A collection of short stories, essays, blog-posts and photographs from Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

The Ubud Handbook « The Tale of Ganesha the Globetrotter ~ Bali's Elephant-Headed Hindu God

‘On the largely Hindu island of Bali, Lord Ganesha is everywhere. One of the most recognisable Hindu gods outside India, he isn't difficult to miss – the benign elephant head on top of a chubby human body protects Bali's homes and temples from north to south...’

The Hindu elephant god Ganesha guards a Hindu temple in Bali, Indonesia

The elephant-headed Hindu deity Lord Ganesha – Dewa Ganesa – guards a Balinese-Hindu temple in Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.


THE INDIAN LORD GANESHA certainly got around. A favorite of Asian Hindu and Buddhist traders seeking new markets as they prayed for success along the way, this elephant deity has left his over-sized footprints from Nepal to Kalimantan.

First on Shree Ganesha's ‘round-Asia tour was a spell in Buddhist Tibet with its strong tantric leanings – a convenient spot to re-invent himself as Vinãyaka, and then as the dancing red Nritta Ganapati – before a full-blown alter-ego revamp as the scarlet, twelve-armed Maharakta Ganapati. Now, Maharakta Ganapati was unusually fond of skullcaps filled with human flesh and blood – and this we might charitably put down to a bad trip.

After all, what happens in Tibet stays in Tibet...

Painting of Ganesha as the dancing red Maharakta Ganapati from Tibet

A painting of Lord Ganesha as the Tantric, ten-armed, dancing red Maharakta Ganapati from Tibet. (Source: Wikipedia/Public Domain)

The Hindu elephant god Ganesha in 7th century Cambodia

Sixth- and seventh-century statues of the two-armed, elephant-headed god Ganesha in Cambodia. (Source: Wikipedia/Public Domain)

Overland to Burma – Myanmar – where Mahayana Buddhism had already taken root, and where images of Lord Ganesha have been unearthed from as early as the fifth century.

A hop and a skip over the border to Cambodia in the sixth century, where bronze statuettes and stone sculptures show Ganesh as having shed ten of his twelve arms – his large pot belly shrunk to a more modest paunch after another hundred-or-so years on the road. By his arrival in seventh-century Buddhist China, our elephant god was also seen as an obstacle creator who had to be tamed with regular offerings: too conceited, proud, selfish or arrogant and he wouldn't hesitate to place a large roadblock in your path.

Next stop, Vietnam – no doubt on a shoestring – before the short sea-voyage accompanied by merchant sailors to Japan where it took him just 400 years before he was promoted to Principal Deity in Shingon Buddhism and re-baptised as Kangiten or Binayaka-ten.

The elephant god Ganesh as Shingon Buddhism's Kangiten in a lover's embrace, Japan

The Hindu elephant deity Shree Ganesh as Shingon Buddhism's Binayaka-ten, or Kangiten in a lover's embrace in Japan. (Source: Wikipedia/Public Domain)

And as Kangiten, Lord Ganesha still holds a more erotic role in modern-day Japan.

Worshipped by young Japanese couples as a symbol of conjugal bliss, the iconography of Ganesha's mid-life transformation shows him embracing an elephant-headed female form – love at last for our adaptable, adorable, globe-trotting Buddhist-Hindu god.

A colourfully-painted four-armed Lord Ganesha statue protects a Balinese-Hindu home in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

A colourfully-painted four-armed Lord Ganesha statue protects a Balinese-Hindu home in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.

But as Lord Ganesha ate, prayed and loved his way across the eastern continent, it dawned on him that something vital was missing from his Asian bucket-list that he couldn't quite put his foot on – and that little something, or somewhere, was the small Indonesian island of Bali.

Indonesia's historical ties with India, Buddhism and Hinduism are centuries old.

Twelth century statue of Sri Ganesa in Central Java, Indonesia

A two-armed, twelth-century statue of Sri Ganesa in Central Java, Indonesia. (Source: Wikipedia/Public Domain)

Wherever Hindu and Buddhist merchants sailed, the elephant-headed god followed. A seated, four-armed stone statue of Sri Ganesa holding a broken tusk, a flower-garland and his now-familiar bowl of sweets – is dated from eighth-century Central Java. A thirteenth-century Sri Ganesa statue from Bara in East Java shows him in his more tantric, Southeast Asian form as both destroyer and creator of obstacles.

