variant versions are assembled in the lush landscape of the Pauranic texts (the narrative level) to an interpretation of these myths. We could start almost anywhere and work our way around, examining each theme and metaphor until all the myths are accounted for in a network or tapestry of meanings. My way out of this welter of possibilities is to seek the elements in the myths that are most common and recurrent or most striking in their uniqueness, to begin with these and thence be led to other myths that shed light on the first ones. The most striking, and obvious, recurrent element in the Ganesa cycle of myths is the elephant head. Hence our analysis begins with an inquiry into elephant symbolism and mythology and its relation to the Ganesa story. The elephant head in turn leads to the myths of Ganesa’s birth, beheading, and the receiving of his elephant head, which in turn leads to myths of his beheading. Beheading connects his mythology to the larger metaphorical universe of sacrifice, dismemberment, initiation, and theogony. Because it is Ganesa’s father who beheads him, the story is tied to the cycle of Siva myths and to the issue of father-son relations. This opens up the possibilities of psychoanalytic interpretations, centering on the Oedipal complex...” [citation from Courtright - SV]

One wonders how Wendy’s children would interpret, using psychoanalysis as a faēade, the episode of Parasurama beheading his mother Renuka at his father’s behest. Would they argue that it reveals a possible homosexual relationship between Sage Jamadagni and his son, and suggest that the beheading symbolizes the removal of the unwanted mother? Would he liken Renuka’s head to the sexual organ and equate her beheading with genital mutilation?

Vishal Agrawal and Kalai Venkat, “3.1 Opening Remarks,” When The Cigar Becomes A Phallus-Part 2, Sulekha

According to several versions of how Ganesa acquired his elephant-head, his beheading is caused by a battle that starts at the threshold of Parvati’s inner chambers. Courtright concurs with Robert Goldman and others in interpreting this location in sexual terms,

“From the psycho-analytic perspective, the symbolism as the location where the battle occurs is significant. It is the threshold to Parvati’s bath and bedroom, symbol of her shrine, womb, and point of sexual entry. It is the place simultaneously of union and separation. Ganesa the child is coming out of the door at the moment Siva the husband is attempting to get in. The doorway is not big enough for both of them at the same time; one must prevail, and, of course, it is the father. The resolution, at lease initially, must fall in his favor. The particular type of mutilation Siva inflicts on Ganesa is also significant. As Robert Goldman points out in commenting on Ganesa’s beheading, “This particular mode of displaced castration is a common feature of Hindu legends. Beheading is, moreover, a regular symbol for castration in dreams and fantasies” (pp. 371-372,; cf. Freud, pp. 366-369). In traditional Indian yogic physiology, the head is the receptacle of both thought and sexual potency or seed. In Tantric descriptions of the process of spiritual liberation [moksa], the seed is drawn up from the sexual organs through the various centers [cakra] along the spinal axis until it is released through an aperture at the top of the head [brahmarandhra cakra or sahasrara cakra] (cf. O’Flaherty 1980, pp. 17-61). In some versions of the myth where Ganesa already has his elephantine form, the “displaced castration” takes place on an even more obvious surrogate, the tusk. In separating Ganesa’s head/tusk Siva, or one of his stand-ins, removes any potential threat of incest and thereby leaves Ganesa sexually ambiguous... [...]

Relating the beheading of Ganesa to the brahmarandhra cakra in such a contrived manner is also contradicted by direct data from Tantric Hindu texts that are ignored by Courtright. These texts actually relate the deity to the muulaadhaara cakra that is at the base of the spine, close to the anus. The reason is quite transparent – Ganesa is the lord of the threshold and, moreover, Hindu prayer ceremonies commence with invocations to Ganesa. Likewise, in the initial stages of Yogic meditation, the focus is on muulaadhaara cakra. The practitioner of Yoga in his initial stages tries to ‘awaken’ his kundalini that is located in the muulaadhaara cakra. And things become easier once this has happened, just as our tasks become easier if we commence them with an invocation to Ganesa. The Rudrayaamala Tantra clearly states that Ganesa’s elephant head with the curved trunk resembles the form of the kundalini, which resides in the muulaadhaara cakra.

Vishal Agrawal and Kalai Venkat, “3.2 Paul Courtright Invents a ‘Limp Phallus,” When The Cigar Becomes A Phallus-Part 2, Sulekha

What offends us regarding a genitalized (cover-photo of) Ganesha or a Freudian interpretation of Indian icons is that they stick these Beings who are manifesting these “other puberties” back into their favored contexts and hermeneutics of genital puberty. Thus, the (postgenital) mysteries of ardha-nārīūrdhva-retas, amrita, the mudrās of kundalinī, (and of course) ithyphallic Sivas or Ganeshas get masked and lost once more behind the bold, yet false, confidence of Psychoanalytic “truth.” Foucault saw this and fashioned his concept of ars erotica to be able to view more accurately (culture-syntonically) such post-Freudian (postgenital?) mysteries of body/soul and the traditions that map them.

Prof. Stuart Sovatsky, Celibacies, sexualities, Yogic eros (Nov 7, 2003)

The Brahman in Hindu society conserves his Brahmanhood only through the observance of a multitude of interdictions intended to maintain and accumulate his ritual purity. Not only the other “great sins” (mahāpātaka) of incest, stealing a Brahman’s gold, drinking wine and associating with such an offender, but any, even trivial transgression, voluntary or involuntary, of the norms of ritual purity is assimilated by the legal codes themselves to a “Brahmanicide.” Thus the utilization of the left (impure) instead of the right (pure) hand during the ritual procedures of eating, dropping of hair or finger-nails into one’s food, splashing of saliva (Bhairava is sometimes described as “drooling-tongued” lalajjihva), intercourse with low-caste women, and so on, are all productive of “Brahmanicide.” That the decapitation also symbolizes the reversal of Brahmanical purity and the disguised valorization of ritual impurity is confirmed by Bhairava’s execution of this transgressive act par excellence with his left thumb-nail, a trivial detail otherwise unduly emphasized in the myth. If Bhairava could have been so widely adopted with all his Kāpālika attributes by other left-hand currents of Tantrism like the Kaulas and later Nāths, who however did not imitate the Kāpālika model literally, this would be due to the wider application of the Brahmanicide image to their own transgressive exploitation of disgusting ritual impurities in order attain Bhairava-Consciousness. Bhairava’s beheading of Brahmā’s fifth head is indeed symbolic of all manner of transgressions of the norms of classical Brahmanism and it is in this sense that it is “symbolical for the emergence of the Tantra-influenced period in Hinduism.”

Elizabeth Visuvalingam, “The ‘Supreme Penance’ of the Criminal Kāpālika-Bhairava,” (1989)

Paul Courtright’s limp phallus imagery is clearly derived from his own lack of fertility as a scholar. He tends to see limp phalluses everywhere. In fact, the limp phallus is a good symbol for the state of Indology in general. That is why we are all obsessed with phalluses, limp or otherwise. Where would we be as a field without our little limp phalluses?

Mihira2000 (impersonating Michael Witzel), Re: [RISA-L] The scholar’s accountability (Nov 10, 2003)

Dear Stuart,

How can beheading in the Indian context be reduced to an ‘Oedipal castration’ when the decapitated ‘victim’ can be not only the son (GaNeza), but also the father (Brahmā by his son Bhairava), the mother (ReNukā by her son Parazurāma) and even the decapitator herself (Cinna-mastā)? Even if Courtright’s interpretation of GaNeza’s elephant-head were correct, what justification (other than a, by now characteristic, scholarly myopia that is rooted in a self-serving intellectual laziness...) is there for extending this ‘psychoanalytic’ insight (?) to the psycho-sexual dynamics of the Hindu father-son relations without first accounting for all these other figures of beheading within the tradition?

