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Elephants Across Different Cultures

Elephants Across Different Cultures

by Ron Mwangaguhunga on


For thousands of years elephants have been symbolically depicted in various ways across different cultures. Most elephant symbolism comes from the African culture, where the image of the elephant is everywhere. However, there are so many other ways elephants have been portrayed in other culture's mythology and religion. Here are five distinctive cultural depictions and influences of elephants:


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The ancient religion of Hinduism holds sacred symbolism for elephants. In Sanskrit, the religion of Hinduism, the word for elephant is Gaja. The gaja can actually be seen as Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed God embodying “perfect wisdom.” Ganesh is Lord of Good Fortune and Success. Hindu’s believe that Ganesh holds qualities of royalty, power, wisdom and longevity. Lord Ganesh is also associated with the first Chakra, which underpins all of the other energy wheels, representing survival, material well-being and conservation.




Buddhists revere elephants for their strength and mental preciseness. Buddha, and other enlightened individuals, are frequently compared to the qualities of an elephant in poems in the scriptures. And the Buddha himself had a particular fondness for the giants and their thoughtful expressions. Of the elephant, the Buddha said:

`Gentleness and harmlessness are his front legs; simplicity and celibacy are the hind legs. Faith is his trunk, equanimity his white tusks, mindfulness his neck, his head is careful consideration, Dharma is his belly and solitude his tail. Meditating, focusing on his breath and utterly composed, this mighty elephant walks, stands and sits with composure, he is perfectly trained and accomplished in all ways.”

Additionally, the elephant, idolized for its strength, is the official guardian of the temples and of the Buddha.

Feng Shui


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The symbol of the elephant, in the vocabulary of Feng Shui, is quite significant. Because of their association with fertility in the religions of the East, elephant symbols that are positioned in or near the bedroom are considered lucky for childbirth. As the elephant is also seen as related to mental strength, it is considered very auspicious when they are displayed in or near a building’s library or study area.

Western literature



Elephants are also frequently mentioned in Medieval History. They appear in allegories alluding to life in Eden before the Fall of Man. Elephants are also greatly admired by war leaders in the West. In military campaigns they used the elephant as a symbol of masculinity. “Whatever they wrap their trunks around, they break,” says an ancient English manuscript called Aberdeen Bestiary.

Children's Books


Elephants are a beloved part of the vocabulary of many children around the world. Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar, the adorable French elephant, was first published in 1931. Cecile de Brunhoff, Jean’s wife, made up the story for their own children and Jean, a trained painter, brought the stories to life by putting them on canvas and writing them down.

The story goes: Babar’s mother is killed by hunters, the young elephant escapes to the city and is befriended by the wealthy Older Lady who buys him clothes. He learns from civilization but then  returns to the realm of animals, eventually becoming King of the elephants and marries another elephant named Celeste and has children of his own. With the huge popularity of Babar among children all over the world, it is probably not an exaggeration to speculate that he has created a lasting influence on the negative opinion on elephant hunting.

What do elephants symbolize for you? How has their influence impacted your life? Tell us below in the comments section.

Ron Mwangaguhunga


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