Amid the clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people in India on Saturday warmly welcomed the popular elephant-headed God, Lord Ganesha, also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka. The atmosphere of the pandemic may have dialled down the celebrations a bit compared to other years, however, that doesn’t make the day any less special because it is still about one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon.
Today, we pose the question to our readers — Which country has a picture of Lord Ganesha on its currency note? And before your mind defaults to the most obvious answer, you should jolt back into remembering that it is not India, since currency notes here carry the image of Mahatma Gandhi, as any elementary school lesson will tell you.
Then which country is it? Well, although it might not be as obvious as first, as a matter of fact — the image of Lord Ganesha, the beloved remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom, is found beyond India and even… Hinduism. Yes, his image is found in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bali (Indonesia) and Bangladesh and in countries with large ethnic Indian populations including Fiji, Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago. Not just that, devotion to Lord Ganesha is widely diffused and extends to Jains and Buddhists as well.
He is honoured at the start of rites and ceremonies. Ganesha is also invoked as patron of letters and learning during writing sessions. Several texts relate mythological anecdotes associated with his birth and exploits.
Which brings us to our original question — Which country has a picture of Lord Ganesha on its currency note? As a hint, let us say that it’s a Muslim-majority country but it continues to be impacted and shaped by the rich history of Hinduism and its mythology.
Too difficult? Well, do not bother beating up your brain cells anymore — the answer is Indonesia.
Yes, the country whose religious composition comprises 86.7% Islam and 1.74% Hinduism did carry the image of Lord Ganesha on its 20,000 rupiah note from 1998 to 2008, along with Ki Hadjar Dewantara, a leading Indonesian movement activist.
Don’t get confused as we have the answer to this. Indonesia is a Muslim-majority, yes, but in most of the places, you’ll see Hindu motifs so much so that, when L.K. Advani visited Jakarta in 2010 he was left awestruck by the healthy respect the Muslim majority has for Hindus and vice versa.
It is believed that Hinduism came to Indonesia in the 1st-century through traders, sailors, scholars and priests. and is still one of the six official religions of the republic. A syncretic fusion of pre-existing Javanese culture and Hindu ideas, that from the 6th-century synthesized Buddhist ideas as well, evolved as the Indonesian version of Hinduism. These ideas continued to develop during the Srivijaya and Majapahit empires.
The Bali island in Indonesia has a Hindu majority and in the Indonesian mainland, apart from the image of Lord Ganesha in the currency note, emblems and symbols of Hinduism are scattered across several motifs in the country. The National emblem of Indonesia is called Garuda Pancasila. Garuda, the vehicle carrier (vahana) of Lord Vishnu, also appears in many ancient Hindu temples of ancient Indonesia.
It is a fact that Ganesha is one of a number of Hindu deities who have reached foreign lands. Statues of Ganesha are found throughout Maritime Southeast Asia, often beside Shiva sanctuaries. The forms of Ganesha found in the Hindu art of the Philippines, Java, Bali, and Borneo show specific regional influences and modified forms of worship in other places Burma, Cambodia, and even Thailand.