Meaning and Symbolism of the Elephant in India

The new logo of The Soul of India is a friendly elephant. An animal with a important meaning to Indian culture and close connected as the face of The Soul of India. Read more to understand why we made this choice..
Elephants are big animals, with small eyes and huge ears. They have a good memory and hardly ever forget the places they have been, never repeating a path that once proved itself to be dangerous. They live in groups and look after each other carefully. If they happen to see the bones of another elephant that belonged to the group, they make a loud noise and let the others know that one of them is gone, so that they can come and silently say goodbye.

But, most importantly, the elephants are obedient creatures, and although they are careful and calm most of the time, if the leader of the group calls for a specific task, the others instinctively obey, passing over anything that is in front of them, destroying any obstacle that comes in their way, and becoming insensible to pain or fatigue – it is practically impossible to stop an elephant when it is answering the master’s call…

Elephant Worship

Hindus have worshiped the elephants for many centuries, but the true philosophy behind the animal worship has been misinterpreted and distorted by many western researchers. When Hindus worship the elephant, it is not the animal itself that they are worshiping, but rather, what it represents – obedience to the dharma (the master’s call), ability not to repeat past mistakes, and respect and care towards their peers.

A perfect disciple acts like an elephant. He devotes complete obedience to the master, his eyes are small, as he does not use the eyes of the physical body, but the eyes of the spirit. He has large ears, as he listens more than he speaks. He informs all the others about the dangers he encounters in his path towards enlightenment, and finally, when he needs to accomplish a certain task, physical pain, tiredness, hunger and thirst are no obstacles for him. Great men in history were elephants, they did not fear, and yet, they were docile.

Unlike Buddhists, Hindus represented a philosophical/theological concept through images. The image of the elephant, then, was used to represent all attributes and characteristics that a perfect disciple should have. So, many Hindu gods are personifications of a set of attributes. The deification of images was a way to inform the crowd about social rules and moral obligations.

Elephant Festivals in India

Hindus celebrate elephant festivals in order to pay homage to the elephants or to Ganapati (Ganesha), the Hindu god that has the head of an elephant. The traditional elephant festival happens in March in the city of Jaipur, it is a procession of beautifully adorned female elephants that attracts tourists from all over the globe.

TheGanesh festival happens between August and September and lasts ten days. Although this festival is celebrated in many different cities, Maharashtra is known for its festivities. During the celebrations, many images of Ganesh are made so that people can buy them and keep them in their houses for ten days, when finally they take the images to the river. This is a very beautiful ceremony.

Lord Ganesha or Ganapati – the Elephant God

Lord Ganesha, also called Ganapati, is perhaps one of the most adored gods in India. In Hindu mythology, Ganesha is the first son of Shiva and Parvati, and is also called “remover of obstacles”, a characteristic associated to the elephant. Ganesha’s head is the head of an elephant to symbolize wisdom – a man who has the mind of an elephant is a wise man.

Ganesha is accompanied by a rat, which the elephant uses as a vehicle. It is interesting to notice how such a small creature – a mouse – can carry a huge and heavy elephant. The story of a rat who carries an elephant symbolizes the physical body (the rat), who is conducted by the spirit (the elephant).

The rat lives in the underworld surrounded by dirt and darkness, like the human ego which is full of lower passions and material pleasures, but the spirit (elephant) needs to take a physical body in order to arrive at its final destination.

According to Hinduism, humans are elephants believing they are rats, so, the story of Ganapati teaches how to remove obstacles and allow this huge spiritual being – our true forgotten nature – to be in charge of the human ego.

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