On the night of 12th October, 2002 a night club on Bali's Kuta Beach was the target of an extremist attack leading to the death of over 200 'Western' tourists, many of whom were from nearby Australia.
The island of Bali in Islamic Indonesia is a gem of a tourists' paradise. Almost 2000 years ago, South Indian traders and merchants brought Hinduism into the Indonesian archipelago. In Bali, the population is 95% Balinese Hindu with the remaining being Muslim and Christian minorities.
Weeping Australians went to Bali where the locals mourned their tragedy by conducting religious ceremonies for appeasing the deceased and purifying their premises of extremist evils. It seems as though their exceptional warmth and the Hindu rites and rituals have impacted on the Australian psyche deeply.
Or else how does one explain the appearance of the statues of Ganesha in Australian homes these days?
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The Annual Logie Awards are given to the top programs and performers on Australian television. This April, Backyard Blitz received the honors for the Most Popular Lifestyle program. It airs at prime time on Kerry Packers' Channel Nine, with an enviable top rating while Sex and the City is way down.
Backyard Blitz is not a mere garden makeover program. A group of presenters re-do a chosen house garden and give it an exciting lift and tilt. It is all in the presentation. It is not just a hit. It is also hot. Imagine two or three great looking, well-built Aussie blokes with their shirts off in your backyard garden explaining and showing you how to clear, dig, lay (paving stones, I say) and hose. Throw in a couple of pretty and well-proportioned girls in shorts and singlets telling you how and when to sow, plant, water (seeds and saplings) and all the TLC that is required for prolonged maintenance. The whole scene is svelte, suave and sexy. And there is always a joke or two before the commercial break to keep you hooked for the entire performance.
Simply put, garden makeovers are highly popular TV programs in Australia. This is because Australians love their gardens. A beautiful, spacious backyard for spending most time happily at home is every Australian's dream.
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It was in one such program that the popular Hindu God Ganesha made his first appearance.
Ground Force on Channel Seven is Rupert Murdock's reply to Backyard Blitz. On an episode aired in April, the presenters placed a statue of Ganesha in a predominant position in the beautiful garden with a Balinese theme that they had done up. They said that He, a Hindu God, would protect the garden and bring peace to its owners.
The very next day, I drove to a couple of top nurseries in Sydney to find that they really did stock along with gnomes, decorative fountains and other stone artifacts, statuettes of Ganesha as well.
Many Australians place statuettes of Gnomes in their gardens. The first Garden Gnome appeared in the 1800s in Germany and spread to the rest of Europe, America and other places. A gnome is usually a dwarfish chubby old man with a tummy and a beard but a jolly face. It is more than just a decoration to the garden. It is considered as a delightful symbol of hope, goodwill and good luck.
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I was showing my friend the tiny terracotta tulsi maadam that my younger sister had given me on my recent trip to Madras for placing in my new backyard.
It was then that I voiced my concern to my friend: "Will Ganesha stay 'God Ganesha' or will He become a mere 'Gnome Ganesha'? "
"Gnomes aren't enough. Aussies need Gods for peace and protection", she said.
"Look", she continued seriously, "the garden is the most lived, loved and looked after portion of an Australian home. If Ganesha were to take a pride of place there, what's wrong with that?" she asked.
"Alternatively, how about looking at it as Hinduism making a backyard entry into Australia? If it makes an auspicious entry through the 'Lord of Beginnings' so be it ", she concluded.
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Rather than be just a garden gee gaw like the market flurry over feng shui gadgets, Ganesha's significance as a symbol of good beginnings and a harbinger of prosperity has an eco touch to it as well. I am wondering if I should call Channel Seven and suggest that they plant a peepal tree (Ficus religiosa) in their next backyard makeover and ceremoniously seat Ganesha beneath it. In fact in Tamil Nadu, Ganesha is also famous as arasa marathadi Pillaiyar or 'Ganesha beneath the peepal tree', and women seeking fertility boons circumambulate him. This makes greater sense because Australia needs to "Populate or Perish" as they say Down Under.
For a people overcome by grief after the Bali tragedy and impending terrorist attacks due to their Iraqi sojourn, Australians do need peace and protection. Chubby Ganeshas' divine blessings and benefactions would sure be welcome to save the nation.
G. Sujatha is a Social Anthropologist from the University of Madras. She used to teach "Thai Studies" at a Bangkok University for many years. She now lives in Sydney, Australia
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