What the origin-myth of Bhairava clearly reveals is that the fundamental meaning of decapitation is transgression. This is why the decapitated brahmin head of ReNukā is replaced in many variants by that of an untouchable woman, and all this in a context of worship where she has been raised to the pedestal of the Goddess. That such sacrificial beheading is valorized in itself quite independently of any notion of punishment, revenge, or interpersonal aggressivity, should be evident from the example of Cinnamastā, who holds her self-decapitated head. The victim of the sacrifice is ultimately a substitute for, and hence symbolically identical with, the sacrificer. Already in Vedic mythology, the sage Dadhyańc is able to reveal the secret of the Soma to Indra only through a horse’s head after he has been decapitated by the latter. The motif of the severed head is central to the Vedic ideology, and the tricky part is considered to be its restoration so as to make the sacrifice whole again.

Castration in many ancient spiritual currents (such as the cult of Attis) was often self-imposed (even by the priests) in order to curb the sexual impulse and redirect its energies to the head. It’s thus perfectly logical for castration here (the chopped off tusk leaving behind the ‘limp’ trunk) to symbolize a mode of chastity. However, it is incredible that a disciple of Wendy (doesn’t she re-read her own books before writing such glowing prefaces for her intellectual offspring...?) could start on the premise of an opposition between the ‘celibate’ (son) Ganesha and the ‘virile’ (father) Shiva, when her own magnum opus is entitled “asceticism and eroticism in the mythology of Shiva”! The Pāzupata ascetic who studiously avoided women is nevertheless typically depicted in a perpetual ithyphallic state because of the obligatory lewdness (zRNgāraNa) he was obliged to exhibit (from a safe distance, of course!) in their presence. It is this ‘horniness’ of the ‘eunuch’ GaNeza that is emphasized through his remaining ‘single-tusk’ (eka-danta), a feature important enough to be consecrated as one of his many names (or, like his illogical Hindu creators, was Shiva too dumb not to have ‘castrated’ both his son’s phalluses?), itself inherited from the (Indus?) ‘Unicorn’ (eka-zRnga).

GaNeza’s elephant-head is a sophisticated exegesis of the sexual dimension of the transgressive dīkSā (i.e., symbolic decapitation). The sexual energy that normally resides in the instinctual center at the base of the spine (mūlādhāra) has been transmuted into the cerebral matter as represented by the phallic trunk limply suspended between the large ears. This is implicit even in the horse’s head (check out, for example, the exegesis of the ‘equine fire’ in the Uttanka episode of the Mahābhārata...). Biardeau (who has no love lost for psychoanalysis...)  in her entry on Ganesha for a French encyclopedia points to sculpted representations where the tip of his trunk is resting on the vagina of a goddess seated on his left thigh—what better evidence do we need of the sexual connotations of his ‘sweetmeat’ (modaka)? Indeed, it is the virile (but ascetic) husband Shiva who enters the womb-chamber of his ‘wife’ to be reborn as the ‘brahminized’ son Ganesha—the classic sacrificial scenario. From an internalized ‘tantric’ perspective, the adept does indeed have a ‘sexualized’ perception of the world enjoyed as a modaka (ask Abhinava!).

The distinctive feature of the Hindu GaNeza is that he embodies in himself both the brahmanical and the tantric poles that we have seen so diametrically opposed in Bhairava’s decapitation of his father Brahmā. The Kāpālika ate all his food from the decapitated skull (-bowl), which amounts to saying that that the sustenance that really kept him alive was the Soma being generated in his own ‘brahmin’ head (David Lorenzen himself provides epigraphic evidence of the affiliation of these Soma-Siddhāntins to Vedic schools and as having received the dīkSā but seems quite incapable of drawing the logical conclusions...even after they have been pointed out to him). What GaNeza teaches us—whether Anglo-brahmin, Dalit, Newar, Dravidian, or just plain ‘Hindu’—is that his modakas are readily available to one and all (not just to Vaidikas and Kāpālikas).

Thanks, as always, for your insightful input,


[rest of this thread at Ganesha a eunuch opposed to virile Bhairava? ‘great brahmin’ (butcher!) gives birth to his parents! (Jan 4, 2003)

Divinities:Ganesha; Politics:Orientalism; Esotericism:Psychoanalysis]

Subject:  Do virile Hindu ‘heroes’ (nāyakas!) need a brahmin ‘eunuch’ to initiate us into the incomparable pleasures of ‘oral sex’? ask Abhinavagupta!

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam
Date:  Sat Jan 10, 2004; 11:33 am [Abhinava msg #1522]

Courtright extends this weak chain of parallels to imagine the deity himself as eunuch-like,

“Like a eunuch, Ganesa has the power to bless and curse; that is, to place and remove obstacles. Although here there seem to be no myths or folktales in which Ganesa explicitly performs oral sex, his insatiable appetite for sweets may be interpreted as an effort to satisfy a hunger that seems inappropriate in an otherwise ascetic disposition, a hunger having clear erotic overtones. Ganesa’s broken tusk, his guardian’s staff and displaced head can be interpreted as symbols of castration. [...] [3.4 Ganesa as a Eunuch]

The Hindus fondly depict Sri Ganesa as devouring a sweetmeat called ‘modaka’. Courtright applies the ‘oral’ and ‘anal’ paradigms of Freudian ideology to interpret this in a sexualized manner,

“The perpetual son desiring to remain close to his mother and having an insatiable appetite for sweets evokes associations of oral eroticism. Denied the possibility of reaching the stage of full genital masculine power by the omnipotent force of the father, the son seeks gratification in some acceptable way. As long as he remains stuffed full he is content and benign, like a satisfied infant at its mother’s breast. If Ganesa should go hungry because of the devotee’s failure to feed and worship him first before all other gods, then his primordial hostility is aroused, to the detriment of all. Feeding Ganesa copious quantities of modakas, satisfying his oral/erotic desires, also keeps him from becoming genitally erotic like his father. ...Ganesa’s impatience for food suggests an anxiety, a hunger that is never completely fed no matter how many modakas he consumes. He is the child forever longing for the mother’s breast – that fountain of life-giving elixir he once enjoyed without distress in infancy but is now denied because of the father’s intrusion...Ganesa’s story is, in part, the story of maternal attachment, loss, and indirect but incomplete compensation. As a celibate child, and resembling the ambiguous figure of the eunuch, Ganesa is one whose masculinity remains partial, trimmed, and contained. Unable to take full possession of his mother in the face of his father’s beheading/castrating power, Ganesa lives a threshold existence – near but nor far enough -- seeking his own fulfillment in dutiful service to his parents and taking pleasure in an endless flow of sweetmeats from adoring devotees. He is the mythical expression of the male wish for maternal intimacy denied in real life in the course of growing up, a fantasy in which the defeats the son must suffer at the hands of the father are compensated indirectly by an orally erotic celibate proximity to the mother. [...]