Soul-brothers ~ freshly-carved stone statues of The Buddha and Lord Ganesha wait patiently for customers at a stonemason's workshop in Batubulan, Bali, Indonesia

Soul-brothers – freshly-carved stone statues of The Buddha and Lord Ganesha wait patiently for customers at a stonemason's workshop in Batubulan, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2020 Ubud High.

On the largely Hindu island of Bali, Lord Ganesha – Dewa Ganesa – is everywhere. One of the most recognisable Hindu gods outside India, he's not difficult to miss: the benign elephant head on top of a chubby human body protects Bali's homes and temples from north to south.

Dewa Ganesa, the Balinese-Hindu Lord Ganesha, with the symbol of Shiva the Destroyer in Bali, Indonesia

Dewa Ganesa, the Balinese-Hindu Lord Ganesha – with the symbol of Shiva the Destroyer on his forehead in Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2020 Ubud High.

Bali's version of the Indian elephant god is more often coupled with Dewi Saraswati – the Goddess of Learning, Music and the Arts – although back home in India, Shri Ganesh is traditionally paired with Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity.

Dewi Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, the arts, wisdom and learning who is often paired with Dewa Ganesa on Bali

Dewi Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, the arts, wisdom and learning who is often paired with the Balinese-Hindu Dewa Ganesa on Bali.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.

Lord Ganesha's role as protector is also more pronounced on this small Indonesian resort island – he can be seen, usually more stern-faced than normal, guarding the gates of temples and family compounds to obstruct the paths of Bali's unseen armies of demons.

A serious-faced Lord Ganesha guards the entrance to a Balinese-Hindu temple in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia

A pensive, serious-faced Lord Ganesha, with the spiritual symbol of Om painted on his trunk, guards the entrance to a Balinese-Hindu temple in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2020 Ubud High.

The Lord Ganesh we know today has the familiar, extravagant paunch and distinguished elephant head – and on Bali is normally given four arms. Some of Bali's less-extravagant artisans have only ever given him two hands – the more generous, up to 16 – but in his more usual four-armed incarnation he clutches his broken tusk in his lower-right hand with a laddoo sweet in the lower-left which he sniffs with his trunk. In his upper-right hand he carries an axe, a mace or a spiked stick to protect the worthy, and in his upper-left he'll hold a rosary, a noose or a lily.

He also happens to be a firm favourite of Bali's army of stone-carvers, artists and artisans...

A young Lord Ganesha writing a chapter of The Mahabharata with one of his broken tusks at a stone-carver's workshop in Batubulan, Bali, Indonesia

Dewa Ganesa – the Balinese Lord Ganesha – relaxes with a younger body-double as he writes a chapter of The Mahabharata with one of his broken-off tusks at a stone-carver's workshop in Batubulan, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2020 Ubud High.

Stone carvings of Dewa Ganesa, the Balinese Lord Ganesha - and The Buddha wait patiently for buyers at a stone carver's shop in Batubulan, Bali

Stone carvings of Dewa Ganesa and his soul-mate The Buddha wait patiently for buyers outside a stone-carver's workshop in Batubulan, Bali.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.

The Hindu elephant god Ganesha brandishing his protector's axe at a stone-carver's shop in Batubulan, Bali, Indonesia

The Hindu elephant-headed god Lord Ganesha keeps his protector's axe handy behind his back at a stonemason's shop in Batubulan, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2020 Ubud High.

Twin Lord Ganeshas, adorned with crowns and jewellery, are painted with the sacred symbols of Om and the trident of Shiva the Destroyer in Bali, Indonesia

Brothers-in-arms – twin Lord Ganeshas, adorned with crowns and jewellery, are painted with the sacred symbols of Om and the trident of Shiva the Destroyer in Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.

A more gaudily-painted, East Asian-featured Lord Ganesha with the sacred symbol of <em>Om</em> painted on his trunk at a stonesmith's shop near Sanur in Bali, Indonesia

A more gaudily-painted, East Asian-featured Lord Ganesha with the sacred symbol of Om painted on his trunk at a stonesmith's shop near Sanur in Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.

A gold-painted statue of Ganesha the Hindu elephant god at a stone carver's workshop in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia

A gold-painted statue of Dewa Ganesa in good company at a stone-carver's workshop in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.

