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A Hat and Scarf for the Lord of Beginnings

GaneshGrinnell, Iowa — As deities go, Ganesha—or Ganesh—is hard to mistake. With an elephant head (one tusk is broken) and a potbelly, he’s known as the Lord of Beginnings, the Remover of Obstacles, and a patron of arts and sciences. He is also—and here I confess a personal interest in visiting his statue in a Grinnell College grove floored with soft pine needles—a patron of letters.

But like any deity, Ganesh has his likes and dislikes. For instance, he likes having a roof over his head when he’s outdoors, said Timothy Dobe, an assistant professor of religious studies who sat next to me at a community dinner the other night. Whether to provide some sort of a shelter for the god has become something of an issue at the college, Mr. Dobe told me, with Ganesh’s friends pressing the case and the administration responding more slowly than the friends think appropriate. (He is, after all, a god.)

The college’s engaging little stone image of Ganesh was erected outdoors about eight years ago in memory of a student—that in itself involved some negotiation, Mr. Dobe said, because in the Hindu tradition such a statue would not normally be used as a memorial. Its location is the college’s Peace Garden, nestled behind the science building, but the garden’s trees don’t keep the Iowa snow off the deity’s head.

Until some kind of shelter is put up, said Mr. Dobe, Grinnell’s students do their best to look after the Lord of Beginnings and Remover of Obstacles: In bad weather, they’ll often bring him a hat and scarf.

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