While reading his book on Ganesa, the thought that kept repeating in our mind page after page was—”How could he have written this? Why did he do this?”  [3.5 The Modaka as a ‘Toy’]

Vishal Agrawal and Kalai Venkat, When The Cigar Becomes A Phallus-Part 2, Sulekha

Courtright’s righteous indignation about academic freedom and the support this has received from his academic peers, appear to arise from a belief that his peers will not / cannot hold him to account on matters of accuracy or evidence. The challenge to the accuracy of the book has again come in a recent article by an outsider to the academic study of Hinduism. Courtright can thus state with remarkable disdain for the voices of his sources “Although there seem to be no myths or folktales in which Ganesa explicitly performs oral sex; his insatiable appetite for sweets may be interpreted as an effort to satisfy a hunger that seems inappropriate in an otherwise ascetic disposition, a hunger having clear erotic overtones.” [emphasis added by Sankrant]

In most academic disciplines, to come to such a definite conclusion, a scholar would have to marshal evidence, a fraud would have to manufacture evidence but in Academic Hinduism studies such efforts are, in Prof. Courtright’s estimation, overkill. Courtright may be credited with inventing one of the most ingenious devices in academic Hinduism studies—a field known for its ingenious devices—”The Courtright Twist”—whereby a respectable scholar can go from a hopeless “no evidence” to a tentative “may be interpreted” to “clear... overtones” all in the space of a single sentence.

Sankrant Sanu, Courtright Twist And Academic Freedom, Sulekha (December 20, 2003)

Vidūshaka: “Oh friend! What is this love, this love that consumes you? Is it a man? a woman?” [a eunuch? - SV]

King: “Born of the mind, without cause, and ever intent on pleasure, the delicate way of affection: this is what is called Love.”

Vidūshaka: “Even then I do not understand.”

King: “Friend, he is the offspring of desire.”

Vidūshaka: “Then what one desires, one loves?”

King: “Exactly!”

Vidūshaka: ”I’ve understood it. Just like me desiring to eat food in the kitchen!”

The vidūshaka can understand sexual enjoyment (kāmopabhoga) only in terms of food; but there is indeed universally a correlation between sexual enjoyment and eating. [ad vīthyaNga #1 udghātyaka]

For this equivalence and that between an ‘omnivorous appetite’ (characterizing the vidūshaka as Agni) and incest (or sexual transgression), see citations from Lévi-Strauss. The vidūshaka is constantly making sexual innuendos in terms of food, especially his modakas. We give only some examples in passing. In Avimāraka, when the maid attempts to lure away the fool from the presence of the hero and heroine intent on love-making, he agrees to do so only if she promises him food. She then hands over all her ornaments and declares: “you have now become virtually a lover to me,” and drags him off the stage (...). To Avimāraka wholly engrossed in his infatuation with the heroine, he says: “You appear to be brooding over the same thoughts, day and night, like a Brahmin duped by an invitation to dinner” and compares his own food-deception to that of a sex-starved harlot (...). When the lovelorn heroine weeps, he attributes it to her “hunger” and urges to “hurry up with the food” insisting that he will be the first to sit at the table (...). The maid chides this perverse brahmin’s obsession with food (...)  and Bhat rightly observes that “Nalinikā may think that the joke is inopportune; but it reveals the true Brāhmana, no doubt” (p.207). When Avimāraka proposes to lead him into the harem in Act IV (p.160), he thinks that his companion has suddenly become “hungry” (...) at which he is chided as a “fool” (vaidheya). When king Dushyanta turns to his vidūshaka (...) for consolation and advice in his consuming passion for the heroine, he replies: “What, in gobbling sweets (modaka)? Bless the moment!” (...). In the play Vikramorvashīyam itself he makes repeated equations of love with eating (...) and the examples could be easily multiplied.

That the humor (hāsya) with which such assimilations are accompanied in the plays is not the primary motivation can be inferred from the exploitation of the same motif not only in Ganesha, but even in such mythic episodes as Agni appearing as a gluttonous brahmin (brāhmaNo bahu-bhoktāsmi) to consume the KhāNDava forest (= modaka) in the Mahābhārata. The present example is funny only if the vidūshaka’s (alimentary) term of comparison is felt to be incongruous but in that case the requirement of the definition would not be fulfilled, for there would be no equivalence and a hidden significance based on it. Moreover, the king could hardly be said to have “clarified” the meaning of “love” to the fool. That an esoteric assimilation of sexual appetite to eating is really intended is confirmed from other numerous instances, like those cited above, from the plays themselves. We have in our example a clear instance of an esoteric equivalence that, in the context of the drama, is presentable only under the semblance of ‘humor’ hāsya (i.e., hāsyābhāsa). [footnote #22]

Sunthar V., “Wit and Linguistic Ambiguity: the Vīthyangas“ (chapter 10), PhD thesis (1983)


Another fundamental unsolved problem of the vidūshaka is the stereotyped over-insistence on his enormous appetite (constant obsession with food) and on his ‘sweetmeats’ (modakas) which, though invariably exploited for comic effects, are shared by him with Ganesha. It is suggested that this all-devouring appetite is due to the vidūshaka representing (the god of Fire) Agni (‑Consciousness) in his ‘all-devouring’ (sarva-bhakshaka) form and that the modakas represent the Soma (‘elixir of life’). This symbolism is organically linked to transgression as a means of bringing about an expansion or totalization of Consciousness and a rejuvenation of the psycho-physical system. This is why the Tantric divinity of transgression par excellence, namely Bhairava (mark his forms like Unmatta-, Ucchishta- which he shares with Ganesha) is also the symbol of the all-devouring Consciousness (bhairavāgni)  in Kashmiri Shaivism. This seems to be a retention of the central Vedic theme of the hidden sinister forms of Agni and Soma (Bergaigne) which have been retained even in the epic mythology in Varuna’s realm in the netherworld (Kuiper). Caillois notes that “there are numerous reasons for thinking that the sexual act is constantly assimilated to a manifestation of voracity” (...)  and not only is this observation amply supported by Lévi-Strauss’ findings but we find ample confirmation of it in the manner and contexts in which the vidūshaka alludes to his appetite (...). This fusion of sexual and alimentary (or even cooking and burning) images and motifs refers back ultimately to a complex of esoteric psycho-physical techniques exploiting the sexual experience, using it as a vehicle, for the expansion of Consciousness (vishvātmatā), which leads to the juxtaposition of incestuous symbolism with that of ‘eating,’ ‘cooking,’ or ‘burning’ the world (the three processes being synonymous in this regard). Sometimes the motif of embryonic regression is also associated with the one of incest in this context (...), and elaborate riddle-mechanisms or figures of speech are exploited to bridge these various domains whose terms come together in a single mythical episode (...) to signify what is ultimately an inner lived experience (the incest, for example, may not be concretely realized as in the Kaula sacrifice (kula-yāga); it is sufficient that the embryonic regression be relived as a mode of incest, hence of transgression). [...]  The most condensed and pregnant formula expressing this lived experience of consuming the entire universe of sensory experience in the blazing fire of (the sexualized Bhairava-) Consciousness is found in Abhinava’s definition of the esoteric Trika technique of haTha-pāka: ‘cooking or digesting (the world) by force.’ Tantrāloka III. Jayaratha’s commentary makes it clear that the ‘metaphors’ of both cooking and sexual union are intentional. That this technique has not been invented by the Trika can be inferred from the hymn to Agni devouring the Khāndava forest (vana = modaka = soma /amRta). For the assimilation of the five kinds of sensory impressions to ‘food’ (and energy), see Tantrāloka III 228-29; and for Consciousness (citi) as ‘fire’, see Kshemarāja’s Pratyabhijńā-Hrdayam (...) aphorism 14 and commentary. For Consciousness using the sex-experience as a vehicle for its expansion and totalization, see especially Abhinava, Parātrimshikā-Vivarana pp.45-52.

