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

The Ubud Handbook « The Tale of Ganesha the Globetrotter

‘The Indian Lord Ganesha certainly got around. A favorite of Asian traders seeking new markets – and praying for success along the way – this elephant deity left his over-sized footprints from Nepal to Kalimantan...’

✑ Share 'The Tale of Ganesha the Globetrotter'

A young Lord Ganesha writing a chapter of The Mahabharata in a stone-carver's shop in Batubulan, Bali, Indonesia

A young Lord Ganesha relaxes as he writes a chapter of The Mahabharata in a stone-carver's shop in Batubulan, Bali, Indonesia.
© 2020 Ubud High.

ON THE LITTLE INDONESIAN ISLAND of Bali, Lord Ganesha is everywhere. One of the most recognisable Hindu gods outside India, he's easy to spot: the benign elephant head on top of a chubby, boyish body protects houses and adorns Bali's temples from north to south.

Ganesha – also spelled Ganesh or Ganesa and known as Vinayaka, Ganapati and Pillaiyar – is the Hindu God of Good Fortune who offers prosperity and success to all who invoke him. As Lord of New Beginnings and the Remover of Obstacles, he's the first to call on before the undertaking of a new task or business.

He also has his flip-side: too arrogant, proud or selfish, and he will place obstacles in your path.

From India to Bali, Ganesha's image is everywhere – often facing the entrance to a house or temple to keep out the unworthy. Early depictions show him simply as an elephant. The Ganesh we know today has the familiar paunch and elephant head, and normally has four arms.

Some artisans have only ever given him two arms – the more generous, up to 16 – but in his four-armed incarnation he clutches a broken tusk in his lower-right hand with a laddoo sweet in the lower-left which he tastes with his trunk. In his upper-right he carries an axe, mace or spiked stick, and in his upper-left a rosary, noose or lily. On Bali, you'll most often see his lower-right hand turned toward his audience in a gesture of abhaya mudra – or protection and fearlessness.

The Indian Lord Ganesha certainly got around. A favorite of Asian traders seeking new markets and praying for success along the way, the elephant deity left his over-sized footprints from Nepal to Kalimantan.

First stop on his round-Asia tour was a spell in Buddhist Tibet with its strong tantric leanings – a convenient spot to re-invent himself as Vinayaka 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 to the brim 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.

In Myanmar, where Mahayana Buddhism had taken root, images of Ganesha have been unearthed from the fifth and sixth centuries. In seventh-century Buddhist China, he was seen as an obstacle creator who had to be tamed by offerings. By the time Ganesha turned up in Cambodia in the fifth century after a couple of hundred years on the road, bronze statues and stone sculptures show him as having left behind ten of his twelve arms, his large pot belly shrunk to a more modest paunch.

Next stop Vietnam, no doubt on a shoestring, before a short sea-voyage with merchant guides to Japan where it only took him another 400 years or so before he was promoted to Principal Deity in Shingon Buddhism and re-baptised as Kangiten or Binayaka-ten.

And as Kangiten, he still holds a more erotic role in modern-day Japan. Worshipped by young Japanese couples as a symbol of conjugal bliss, the iconography of Lord Ganesha's easternmost transformation shows him embracing an elephant-headed female form – love at last for our adaptable, adorable, globe-trotting elephant god.

But as he ate, prayed and loved his way across the continent, it began to dawn on the good Lord Ganesha that something crucial was missing from his Asian bucket list that he couldn't quite put his foot on – and that little something, or somewhere, just happened to be the little island of Bali.

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

Wherever Hindu merchants sailed, the elephant god followed. A seated, four-armed Ganesha holding a broken tusk, a garland and bowl of sweets – thought to be from the eighth century – was discovered in in Central Java. A thirteenth century Ganesha statue from Bara in East Java shows him in his more tantric, Southeast Asian form as both Creator and Destroyer of Obstacles.

On Hindu Bali, the elephant god is more often coupled with Dewi Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning, Music and the Arts – whereas in India, Ganesh is traditionally paired with Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. Ganesh's role as protector is also more pronounced on this little Indonesian resort island – he can be seen, more stern-faced than usual, sitting at the gates of temple after temple obstructing the path of Bali's unseen army of demons...

© 2020 John Storey.

If you'd like to read the full story, you'll have to wait until the 11th of November, 2020 – when The Ubud Handbook will be published in paperback, iBook and e-book.

In the meantime, there are 12 full chapters to enjoy for free over at The Ubud Handbook... »

Have fun, and keep reading.

✑ Share 'The Tale of Ganesha the Globetrotter'

The Ubud Handbook by John Storey

The Hindu Lord Ganesha – Dewa Ganesa – in pictures on Bali

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

The elephant god Lord Ganesha guards a Hindu temple in Bali, Indonesia.
© 2020 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 Lord Ganesha outside a temple in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
© 2020 Ubud High.

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 in Bali, Indonesia.
© 2020 Ubud High.

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

The Hindu elephant god Ganesha carrying his axe at a stone-carver's shop in Batubulan, Bali, Indonesia.
© 2020 Ubud High.

A painted Lord Ganesha statue protects a Hindu home in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

A colourfully-painted Lord Ganesha statue protects a Balinese-Hindu home in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
© 2020 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 Ganesha the Hindu elephant god at a stone carver's workshop in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia.
© 2020 Ubud High.

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

Stone carvings of Dewa Ganesa – the Hindu-Balinese Lord Ganesh – and Buddha wait patiently for buyers at a stone carver's shop in Batubulan, Bali.
© 2020 Ubud High.

Religion Matters ~ More tales from The Ubud Handbook

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... » ]

✑ Share 'The Tale of Ganesha the Globetrotter'


© 2020 John Storey.

The Ubud Handbook by John Storey

The Last Word

Portrait of the Day

Portraits from Bali by Ubud High

© 2020 Ubud High.


The Ubud Handbook by John Storey

© 2020 John Storey. All rights reserved.


The Ubud Handbook

The Ubud Handbook

THE UBUD HANDBOOK ~ Your guide to living in Ubud and Bali in a nutshell.

Chapters & Extracts

The Ubud Handbook will be published as a paperback, iBook and e-book on November 11, 2020.

Feel free to enjoy 12 of the 42 chapters. Have fun, and keep reading.


Culture Bites

Cinema Paradiso


Religion Matters

An American Calonarang

The Tale of Ganesha the Globetrotter (Excerpt)


Getting Around

It's Silly Season Again

The Other Side of the Coin

Surviving Bali on a 'Bike


Personal Stories

Diary of a Market Girl


Food Talk

The King of Stink


Tourism & Self-Enrichment

Eat, Pray, Self-Love

The Land of Self-Healing and Snake Oil

From Ubud With Love


Holidays from the Jungle

The Heads of Trunyan

A Line in the Sand (Excerpt)


The Ubud Handbook

THE UBUD HANDBOOK ~ Your guide to living in Ubud and Bali in a nutshell.

THE UBUD HANDBOOK ~ Your guide to living in Ubud and Bali in a nutshell

And finally, the weather

Today's forecast for Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Check here for your 7-day weather forecast for Ubud and Bali.