Balinese-Hindu offerings are placed in front of a statue of Lord Ganesha outside a temple in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Balinese-Hindu offerings are placed in front of a statue of Dewa Ganesa featuring the symbol of Shiva on his forehead at a stone-carver's workshop in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph © 2021 Ubud High.

Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, depicted as a spray-can- and roller-wielding street artist in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Lord Ganesha comes in many guises – but is rarely seen in his alter-persona as the blissed-out four-armed street artist extraordinaire. Complete with can of spray-paint, roller, a paintbrush... and what appears to be alpha-inspiration being leaked from his raised right hand. (The pet mouse is, of course, the elephant-headed deity's go-to form of transport.)

On Jalan Hanuman in Central Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

Spraypaint Artwork © '@NZIEGRAM'.
Photograph by © 2021 Ubud High.

⇨ See 45 more works of street & urban art on Bali ⇨


© 2021 John Storey / Ubud High. All Rights Reserved.


The Ubud Handbook by John Storey

Related content at Ubud High

ARMA Art Gallery ~ The Agung Rai Museum of Art in Ubud: Traditional & Modern Balinese Paintings

Ubud's ARMA – the Agung Rai Museum of Art – is home to over 200 modern and traditional works of art that paint Bali's complex story in ways you've only dreamed of.

Give your brain a rest. Let your eyes do the wandering. .. ➤ ..

Painting of 'The Naked Elephant' by the Balinese artist I Wayan Pendet of Peliatan, Ubud, Bali at the ARMA Art Gallery

Painting of 'The Naked Elephant' by the Balinese artist I Wayan Pendet of Peliatan, Ubud, Bali at the ARMA Art Gallery.
Courtesy of the ARMA Foundation.
Photograph by Ubud High.


The Ubud Handbook by John Storey

Religion Matters ~ More tales from The Ubud Handbook

'Nyepi' ~ Bali's Hindu New Year, and the Day of Silence

FOR A SINGLE day and a night during Nyepi, life on the little island of Bali comes to a shuddering halt. Work and travel is forbidden, and for a short 24 hours no-one – tourists included – is allowed out from their homes or hotels...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


An American Calonarang

NOW YOU KNOW how Jim Carrey felt. Several nights ago, to celebrate the grand opening of the newly-renovated, Disney-style temple in Campuhan, there was a Calonarang – a spiritually-charged ceremony where sacred masks are donned, souls are possessed by the unseen and deep trance ensues.

But this one was a little different...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


'Kajeng Kliwon' ~ A Very Bad-Hair Day on Bali

IF YOU DON'T pray – or pay very close attention – Kajeng Kliwon is the day when you get run off your 'bike; or forget the pan on the stove until it melts; or your dog dies of a heart-attack; or a coconut falls on your head; or you leave your kids behind in the departure lounge; or your walls just fall down.

You have been seriously warned...

[ ... » Read on... » ]


© 2021 John Storey. All Rights Reserved.


The Last Pic

Portrait of the Day

Portraits from Bali by Ubud High
Young female beggar from Muntigunung, Bali, on the streets of Ubud

A beggar from Muntigunung on the streets of Ubud in Bali, Indonesia.
Portrait by © Ubud High.


The Ubud Handbook by John Storey

© 2021 John Storey. All rights reserved.


Urban art of a young Balinese girl using a smartphone by the street artist Wild Drawing of Bali, Indonesia

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Bali's Street Art

Street art, graffiti and murals for the masses – the most public of Bali's urban art scene hidden in plain sight on the walls of Canggu, Ubud, Seminyak and Kuta.

Street art and graffiti murals at Batu Bolong beach in Canggu near Old Man's bar and restaurant, Bali, Indonesia

➤ Bali's Graffiti Artists & Street Murals in the Wild...


The Ubud Handbook

The Ubud Handbook

THE UBUD HANDBOOK ~ Your free guide to living in Ubud and Bali in an online nutshell.

Religion Matters

The Tale of Ganesha the Globetrotter ~ Bali's Elephant-Headed Hindu God

Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, depicted as a spray-can- and roller-wielding street artist in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

‘First stop on Shree Ganesha's round-Asia tour was a spell in Buddhist Tibet with its strong tantric leanings – a convenient spot to re-invent himself as Vinãyaka, and then as the dancing red Nritta Ganapati – before a full-blown alter-ego revamp as the scarlet, twelve-armed Maharakta Ganapati. Now, Maharakta Ganapati was unusually fond of skullcaps filled with human flesh and blood – and this we might charitably put down to a bad trip.