Sunthar V., “Vidūshaka as all-devouring,” The Semblance of HumorPhD thesis (1983)


How could the most learned and highly refined Sanskrit playwrights have elevated this ‘transvestite’ brahmin, hopelessly stuck at the ‘pre-genital’ stage of ‘oral sex’, to the enviable position of the king’s counselor in all matters pertaining to love (kāma-tantra-saciva)? In fact, a careful reading of the plays shows that this bungling Fool, despite all his protestations to the contrary, is a constant obstacle to the consummation of the amorous liaison between his inseparable friend, the hero, and the object of his overpowering desire. (And just how many of our wide-eyed Anglo-brahmin worshippers of the ‘Indian Shakespeare’ and ‘deconstructive’ Indological squinters have really done such a close reading of the actual ‘text’...?) After all, if we American ‘hard-core’ democrats were to take the unsquinting President Bill Clinton at his solemn televised word, Monica Lewinsky’s lollipops, however delectable, do not even make the grade to adult behavior:  “I did not have sex with that girl” (period)!

The first thing to note above is that GaNeza’s insatiable appetite for modakas is not an ‘oral substitute’ for ‘real’ (genital) sex (whose inexhaustible mysteries are familiar only to ‘all-American’ Indologists who apparently write their learned treatises during the commercial breaks in the Howard Stern show) but simply the semiotic equivalent of sexual appetite in itself (regardless of its external mode of expression). So much so that the all-consuming hunger (gastric fire = libidinal energy) of the ‘great brahmin’ amounts to a burning desire that knows no (societal or moral) bounds. If we accept that it is the consecrated sacrificer, the ‘ascetic’ Shiva himself, who is (re-) born as the ‘son’ GaNeza in the process of uniting with his wife, their union must amount in a profound sense to ‘incest’ even when it is actually a most decent case of matrimonial wedlock. This is revealed in the underlying ritual framework of the Sanskrit drama: the VidūSaka, who shares a single (symbolic) body with the (royal) hero, (is presided over by Omkāra and) wields the present of Brahmā (what else? GaNeza’s ‘limp’ trunk disguised as a crooked stick!), whereas the heroine (nāyikā) is presided over by Sarasvatī, whose incestuous relationship is a—if not the—central mystery of the BrāhmaNa mythology. This ‘polymorphous clown’ represents not only the ‘great’ (mahā-) brįhman from which the sacrificer-hero is (re-) born, he also embodies the latter as the dīkSita who has regressed into an embryonic condition. Indeed, the entire entourage of the Indian court, even the lowliest maids (including all the interns:-), has always known the VidūSaka for what he really is: a ‘perverse kid’ (duSTa-baTuka).

Is the ‘displacement’ of sexual activity to the mouth (and belly) no more than an infantile regression to a pre-genital stage of the adult libido? From the perspective of transgressive sacrality, such culturally-sanctioned ‘regression’ is not only the precondition for a ‘normal’ and healthy ‘adult’ sexuality, it is also the means to transcend human finitude by using the unleashed ‘libido’ as the vehicle for ‘universalizing’ one’s consciousness. The ‘metaphor’ of eating facilitates this merging of sexual ‘consumption’ and esoteric techniques within a supreme mode of enjoyment that is the prerogative of the unconditioned Consciousness. The brahmanical strategy consisted not just in checking the political self-aggrandizement of the king (-usurper) by making him subservient to a pre-established sacrificial schema, but in taming and harnessing his very sexuality—rendering it both chaste and transgressive—to transform his ego. What the VidūSaka did for the king, GaNeza still does for us all!

Perhaps if Clinton, who unfortunately never enjoyed the good fortune of having a ‘great brahmin’ as his intimate presidential counselor :-(as opposed to just plain old Hillary...), continues his humble penitence (prāyazcitta) through regular offerings of modakas to Lord GaNeza (with some encouragement from Chelsey?), he might before long be able to proclaim himself—swearing in all good conscience on his twisted trunk (= the vidūSaka’s kuTilaka)—a ‘perpetual celibate’ (i.e., a nitya-brahma-cārin, just like our incorrigible Lord Krishna...;-)!



[rest of this thread at Sunthar V. (Jan 8, 2003)

Castrated Ganesha reduced to ‘crooked’ enjoyment oral sex with his limp trunk? In-deed, for psychoanalytic fantasies of impotent ‘Indology’!

Divinities:Ganesha; Politics:Orientalism; Esotericism:Psychoanalysis]

[Kalyan’s response to comment on his petition to Walter’s Gallery provided occasion to scrutinize Ganesha’s mouse]

Subject:  Murti-s [images] of Shivalinga and Ganesha

From:  S. Kalyanaraman
Date:  Fri Jan 9, 2004; 
6:11 pm [Abhinava msg #1542 thread order has been reversed below]


I got a personal mail with the following comments and questions. I
have also appended the response I sent.

I am a proud Hindu, and I would not trade places with anyone.
Many stories in our history are debatable in today’s world because
of lack of the knowledge that was commonplace in ancient India but
has long been forgotten. Even if our history is discarded as mere
mythology by the western scholars, I assure everybody that we have
the Best ever ‘mythology’! I applaud your sensitive initiative
against insensitive comments by some misguided and
motivated ‘scholars’ of the Walter’s Art Gallery about the Lord
Ganesha and Lord God Shiva. But, please pardon my ignorance, is it
not true that Lord God Shiva has an erect phallus called Shiva
Lingam and his son Lord Ganesha has a potbelly satiated by his
penchant for ‘Laddus’ as well as a curious and limp looking
transplanted elephant trunk? When the Lord is not ashamed or
embarrassed about it, why should I? As long as we Hindus do not know
the real, implied, spiritual, symbolic, mystic, literary as well as
historic meanings of these things, we will continue to be utterly
short-changed, hopelessly under-armed, and absolutely weak and
incapable of countering these anti-Hindu attacks. Please enlighten
us. I am waiting! Nay, the majority of Hindus are waiting for an
explanation... I know because I have not gotten an answer yet even
after asking from many knowledgeable Hindus. Please help.

My response:

Every trunk of every elephant is limp, that is the way trunks are
made. To read Freudian interpretations into this body part is a
fraud. It is insulting to make fun of anyone’s name or personality.
It is not cultured behavior.

Now, about the lingam. I request you read the encyclopedic set of 7
books on Sarasvatī just released and available through amazon.com



An image exactly like Ganeza is also found in Sarasvati
civilization. The face and trunk of an elephant is ligatured with
the face of a tiger with a mane. I have provided proofs to explain
these as hieroglyphs in the context of metallurgical techniques of
the artisan guilds, vizvakarma of the civilization. Elephant is
ibha; trunk is s’un.d.a; tiger’s mane is cūl.a. All these words
have homonyms: ib ‘iron’; zuNDa ‘furnace’; cūl.a ‘furnace’. So
the code of Sarasvati hieroglyphs has been summarily cracked for
over 4000 epigraphs with 400 signs and 100 pictographs.


PS: More on the broken tusk and mūSika vāhana as hieroglyphs later.


Subject:  Re: Murti-s of Shivalinga and Ganesha

From:  Ram Varmha
Date:  Sat Jan 10, 2004  4:24 am


Dr. Kalyanaraman,

I fully agree with you on this. I too read Courtright’s Ganesa.
Unfortunately, the damage has been done by him and others like him and
now Ganesa has become the laughing stock in the Western world. That is a shame.

I find that in the West, a certain anti-Eastern feeling, not tied in
with the Ganesa remarks, are slowly taking root. Number of temples are
being vandalized in the
United States. The recent joke by none other
than Senator Hillary Clinton about Mahathma Gandhi filling gas at the St
Louise gas station, though a stupid and meaningless slip-up, shows that
there is now an undercurrent tendency to berate and insult Eastern cultures.

