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Symbols - What does heaven look like



Symbolically the same as a Bull – see Bull and Cow.  But by implication an elephant is actually a more powerful ‘god’ or Intelligence than a Bull because its tusks [synonynous with horns] are larger and it is overall a far larger and more powerful animal.  Its trunk has the added advantage of being symbolically like a tunnel.

Indian tradition has it that elephants are the caryatids of the universe.  Logically this means that elephants represent the most powerful of the Intelligences and are thus symbolically the mainstay upon which other lesser Intelligences rest.   In processions, elephants are the bearers of kings and queens.

Their rounded shape links them to the Egg symbolically.

Some examples of the symbolism in use

Perhaps the best known shaman/elephant is Ganeshi.

Wikipedia – Ganesha
Ganesha ………., is one of the best-known and most widely worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon.   His image is found throughout India and Nepal.   Hindu sects worship him regardless of affiliations.Devotion to Ganesha is widely diffused and extends to Jains, Buddhists, and beyond India.
Although he is known by many other attributes, Ganesha's elephant head makes him easy to identify. Ganesha is widely revered as the Remover of Obstacles …..Lord of Beginnings and Lord of Obstacles……patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom. He is honoured at the beginning of rituals and ceremonies and invoked as Patron of Letters during writing sessions. Several texts relate mythological anecdotes associated with his birth and exploits and explain his distinct iconography.
Ganesha emerged a distinct deity in clearly recognizable form in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, during the Gupta Period, although he inherited traits from Vedic and pre-Vedic precursors. His popularity rose quickly, and he was formally included among the five primary deities of Smartism (a Hindu denomination) in the 9th century. A sect of devotees called the Ganapatya  who identified Ganesha as the supreme deity, arose during this period. The principal scriptures dedicated to Ganesha are the Ganesha Purana, the Mudgala Purana, and the Ganapati Atharvashirsa.

Basohli miniature, circa 1730. National Museum, New Delhi, India


Ganesha portrayed as  half human and half elephant sits on a lotus.  Around his neck is a snake.  He wears a three pointed crown.  He carries the hero’s sword/axe and a cup filled with three modakas [sweets/rewards].  Around the lotus are bells.

Airavata, a huge, four-tusked white elephant is Indra's means of transport. It was spotless white in colour [symbol of purity] and was deemed the King of Elephants by Prithu, in the Vishnu Purana.

"His tusks resembled a sacred mountain. He is also sometimes portrayed with seven trunks

The god Indra on Airavata

Indian myth states that elephants are capable of giving rise to clouds and rain. One of Airavata's names means "one who binds or knits clouds".  For example, when  Indra rode on Airavata after having defeated the demon Vritra, the  huge elephant reached down with its trunk [tunnel] to pull out water from the netherworld and then sprayed it generously on the clouds, thereby resulting in cool water (or rain).

Elephants were the vehicles for all the guardian deities presiding over and protecting the eight directions. Airavata stands just outside the gates of Swarga (or Paradise). 

Elephants figure very strongly in many creation myths in Hinduism. For example, when Brahma created the huge golden Egg and sang sacred hymns, Garuda [the eagle] hatched, breaking the egg into two halves. This was followed by the birth of seven male and eight female elephants.

A Chinese ivory set of interlocking spheres – the egg and its layers – supported by 3 elephants – the pillars of the world.


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