After all, what happens in Tibet stays in Tibet...’

.. ➤ ..


An American Calonarang ~ Trance & Possession on Bali

Graffiti street art of a Balinese Salvador Dali sipping on a cup of kopi luwak in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

‘To cut an all-night story short, the mask was donned by a dancer who fell into a deep trance. But instead of staying in the temple, he began to run. And run. He became violent and uncontrollable. He ran for four kilometers down the road – the crowd scrambled after him. He ended up in a cemetery just past my house, and in the dead of night began to do frenzied battle with unseen foes...’

.. ➤ ..


'Nyepi' ~ Bali's Hindu New Year, and the Day of Silence ~ Melasti, Ngerupuk, Ogoh-Ogoh & Manis Nyepi

Balinese-Hindu devotees pray as sacred temple objects are bathed and cleansed during a Melasti ceremony before Nyepi on Pantai Purnama in Bali, Indonesia

‘If previous New Years' Days have seen you waking up with a crippling hangover trying to remember what you did the night before, maybe it's time you headed to Bali in March. Nyepi – the Balinese Day of Silence, and the start of the Hindu Saka New Year – is a day, a night and a day you'll never forget....’

.. ➤ ..


'Kajeng Kliwon' ~ A Very Bad-Hair Day on Bali

Film poster for Indonesian horror film 'Kajeng Kliwon: Nightmare in Bali'

‘Kajeng Kliwon is the kind of day when anything that can happen will happen. It invariably does.

You have been seriously warned...’

.. ➤ ..


Personal Stories

Diary of a Market Girl

Photo-realistic urban art by an anonymous street artist of a 1930s market scene in Bali, Indonesia

“When I had my sixth and seventh babies at the hospital – my twin girls – the doctor ordered me to have a Caesarian. And without asking me, he tied my tubes off as well.

I think he thought I'd had enough babies...”

.. ➤ ..


Food Talk

Durian ~ The King of Stink

“On the third bite,” says one hater, “it was as though I'd just eaten a diseased, parasite-infested animal with a bad case of rabies. I prayed I wouldn't be sick because I really didn't want to taste it again on the way back up...”

.. ➤ ..


Culture Bites

Cinema Paradiso ~ Bali's Seat in the History of Indonesian Cinema

1932 Virgins of Bali Thirties nudie-cutie bare-native film poster 1930s Bali, Indonesia

‘Boobs and political censorship have never been far from the Silver Screen – in Indonesia, they're its bedrock. The silent flicks of Thirties' Bali sucked hungrily on the island's bare-breasted cabinet-postcard image that encouraged so many gilded tourists – and dodgy film-stars like Charlie Chaplin – to visit its sultry, forbidden shores...’

.. ➤ ..


Getting Around ~ Bali 'Biking

Surviving Bali on a 'Bike

Motorbike accident victim being treated for a leg-injury in an Ubud clinic in Bali, Indonesia

“For me, some of the most dangerous people on the road are white people. I avoid them like the plague. You can tell the ones who are going to hurt others – the fixed grins, the hunched over the handle-bars, the wobbling around corners and shouts of indignation when they finally hit someone – because they have absolutely no idea how life and the road works around here...”

.. ➤ ..


It's Silly Season Again ~ Renting a Scooter, and Crashing it, on Bali

A monkey tourist crashes his scooter in a road accident in Bali, Indonesia

‘She tears into the traffic. She can't stop. She narrowly misses hitting a car head-on, swerves past a mum on a 'bike and slaloms across the road. Before she hits anyone – it's a miracle she doesn't – she falls in a bad-sounding heap of bent metal and smashing plastic. A group of Balinese rush to pick her up before the cops see her...’

.. ➤ ..


The Other Side of the Coin ~ Just Another Motorbike Accident on Bali

Commercial street art mural of a Balinese man sitting astride his Norton motorcycle as his wife hovers with daily offerings

‘She starts sweeping and I notice that she's limping. There's a spreading bruise and an angry graze running past her knee and down her calf. She wants to carry on cleaning – I sit her down and ask her what happened.