Unfortunately, some of it is due to Indians as well. The statues of
Ganesa, Nataraja, Krishna and others have become conversation pieces in
many homes in India. I remember, when we were young, our family never
displayed the images of Hindu gods in living rooms or as mantle pieces.
Now, in every Indian’s home you will find all these statues kept as art
work. This is also showing disrespect to the religion at large.
Furthermore, temple idols are stolen and sold on the black market to
underground buyers, at enormous profits. Temple jewellery are
periodically stolen and replaced with glass and base metal imitations.



Not having read your book, it is difficult to fully understand what you
are stating here. Is the image just that of an elephant with the face of
a tiger with a mane, signifying some metallurgical terms and techniques,
or is this some how connected with the worship of Ganesa in the ISV?



Subject:  Re: Murti-s of Shivalinga and Ganesha

From:  S. Kalyanaraman
Date:  Sat Jan 10, 2004; 7:10 pm


Not connected with the worship of GaNeza in the civilization; there
ain’t no evidence for such worship.

The ligatured sculpture just signifies metallurgical terms and technique.

MūSa, mūSika is the vāhana of Ganeza; mūSa means a
goldsmith’s ‘crucible’. The modaka-s held in his hand are the metal ingots.


Subject:  Re: [akandabaratam] Re: Murti-s of S’ivalinga and Ganes’a

From:  Dr. K. Loganathan
Date:  Sat Jan 10, 2004; 
8:05 pm


Dear Dr. Kalyan

I am not sure whether you are right in this etymological derivation. There
is a word in Su. ‘mus’ and ‘musen’ which is applied as a noun to snake,
birds and so forth and as a verb to depart, move ahead and so forth. The
root meaning appears to be creatures with protruding faces and which shows
it is the archaic form Ta. musal, muyal (rabbit) and muujci, mukam ( face)
and muukku : nose. This must be an ancient Tamil word for we find similar
words in Malay e.g. musang, a kind of small dear.

The words muucikam, muunjcuuRu (mouse) is obviously related to this. This
muucikam as the vaakana of GaNesha may be an adaptation of the very ancient snake.

There is a phrase in CaGkam Tamil: Mooci Kiiran and here I suspect the
meaning of Mooci to be a wanderer, the ascetic who wanders around having
relinquished domestic life, the tuRavi.



Subject:  Musha, Mushika

From:  Ram Varmha
Date:  Sun Jan 11, 2004;
3:09 am


Dr. Kalyanaraman,


Interesting. I know, Musha means a crucible.

I remember that the name MUSHIKA, rat, also relates to the name of a country established by Parashurama after his victory over Karthavirya Arjuna. Also, I had read that MUSHIKA, was a mysteriously missing city of Achaemenid India with its legendary riches, and identified with MOHENJO-DARO, of the Indus-Valley. Perhaps the city Mushika, meant the City of Crucibles!




Subject:  Re: Musha, Mushika

From:  S. Kalyanaraman
Date:  Mon Jan 12, 2004; 10:40 am


Even the trunk, s’un.d.a can be related to an ivory-worker, turner:

cundaka_ra turner (Pali); cuna_ro maker of wooden vessels (Ku.);
cuna_ro, cana_ro, cu~da_ro id. (N.)(CDIAL 4862). cunda wood or ivory
work (Skt.); ivory worker (Pali); cundiba_ to do woodwork (Or.)
(CDIAL 4861).

sun.d.u to evaporate; sun.d.isu to make evaporate, reduce in boiling
(Ka.); cun.d.u to be evaporated or dried up (Te.); s’un.t.h- to
become dry (Skt.)(DEDR 2662).

sun.d.a musk-rat (Ka.)(DEDR 2661)]. s’un.d.i-mu_s.ika_, s’un.d.a-
musk-rat (Skt.)

sun.d.alu, sun.d.il, sun.d.ila, son.d.alu, son.d.ilu, son.d.lu id.
(Ka.); dun.d.u face of a cow, beak (Ka.Coorg); dun.d.i snout, face
(insulting)(Kod..); sun.d.ilu, son.d.ilu elephant’s proboscis (Tu.);
ton.d.amu id. (Te.); son.d.am elephant’s trunk (Nk.); ond.i_ id.
(Go.) sun.d.a elephant’s trunk (Or); su~_r. (Bi.Mth.H.); su~r.h
(Bhoj.); su_r.h (Mth.); su~_r.i id. (Aw.); su~_d. (H.); sun.d. (H.);
su~d.i (G.); son.d.a_, son.d.a (Pali); som.d.a_ (Pkt.); su~_d.i id.
(S.); so~d. (M.); sond.aya, hond.aya (Si.)(CDIAL 12516).


Subject:  Why does the pot-bellied Lord of Wisdom romp around on a teeny-wienie mouse? ask his thieving younger brother, Mr. Subrahmanyam!

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam
Date:  Wed Jan 14, 2004; 6:20 pm


mahā-deva-sutam guru-guha-nutam

māra-koTi-prakāzam zāntam




mahā-gaNa-patim manasā smarāmi

O son of the great god (Ziva),

you receive the obeisance of (your brother) SubrahmaNya (Kārttikeya),

you shine, (though ever) appeased, with the effulgence of a million Cupids.

Great connoisseur of poetry, theater and what-not,

you [intrepid?] mouse-rider, who are ever fond of sweets,

O great leader of the divine hosts,

you who are saluted by VasiSTha, Vāmadeva and other Vedic sages,

I recollect (and worship) thy form in my heart!

Muttuswamy Dikshitar, popular invocatory composition (for Carnatic music concerts) set in the rāga NāTam


The evening of the fourth day, the jar is brought from the painters’ house to that of the Juju, who is said to have “stolen” the jar. Having performed a ritual of welcome upon its arrival, the Juju later leaves his home accompanied by the Karmacharya and an assistant who carries a big red umbrella, a royal attribute of the Juju. This group heads towards the Atko Narayana temple, the most important temple of Narayana in the southern part of Kathmandu, standing to the south of the Kashthamandapa. At the precise moment when the Indra pole is erected at Hanuman Dhoka, the Juju used to have a pole raised inside the precincts of Atko Narayana, the same that would later be raised at the entrance to the Pachali Bhairava pitha. [p.34]  When the Juju arrives at the pitha, the jar of Pachali Bhairava has already been put upon its platform under the shelter. While the Juju was performing the ritual to Atko Narayana and the kasi puja, the Jyapus remaining in his house had “stolen” back the jar. On the platform there is therefore the Pachali Bhairava jar and, on the left, the patra khola (small silver dish) that represents Ajima. Following on the heels of the Juju, the porters throw the kasi brusquely on the Vetala in human form. [p.36] According to Ganesha Purna Bahadur, the homa fire is “stolen” by the Jyapu to be brought to the temple of Sikali at Khokana near Patan. [p.38] It is the same sacrificial schema that underlies both the renewal of the political power of the king and the accession of the Jyapu children to their full communal rights. The theme of “stealing” is common to the Jyapu and the Juju and even a Westerner like Gehrts Wagner was required literally to steal a goat in order to complete his initiation into a musicians’ guild in Bhaktapur. [p.54] Just as the sacrificer is bound by the cords of Varuna, the statuettes of Indra, wound with strings, are placed during the Indra Yatra in a prison-cage at the foot of poles, or on scaffolds so as to represent Indra like a thief with outspread arms. [p.57]

Elizabeth Visuvalingam, “The King and the Gardener: Pachali Bhairab of Kathmandu” (1989-2004)


