Who doesn’t love Ganesha? The chubby, elephant-headed Hindu god has been gaining popularity in Thailand in recent years. And one Thai man adores Phra Phi-kha-net (as he’s known in Thai) so much that he built a private museum dedicated to him just south of Chiang Mai.
The Ganesh Himal Museum is easy enough to get to if you have your own wheels. Just head south on Hwy 108 past Hang Dong. You’ll see some roadsigns like the one pictured here showing the distance to the museum, but like many roadsigns in Thailand, some of the distances seem off by a few kilometers. Anyways, look out for a final sign for the museum that indicates that you need to make a U-turn. After that, drive back a short distance and turn left. You’ll drive past a bunch of rice fields and farmland, and suddenly the brick wall surrounding Ganesh Himal will pop up out of nowhere as if you’d just jumped through a magic portal and landed in the Kathmandu valley.
For a small, private museum dedicated mostly to a single Hindu deity, Ganesh Himal impresses. Right away, you’re greeted by a 3-tier brick pagoda standing in front of a pool of water. To your left is a shrine hall where pujas are performed. There is no entrance fee to the museum, but you can make a cash donation here for offering materials such as flowers, candles, incense, cookies, and fresh fruit. The pujari inside the shrine room can lead you through a short offering ceremony. And afterwards, you can leave the food items there for Ganesha, or you can take them home to enjoy the blessings yourself later.
Nearby is a large open building that houses an impressive chariot for the god along with a set of two-meter tall rat guardians. I’ve always known that Ganesha’s “vehicle” and constant companion was a rat, but I’ve never seen him with a an army of giant rats like this before.
You also can’t help but notice the billowing clouds of incense smoke rising from in front of a small alter in the courtyard. The gods arranged here in a mandala are those representing the Sun, Moon, and five planets visible to the naked eye. The last two spots in the mandala are reserved for Rahu and Ketu, who represent the solar and lunar eclipses.
A small building houses a replica of a stone image of Ganesha covered in red pigment. According to the legend, this is a Swayambhu (self-originating) Ganesh that miraculously manifested itself due to the strong devotion of a young boy who would not give up his faith in Ganesh—despite ridicule and abuse from his own father.
The main exhibit area of the museum currently consists of two small buildings, but they appeared to have plans to build a third, larger building—either to replace these or in addition to them. It’s a shame that they don’t allow any photos in the main exhibition halls, because there is really quite an impressive collection of Ganesha images. And it’s also a shame that the English signage is quite limited, but you can still enjoy seeing the incredible variety of Ganesh images even if you don’t understand them so well.
The building on the left was divided by category such as country of origin or material the images were made from. As you’d expect, there are lots of Ganesha statues and figures from India and Nepal, but also a good representation of images from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia were on hand. There are even some from Japan, including an esoteric form of Ganesha embracing his consort.
The building on the right features a set of bronze statues displaying the 32 forms of Ganesha. Each is prayed to for a certain purpose and has a unique iconography with varying numbers of hands and heads, particular hand implements, and in some cases a consort or two. This building also has some displays telling about the worship of Ganesha in Thailand and his origins in India. Thais consider Ganesha to be closely associated with the arts, but they also pray to him for success in business.
The Ganesh Himal Museum also has a large gift shop, where you can buy your own image of Ganesh, T-shirts, incense, Hindu devotional music CDs, bright red tikka powder, and many other related items.
The gift shop doubles as a shrine to the trinity of Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Ganesha. The goddess Lakshmi is known as the bestower of wealth, Saraswati rules over education and the arts, while Ganesha helps to break through any obstacles to material or spiritual success. Feel free to drop some money into the offering box, top up the constantly burning oil lamp, and dab a little spot of red tikka powder on your third eye (use your right ring finger).
On your way back into town don’t miss the spacious temple with a lot of interesting statues on your left. You’ll spot the gigantic reclining Buddha from the road. If you walk past the Buddha’s feet, there’s even a shady area with lots of bamboo and dinosaurs!