She's shy; I press...’

.. ➤ ..


Health Matters

Let's Get Wet ~ The Rainy Season on Bali

Blue sky pokes from behind a gathering of stormy monsoon clouds over Bali, Indonesia

‘Rule number one on a monsoon day? Don't get wet.

You may not realise that getting caught in a cloudburst or shower on Bali – particularly if you're on a motorbike – is the tropical equivalent of walking naked outside during a Prague Winter after a lukewarm bath.

It'll really slow you down. The shivers, hot-and-cold flushes, a chesty cough, diarrhoea, sneezing, stomach pains, a belting headache and aching bones are all at the top of the list...’

.. ➤ ..


Scorpions, Mosquitoes, Hornets, Poisonous Caterpillars... And Other Strange Tails on Bali

‘Nowhere is free from the tax of life. We all have to pay for our slice of Bali paradise – and this often comes in the shape of our biting, stinging, crawling, flying insect-cousins.

It's the downside of environment-sharing...’

.. ➤ ..


Holidays from the Jungle

The Heads of Trunyan

‘Agricultural, and unpractised in the dark art of handling international tourists, the aristocratic farmer-people of Trunyan have acquired a damaging reputation for aggression. Their unique tourist draw – a jungle-cemetery where bodies are left in the open to disintegrate underneath a magical banyan tree – is regularly shunned by travellers on the time-sensitive tourist circuit...’

.. ➤ ..


Lombok ~ A Line in the Sand

‘Ten meters away and the young man finally looks up – an inane, animal-like grin taped across his face as his girlfriend grips his porcelain butt and grimaces towards the empty blue sky. They disengage like street dogs, utter an invective in Russian, and stare...’

.. ➤ ..


Tourism & Self-Enrichment

Eat, Pray, Self-Love

I love-heart Ubud, Canggu, Seminya, Sanur and Kuta in Bali, Indonesia

‘My concentration's shot to pieces. The spaghetti keeps falling off my fork. She's on her third large beer now. She starts to say 'facking' even more, and is speaking so loudly that people passing on the street have begun to look her way, and she's spitting bits of ciabatta bread and tomato and fish into her friend's dinner...’

.. ➤ ..


From Ubud With Love

Will you marry? in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

‘I'm staying at a cute, family-run bed-and-breakfast – a homestay – on Ubud's trendy Jalan Goutama. A young member of the homestay's family tours her compound, blessing it with incense and rice and flower-petal offerings in little hand-made palm-leaf boxes.

All is well in Bali's spiritual capital...’

.. ➤ ..


A Dutchman Goes to a Gypsy Fortune-Teller

Wooden cock bottle openers, Ubud Market, Bali

‘A Dutch boy in Holland goes to a gypsy fortune-teller who tells him that he is, in fact, Balinese. Afterwards, his uncle visits the Island of the Gods and brings him back a wooden carving of a bare-breasted lady.

Lucky for him it wasn't one of those funny-shaped wooden bottle-openers that looks like a cock...’

.. ➤ ..


The Land of Self-Healing and Snake Oil

Yoga-wear for an Ubud yogini manifesting her abundance, exploring her Divine Feminine and inserting a Jade Egg at The Womb Temple near The Yoga Barn in Bali

‘Shake out those Kundalini Awakenings with some HoopYogini™ and Bhakti Boogie® at the Yoga Barn. Celebrate The Divine Feminine with a splash of Shakti Dance. Puff up your lungs in a Sacred Breathwork Immersion Workshop®, insert a Jade Egg for luck at The Womb Temple™ and polish it off with some tantalising Manifesting And Abundance.

You know you're worth it...’

.. ➤ ..


Urban art of a young Balinese girl using a cellphone by the street artist Wild Drawing of Bali, Indonesia

Search Ubud High

Popular search terms:
ganesha bali / covid / scorpions / scooter rental / street art / trance / hornets / arma gallery / nyepi / traditional balinese paintings / rainy season / snakes / 2022 bali spirit festival / dengue fever / ecstatic dance


And finally, the weather

Today's weather forecast for Ubud, Bali, Indonesia ⇨

Fake styrofoam clouds over the main 'Cloud' stage at the 'Plastic-Free Gili Air Music Festival' near Lombok, Indonesia