The Vidūshaka was certainly not joking when he affirmed that he had handed over the jewels to Cārudatta, for the brahmin thief, whose father had mastered the four Vedas and never accepted any gifts, and who steals the deposit only to restore it to Vasantasenā the very next morning, ultimately represents the transgressive dīkSita-aspect of the brahmin hero himself. He slithers about on the ground like a rejuvenated snake casting off the slough from its worn-out body (III.9), and the night of the unconscious hides the nefarious activities of the solitary Tantric adept, intent on bringing the supreme disgrace to his family (para-gRha-dūSaNa-nizcitaikavīra = “lone hero intent on violating other households”), in her womb-like obscurity, just as a mother blinded by love envelops her child in her embrace (III.10). The stealing of a brahmin’s gold is indeed a major crime (mahā-pātaka) equivalent to brahmanicide. The choice of a breach shaped like a “vase of plenty” (pūrNa-kumbha), at a spot corroded by the saline action of water daily sprayed at the sight of the sun and marked by a dirt-heap piled up by mice, likewise assimilates the burglary to a uterine regression (kumbhā, as in kumbha-dāsī, being a synonym for “prostitute”), accomplished even without a female partner (III.12), and the aesthetically unnecessary poisonous bite of the ‘phallic’ cobra at this juncture only serves to suggest the accompanying initiatic death. His professional use of his brahmanical thread as a measuring tape, a false key and so on, assimilates him to the Vidūshaka who typically profanes his sacred thread, as in the Mālavikāgnimitra where he likewise ties up his finger with it after trance-like writhing and quivering due to (supposed) serpent-bite (III.16). Having saluted the boy (kumāra) Kārttikeya his patron divinity, this transgressive spiritual “son of Skanda,” so “discriminating in the etiquette of theft that he never robbed a brahmin of his wealth, gold set aside for sacrificial purposes, or a child in his mother’s (or nurse’s) lap” (VI.6), reclaims the golden Soma wrapped in the obliging Mahābrāhmana’s “worn-out bathing-trunks,” the soaking embryonic covers returned by the maternal courtesan only when she comes to unite with the brahmin hero.

The Perverse Humor of the Infantile Vidūshaka” (Act III of the “Little Clay Cart” MRcchakaTikā)

mūSa = rat, mouse, crucible; muSaka = mouse

mūSaka = rat, mouse, thief, particular part of the face

mūSikā = rat, mouse, thief, crucible, (spider, leech)

crucible = mūSa, muSā, mūSī (-karaNa = ‘melting in a crucible’), zilātmikā,

muSka =  testicle, scrotum, robust man, a mass, a thief,  pudenda muliebria (= “little mouse”)

Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, search on ‘crucible’ and on ‘muSka

Hello Kalyan,

If the myths insist that GaNeza was born of his mother Pārvatī’s impurity, where is it to be found in his iconography....other than as deposited in the scavenging rat? But why not then a black dog, Bhairava’s preferred (eco-friendly) vehicle (well-known as an adept in recycling its own waste...)? The untouchable dog would have been too obvious a symbol of transgression, and certainly not amusing especially to (perpetual) kids (like myself). Moreover, the thieving rat, like the (twice-born) snake (that rejuvenates itself by sloughing off its own dead skin), has the ingrained habit of scurrying away with a stuffed mouth into its hole (bila - check out what happened to the stolen ear-rings in, once again, the Uttanka episode in the Mahābhārata). This is what so well qualifies the mouse to represent the otherwise pure ‘brahmanical’ Lord of Wisdom in his hidden dimension as the impure dīkSita returning to the maternal womb. The ambivalence of the vehicle consists in its being simultaneously that which is subdued (like the pāpa-puruSa upon whom Lord Ziva mercilessly treads as he dances...) and the theriomorphic incarnation of the deity himself. Once while savoring my regular samosas on the main street leading into the Benares Hindu University, I was aghast to see a mouse nibbling directly off the large tray on which they were displayed—when I protested, the boy-seller was amazed that anyone could make such a fuss over a personal visitation from the ever-hungry Ganesha! The Hindu bestiary, like that of the Amerindians so painstakingly deciphered by Lévi-Strauss, is based on centuries of careful observation of the appearance and behavior of these fascinating (both wild and domestic) animals.

Often flaunted as the most ‘secular’ (prakaraNa) of Sanskrit plays, the “Little Clay Cart” is entirely modeled on the Vedic sacrifice for which it could well serve as a literary key. Though the role of the sacrificer here is assumed primarily by the brahmin Cārudatta, various aspects of his dīkSā are encoded into other characters in the play (such as the king Āryaka) with whom he is symbolically identified. It is in the brahmin thief Zarvilaka, particularly his burglary into Cārudatta’s home where the ‘sleep-walking’ clown insists that he take Vasantasenā’s vouchsafed gold (recall the VidūSaka’s comparison of himself elsewhere with a sex-starved harlot?), that the embryonic dimension is especially elaborated. Under the protection of the ‘Patron Saint of Thieves’ (Kārttikeya!), he makes a breach shaped like a pūrNa-kumbha (GaNeza’s belly or the Pachali Bhairab jar?) at a spot already corroded by daily morning ‘ablutions’ and marked by the ‘dirt-heap’ of a rat, before he is able to access the ‘gold’ in the custody of the great brahmin. Recall that the Soma (and Agni) in the Rig-Veda always had to be ‘stolen’ even by the king of the gods, Indra, just as the latter is still pilloried like a thief every year in the Katmandu valley for trying to ‘steal’ the pārijāta flowers for the worship of his mother. There is always something ‘illegitimate’ about the ‘elixir of life’ for it can be accessed only through a mode of transgression. Such is always the case in Amerindian mythology where the (secret of) Fire and (the equivalent) Honey (or Maple Syrup) is also typically stolen.

While it is quite possible that Soma in the Rig-Veda also represents electrum, it would be more true to say that both the soma-plant and the metal gold represent the internal ‘elixir of life’ (amRta), which is why the symbolism has remained alive long after the loss of this northern plant and the carting away abroad of treasures in the post-Hindu period of Indian history. This also explains why the ‘crucible’ could also be the scrotum/testicle, for the ‘base’ metal that is being transmuted into (what you claim are) ‘gold ingots’ (modaka) are actually our ‘stem-cells’ being extracted of their life-giving essence. How else do you explain the iconographic fact that GaNeza’s ‘abstinent’ mouse, unlike the ‘Hindu’ one that was scrounging on my samosas, is typically depicted looking up expectantly at his master’s savory mouth? For Abhinavagupta, the overflowing of aesthetic sensibility within the heart of the connoisseur (sahRdaya) is rooted in the transmutation (as opposed to the mere repression or even ‘sublimation’) of sexual energy, which is why Lord GaNeza is not just so fond of food but ever hankering after the sublime pleasures of art. Not only were our ancestors keen observers of animal behavior, they also knew how to introduce ‘lawful irregularities’ into their iconographic depiction so that even illiterate village-folk (from all that I see on these lists, I can’t vouch for the erudite scientists and literati...) could understand.

You might recall that I immediately greeted your equation—long ago on the Indic Traditions list—of the womb (kuThi) with the furnace (and childbirth with the extraction of metal) in the Indus ‘hieroglyphs’, very positively by pointing out the Amerindian parallels. It would probably be closer to the truth to say that these (no doubt precocious) metallurgists of Indus-Sarasvatī civilization were, first and foremost, alchemists!

