A holiday honcho’s obsession with collecting Ganeshas

Vinay Kamath | Updated on: Jul 09, 2022
Sterling Holidays’ Chairman Ramesh Ramanathan’s ‘magnificent obsession’ in collecting figurines and paintings of the elephant god

Sterling Holidays’ Chairman Ramesh Ramanathan’s ‘magnificent obsession’ in collecting figurines and paintings of the elephant god

Ramesh Ramanathan, Sterling Holidays’ Chairman, talks about the over 2,500 Ganeshas he has in his unique collection from around India and the world 

A Ganesha so small it’s just 1.3 mm and placed in the eye of a needle in a test tube by an artist from Warangal, AP; a sandalwood fan with Ganesha figures from Churu in Rajasthan; Ganesha made from fish scales by fishermen from Murshidabad in West Bengal; or painted on the inside an egg shell/ inside a bottle, by an artist in Chennai; a Ganeshini idol, a female form of the god in brass; and even a painting of a Ganesha made by Australian native people in their art form replete holding a boomerang.

And, many more from all parts of India and the world — from Peru to Beijing - and in different material, poses and forms — from Lalique crystal to Lladro porcelain Ganeshas, are all part of this eclectic collection. 

Sterling Holidays’ Chairman Ramesh Ramanathan’s ‘magnificent obsession’ in collecting figurines and paintings of the elephant god, has seen his collection burgeon to over 2,500 Ganeshas over the past 30-odd years. “My collections don’t have antiques; they represent the art and craft of the country and the world,” he says. 

Also, as he says, he doesn’t collect Ganeshas as a religious rite. “But it’s more as a representation of a “form” that lent itself to myriad poses and materials. I saw the expression of the art and craft forms of India and some neighbouring countries, through this medium. It is an expression and a record of the diversity of cultures in India. It is not a spiritual quest.” 

His home is bursting with Ganesha idols and paintings; in cabinets, on side tables, on the walls — there are at least 700 on display — and for those that don’t find the space, they are all bundled in the loft. “I can say the lord literally is watching me from above,” adds Ramanathan with a chuckle. 

Inveterate collector 

Ramanathan says he has been an inveterate collector since his school days growing up in Coimbatore – from matchbox labels to marbles and swizzle sticks. “I always had this fascination for Ganeshas. There was a temple with three Ganapatis at the end of the street where we lived and I used to pray there often, and definitely before my exams. It was always in my subconscious.” Today, apart from the Ganeshas, he has a stamp collection ‘only of birds’ — of around 4,500 stamps! 

Apart from the collection itself, Ramanathan has interesting stories around how he got some of the Ganeshas - the chase being as adventurous as the acquisition. Like the miniature Ganesha which can be viewed under a magnifying glass. The artist was Ajit Kumar, whom Ramanathan read about in the newspapers. When initially approached, the artist refused to sell thinking that he was a dealer. When Ramanathan explained he was a serious collector with a passion, Ajit visited his office many months later and gave him the piece. “I have had many experiences like these where people have offered me Ganeshas. Recently, Ajit sent me one Ganesha, just 1.2 mm, in gold,” he adds. 

Or, the Aboriginal (the native people of Australia) art work of Ganesha which his nephew in Australia gifted him on his 60 th birthday. The nephew explained to the local artists with pictures of Ganesha and they came up with their own colourful rendition and in their own style. A painting that Ramanathan holds dear. The first Ganesha that he bought was in 1992 in Ooty, a large panel made of softwood made by TN artisans and which still adorns a wall in his home. 

Many interpretations 

Ganesha, he says, is such a malleable god, subject to so many interpretations, that he has so many of them in different shapes, sizes and poses. Not just the base material from which it is made but also the multitude forms and the expressions. There are Ganeshas in different semi-precious stones, Lladro porcelain; Lalique French crystal; in amethyst; in lapis, Amazonite; in over 100 different semi-precious stones, metal coated with silver, Ganeshas made with bone inlay, various metals including idols in the ‘lost wax’ method of bronze, several different varieties of wood, jute, bamboo, string, arecanut, pith, pencil lead, foil, papier mache, terracota, porcelain, wax, mud, sand, granite, marble, soapstone, turmeric — the list is long.

Ramanathan’s Ganeshas are from all over India and the world — from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, Tibet, Beijing, Thailand, among others. He says that the Ganeshas very aptly represent the diversity of Indian culture and art forms but project unity in the form. 

The collection also comes from across cultures — Tanjore paintings, Bastaar dhokra, filigree from Orissa, Kavad from rajasthan, Sankheda from Gujarat, Kerala mural, embossed metal, thread cross stitch, wooden dolls from Chitrakoot in UP, Kondpalli and Etikoppa from AP, Channapatna in Karnataka, Ganapati Diyas, modern sculptures, paintings, marble and wood inlay, origami and paper quilling, beaten metal to lost wax bronze, as well as a small sculpture by sculptor and painter, B Vithal. 

Ramanathan, who has spent a small fortune in collecting the Ganeshas, now wants an institution to house his collection so that it can be on display for all those interested to view. His two daughters work abroad and he’s not sure they would be able to transport and maintain the figures. “I would like to give the collection for display to an institution which can take care of them and with a promise not to sell them. I could provide a small corpus to maintain them as well,” he explains. He’s sure that Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, will find a way for him soon. 

Published on July 07, 2022
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