Until recently, I didn't realize how you can see elephants everywhere in India. In fact, they are so much a part of art and architecture and religion that you almost stop noticing them. But once you stop to take a look, you find that they're all around you!
At the President's house in Delhi, elephants guard the gate:
In the Mughal gardens, an elephant makes for a pretty topiary.
In Udaipur gaily caparisoned elephants welcome you as you go boating in the lake:
In Ranakpur, there is a magnificent marble elephant:
The Elephant God is everywhere, of course. Anointed with vermillion, garlanded with flowers, India's favourite Ganesha guards all thresholds and offers auspicious beginnings to all ventures.
Whether you go east, west, south or north, the elephant is everywhere in India. I started looking for historical traces of India's relationship with the elephant, and found out that it goes back a long, long time.
The first place I looked at was Bhimbetka. These prehistoric cave paintings are among the earliest evidences of human art in India, starting from nearly 12,000 years ago. Sure enough, I found elephants carved into the walls of the rock shelters at Bhimbetka. This carving on one of the walls shows a human together with an elephant, indicating interactions with the animal. A hunting scene perhaps?
|See the rest of the paintings here:
And there is a wonderful travelogue with photos here:
Other later carvings from the same Bhimbetka area show humans riding elephants into battle. After Bhimbetka, I looked at the ancient Indus Valley Civilization (there was a recent news item that this civilization is now thought now to date from 7380 BC onwards). I found this really adorable terracotta elephant figurine.
|Tiny figurine, 4.8 cm height, 5.4 cm width, 4.6 cm breadth
Currently at the Harappa site museum, Pakistan
This steatite (soapstone) seal from the Indus Valley civilization has a rope or cloth draped on the elephant's back, indicating domestication:
From the 3rd century BC onwards, we have an unbroken legacy of elephants in art and architecture. They are too numerous to list, but among the earliest is this one below from Dhauli (Bhubaneswar, Orissa).
This is where at the end of the Kalinga massacre (261 BC), the Emperor Ashoka renounced war and carved an Edict instructing his governors to rule wisely. After reading the Edict, this has now become my favourite elephant statue in India :) :)
May our politicians learn a few things from Ashoka!!