 With best wishes for the sale of your magnum opus,




P.S. Why would any self-respecting Hindu worship a metallurgist before every undertaking not just with sweets but also jackfruits, bananas and what-not...or have we been the victims of a colossal 5000 year-old hoax perpetrated by the ‘Vedic’ (?) sages of the ‘Sarasvatī’ civilization?


[rest of this thread at Sunthar V., 10 Jan. 2004


Do virile Hindu ‘heroes’ (nāyakas!) need a brahmin ‘eunuch’ to initiate us into the incomparable pleasures of ‘oral sex’? ask Abhinavagupta!




[Kevin McDonald’s review of Frederick Crew’s critique of psychoanalysis in the New York Review of Books]


Subject:  Psychoanalysis in Its Death Throes: The Moral and Intellectual Legacy of a Pseudoscience?

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam
Date:  Tue Mar 30, 2004; 11:07 am [Abhinava msg #1737]


Spare the rod and spoil the child...

Spare the Fraud and save the child?




[See the Psychoanalysis thread for follow-up messages on this post]

Subject Washington Post: Courtright

From:  Mary Hicks

Date:  Sat Apr 10, 2004; 5:24 pm [Abhinava msg #1761]


Please note the author blames Rajiv Malhotra for the entire ruckus. The article is riddled with errors - eg., Laine is being castigated "because Shivaji’s parents were estranged" - NOT! - Laine infers that Shivaji was illegitimate. The article is replete with desultory quotes from Wendy Doniger.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A334-2004Apr9.html washingtonpost.com




Wrath Over a Hindu God - U.S. Scholars’ Writings Draw Threats From Faithful

By Shankar Vedantam

Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, April 10, 2004; Page A01

Folklore has it that elephants never forget, and Paul Courtright has reason to believe it. A professor of religion at Emory University, he immersed himself in the story of Ganesha, the beloved Hindu god with the head of an elephant. Detecting provocative Oedipal overtones in Ganesha’s story -- and phallic symbolism in his trunk -- he wrote a book setting out his theories in 1985.

Nineteen years later, thanks to an Internet campaign, the world has rediscovered Courtright’s book. After a scathing posting on a popular Indian Web site, he has received threats from Hindu militants who want him dead.

"Gopal from Singapore said, ‘The professor bastard should be hanged,’ " said Courtright, incredulous. "A guy from Germany said, ‘Wish this person was next to me, I would have shot him in the head.’ A man called Karodkar said, ‘Kill the bastard. Whoever wrote this should not be spared.’ Someone wanted to throw me into the Indian Ocean."

Other academics writing about Hinduism have encountered similar hostility, from tossed eggs to assaults to threats of extradition and prosecution in India.

The attacks against American scholars come as a powerful movement called Hindutva has gained political power in India, where most of the world’s 828 million Hindus live. Its proponents assert that Hindus have long been denigrated and that Western authors are imposing a Eurocentric world view on a culture they do not understand.

That argument resonates among many of the roughly 1.4 million Hindus in North America as well.

In November, Wendy Doniger, a University of Chicago professor of the history of religion who has written 20 books about India and Hinduism, had an egg flung at her by an angry Hindu when she was lecturing in London. It missed.

In January, a book about the Hindu king Shivaji by Macalester College religious studies professor James W. Laine provoked violent outbursts: One of Laine’s collaborators in India was assaulted, and a mob destroyed rare manuscripts at an institute in India where Laine had done research. The Indian edition was recalled, and India’s prime minister warned Laine not to "play with our national pride." Officials said they want to extradite the Minnesota author to stand trial for defamation, and the controversy has become a campaign issue in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Doniger, a 63-year-old scholar at the center of many controversies, is distressed to see her field come under the sway of what she regards as zealots.

"The argument," she said, "is being fueled by a fanatical nationalism and Hindutva, which says no one has the right to make a mistake, and no one who is not a Hindu has the right to speak about Hinduism at all." U.S. Cradle of Backlash

The recent controversy began not in New Delhi but in New Jersey.

In an essay posted on a Web site called Sulekha.com, New Jersey entrepreneur Rajiv Malhotra argued that Doniger and her students had eroticized and denigrated Hinduism, which was part of the reason "the American mainstream misunderstands India so pathologically."

Malhotra criticized in particular a book for which Doniger had written the foreword -- Courtright’s "Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings." The book drew psychoanalytic inferences about Ganesha, also known as Ganesa or Ganpathi, the son of the Hindu god Shiva and his wife, Parvati.

According to Hindu scriptures, Parvati asked Ganesha to guard her privacy while she was bathing. Shiva, who had been absent, returned to find the boy blocking his way. A fight ensued, and Shiva beheaded Ganesha. When Parvati protested, Shiva repaired his hasty action by resuscitating the child and replacing the missing head with that of an elephant.

Courtright, drawing on the story of a conflict between a woman’s husband and son, suggested that Shiva had chosen an elephant’s head because the trunk represented a limp phallus. By contrast, he said, Shiva’s power is represented in idols by a linga, or an erect phallus.

In his posting, Malhotra quoted passages from Courtright’s book that offended him: "Although there seem to be no myths or folktales in which Ganesha explicitly performs oral sex, his insatiable appetite for sweets may be interpreted as an effort to satisfy a hunger that seems inappropriate in an otherwise ascetic disposition, a hunger having clear erotic overtones."

Malhotra’s critique produced a swift and angry response from thousands of Hindus. An Atlanta group wrote to the president of Emory University asking that Courtright be fired.

"The implication," said Courtright "was this was a filthy book and I had no business teaching anything." He said the quotes had been taken out of context and ignored the uplifting lessons he had drawn from Ganesha’s story.

Salman Akhtar, an Indian American psychoanalyst, said the disagreement sprang from different worldviews. "Are religious stories facts or myths?" he asked. "Facts cannot be interpreted. Stories can be interpreted."

The book was withdrawn in India, where the local edition’s book jacket, which Courtright had neither seen nor approved, depicted Ganesha as a child -- in the nude.

"It was very painful reading," said T.R.N. Rao, a computer science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who advises the university’s branch of the Hindu Student Council, a national group with Hindutva roots. "It makes Ganesha a eunuch . . . It was very vulgar."

Rao and the council started an Internet petition against the book. Seven thousand people signed within a week -- and among their comments were 60 threats of violence.

The petition was swiftly removed. "We condemn any threats to the author and the publisher," said Rao. "We wanted to get the book corrected and replaced. . . . We are not asking for banning the book. I am a professor and I know the value of academic freedom." Insider vs. Outsider

Courtright was not the first to find Oedipal overtones in the Ganesha story. But his book became a rallying point for devout Hindus in the United States who say the academic study of their religion is completely at odds with the way they experience their faith.

"For the past five years, our field has been in turmoil," said Arvind Sharma, a professor of comparative religion at McGill University in Montreal, who sides with the critics even as he disavows the violence. "There may be a Hindutva connection in what happened in India and the death threats and the person who threw the egg, but there also is a Hindu response."

Sharma was asked to write an essay on Hinduism for Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia to replace a previous essay written by Doniger. The switch came after a Hindu activist, a former Microsoft engineer named Sankrant Sanu, charged that Doniger’s article perpetuated misleading stereotypes and asked for a rewrite by an "insider."

"For pretty much all the religious traditions in America, most of the people studying it are insiders," said Sanu. "They are people who are believers. This is true for Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. This is not true for Hinduism."

In January, fresh controversy along the same lines erupted over a book by Macalester College’s Laine, "Shivaji: A Hindu King in Islamic India," which explored the life of a 17th-century icon of the Hindutva movement.

After Laine suggested in his book that Shivaji’s parents may have been estranged -- an assertion that upset Hindus who see them as nearly divine -- a history scholar in India who had collaborated with Laine was roughed up and smeared with tar by members of Shiv Sena, a Hindutva group. Another nationalist group called the Sambhaji Brigade stormed the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in the city of Pune, and destroyed priceless manuscripts. The reason? Laine had done research there .

"No one in Pune today will defend my book, not my friends, not my colleagues, because they are fearful," Laine said. "Oxford University Press pulled the book because they are fearful of physical violence. There will be a chilling effect on what topics you choose to do."

Many Indian scholars have rushed to the defense of the American authors. They say the controversy over the books is part of a larger pattern of political violence against scholars in India.

Doniger blames the Internet campaigns. "Malhotra’s ignorant writings have stirred up more passionate emotions in Internet subscribers who know even less than Malhotra does, who do not read books at all," Doniger wrote in an e-mail. "And these people have reacted with violence. I therefore hold him indirectly responsible."

Dwarakanath Rao (no relation to T.R.N. Rao), a Hindu psychoanalyst in Ann Arbor, Mich., said Doniger had written moving interpretations of Hindu texts that made them accessible for the first time in North America.

"I just do not hear disrespect," he said. "I hear a woman who, frankly, is in love with India." India Inc.

Malhotra said he began his campaign after visiting African American scholars at Princeton University, who told him that it had taken the civil rights movement before black scholars were allowed into schools to tell their own history.

Hindus were only following in the footsteps of blacks, Jews and the Irish, he said, likening his campaign to a consumer struggle: "It’s no different than Ralph Nader saying we need a consumer voice against General Motors."

Malhotra disavowed the violence -- he called the attackers "hooligans." He said he has campaigned against the Hindutva agenda and opposed the Internet petition against Courtright. "I know I am championed by the Hindu right but there is nothing I can do about that," he said.

Indeed, Malhotra’s critique seems to have less to do with religious nationalism than public relations. Doniger and other academics are "an inbred, incestuous group that control a vertically integrated industry," the former telecom entrepreneur said. Unlike other critics’ objections, Malhotra’s is not that outsiders have written about India -- he has himself encouraged many Americans to study India -- but that the books have harmed the image of what he calls "India Inc."

"In America," he said, "everything is negotiable -- you have to negotiate who you are and how they think of you." Previously, Malhotra waged a campaign against CNN for coverage that he charged was biased toward India’s rival, Pakistan. A foundation he has launched is dedicated to "upgrade the portrayal of India’s civilization in the American education system and media."

This approach does not go down well within the academy. "We are not in the business of marketing a nation state," said Vijay Prashad, an international studies scholar at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in a recent Internet debate with Malhotra. "That is the job of the ambassador of India, not of a scholar."

McGill’s Sharma, a practicing Hindu, countered that the academy had never been neutral, objective ground. Trends in academia have always been governed by shifts in public opinion: "The recalibration of a power equation is an untidy process."

But if the controversies are only about influence, Doniger said, there was little use in discussing the merits of the various books, or her Encarta essay on Hinduism. "It does not matter whether the article published under my name was right or wrong," she said in an e-mail. "The only important thing about it was that I wrote it and someone named Sharma did not."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company


From: Rajiv Malhotra
Tuesday, April 20, 2004 9:03 AM [Abhinava msg #1793]

Many of you know of the Ganesha denigration and general Hinduphobia by certain powerful scholars. Recently, Washington Post did a front-page major story on this matter (quoting me heavily), but in a very biased way that caters to the public relations machinery of the academic establishment. My rejoinder that appeared today on Sulekha.com points out many journalistic biases, the broader underlying forces that cause Hinduphobia, and especially the nasty role being played by certain Indian writers who dish out what the system rewards them to produce. Since it is a long article, it is best to get a printer-friendly hard copy.






Subject:  Rajiv Malhotra’s rejoinder: Washington Post and Hinduphobia

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam
Date:  Tue Apr 20, 2004; 9:49 am


A streamlined edited version of the Ganesha controversy, as compiled from the various posts since June 2003 to the Abhinava forum, will soon be available on the svAbhinava site...



[This post served to present my Introduction (above) to this entire thread]

Subject:  Psychoanalysis, Hindu Wisdom and Transgressive Sacrality: 'Provincializing Europe' through the Hermeneutics of Ganesha?

From:  Sunthar Visuvalingam
Date:  Wed Apr 28, 2004  8:55 am [Abhinava msg #1815]


We have an ancient Indian tradition of engaging the ‘other’ using a technique called purva-paksha. This means you must first study the other’s viewpoint very seriously and become an expert in it. Only then can you debate against it.

But today, I cannot find swamis who know the Western ‘other’ well enough to be able to do purva-paksha of Western thought. This is why their followers are lost, confused about identity and unable to effectively respond to the dominant culture. In the past in India, the ‘other’ would have been Buddhist, Jaina, Nyaya, Mimamsika, Vedantin, etc., and each had to be studied, but for today the ‘other’ is typically Western dominated culture that must be studied.

To understand Western thought one must master its three main branches: Christianity, Enlightenment, and Post-Enlightenment. Most Hindu preachers admit that their education did not include any of these. (Some do it as a matter of great pride.) So they lack a purva-paksha of the ‘other’ that matters so much in today’s global culture. Hence, by the methods of our own tradition, they are unqualified to be able to debate in the mainstream, and they are the blind leading their followers – the result is today’s catastrophes facing Hindus.

On the other hand, the West has invested serious resources to study Indian culture and thought rather than ignoring it. RISA is merely one example to prove my point. [...] Today’s South Asian Studies replaces colonial Indology as the West’s purva-paksha of Indian thought and culture.

This means the West has extracted knowledge from Indic sources and developed sophisticated positions about us. In many cases, the most qualified scholar available in a university about some Indian text or tradition is a Westerner. That most swamis and their followers do not even know this state of affairs shows how out of touch they are with the world.

So rather than attacking me for my background, one might also see in it a rare ability to do purva-paksha of the West from the Indian perspective: I have invested most of my time since the mid 1990s to study all three strains of Western thought from works of serious thinkers. Rather than this being a handicap, it is what enables me to debate the ‘other’ with authority and confidence.


Rajiv Malhotra, The Westernized side of my Background (Sulekha, Posted on April 27, 2004 9:49 AM EST)


The most informed, sustained and cogent critique of the 'Western' pūrva-pakSa from an Indian perspective that I have studied to date is Provincializing Europe by Dipesh Chakrabarty, here at the University of Chicago. Many readers I know, particularly Indians and even Western Indologists, have been put off or prejudiced against Dipesh's effort because of his heavy resort to post-Enlightenment European (particularly Marxist) thought. I would recommend them to read the Introduction and the Epilogue, and then jump to the 2nd part that describes Bengali middle-class sensibilities during the colonial era before returning to Part I. I suspect most Indians might view his theses more sympathetically if they read the 1st part (critique of Marx) last. Unlike so much else I've read on these seminal Western thinkers, Dipesh is a model of clarity.


As for the edited thread on the Ganesha controversy from the Abhinavagupta forum archive, it has been compiled and is ready for posting. Unfortunately, I have been unable to log in to the svAbhinava FTP site. Until I'm able to get around this, I've forwarded (below) the draft of my Introduction to this free-wheeling discussion of the "Hermeneutics of Ganesha: Psychoanalysis, Hindu Wisdom and Transgressive Sacrality."





[rest of this thread at Religious traditions, globalization and the Internet: problems in cross-cultural communication]

[My Introduction “The Hermeneutics of Ganesha” is now at the beginning of this thread]

[Part I / Part II / Part III]