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see also Elephant

The founder of the Indo-Greek Kingdom in Bactria, Demetrius I (205-171 BC), wearing the scalp of an elephant, symbol of his conquest of India.


Religion and philosophy

An elephant carrying Thidambu during Thrissur Pooram festival in Kerala, south India.
Eleazar Maccabeus kills the war elephant and is crushed under it (Miniature from a manuscript Speculum Humanae Salvationis).
Ganesha, Basohli miniature from circa 1730.
  • Ganesh or Ganesha, the Hindu god of wisdom and one of the most popular gods in this religion's pantheon, is very distinctive in having the head of an elephant. As reconted in the Hindu sources, this was put on instead of the human head with which he was born and which was cut off or burned (there are various versions).
  • In Islamic tradition, the year 570, when the Prophet Muhammad was born, is known as the Year of the Elephant. In that year, as recounted in the Muslim sources, Abraha, ruler of Yemen, sought to conquer Mecca and demolish the Kaaba. He launched an expedition of forty thousand men, led by a white elephant named Mahmoud (and possibly with other elephants - some accounts state there were several elephants, or even as many as eight)[1][2]). However, his design was foiled when Abraha's elephant reportedly refused to cross the boundary of Mecca and sat down. It could not be persuaded otherwise, either by reason or violence. The accounts state that if the elephant was turned towards Syria or Yemen it would walk without hesitation, but when it was turned towards the Kaaba it would kneel on its knees as if it would adore the city that its master was intent on destroying. "Al-Fil" ("The Elephant") - 105th Sura (chapter) of the Koran - commemorates this event with the verse: "Hast thou not observed how thy Lord dealt with the owners of the Elephant? Did He not bring their stratagem to nought?"

Politics and secular symbolism

Caparisoned elephants during Sree Poornathrayesa temple festival Thrippunithura in Kerala, south India.
  • The Elephants of Kerala are an integral part of the daily life in Kerala, South India.[3] These Indian elephants are loved, revered, groomed and given a prestigious place in the state's culture.[4] Elephants in Kerala are often referred to as the 'sons of the sahya.' The elephant is the state animal of Kerala and is featured on the emblem of the Government of Kerala.(See Elephants in Kerala culture.)
  • After Alexander's victory over the Indian king Porus, the captured war elephants became a symbol of imperial power, used as an emblem of the Seleucid diadoch empire, e.g. on coins.
  • The elephant, and the white elephant (also a religious symbol of Buddha) in particular, has often been used as a symbol of royal power and prestige in Asia; occurring on the flag of the kingdom Laos (three visible, supporting an umbrella, another symbol of royal power) till it became a republic in 1975, and other Indochinese and Thai realms had also displayed one or more white elephants.
Collar of the Danish Order of the Elephant.
  • The Order of the Elephant (Danish: Elefantordenen) is the highest order of Denmark, instituted in its current form on 1693 by King Christian V. The collar of the order consists of alternating elephants and towers, and its badge shows an elephant bearing a watch tower, in front of which a Moor is sitting, holding a golden spear.
"Fontana dell'Elefante" ("The Fountain of the Elephant"), Catania's symbol.
"The Elephant Celebes", well-known depiction of "A Mechanical Elephant" in a 1921 painting by the German Dadaist and Surrealist Max Ernst.
The Pulcino della Minerva, a famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini elephant sculpture, a base supporting one of the eleven Egyptian obelisks in Rome (in Piazza della Minerva).
  • The city of Catania, Sicily has an elephant coat of arms, part of the city's immemorial connection with this animal. Well-preserved remnants of dwarf elephants/elephas falconeri had been found in the Catana area, from prehistoric times up to the present. The local sorcerer Heliodorus, in Classic Greek times, was credited with either riding a magic elephant or transforming himself into this animal. Under Medieval Arab rule Catania was known as Balad-Al-Fil or Medinat-Al-Fil (Country/City of the Elephant). The symbol of the city is the Fontana dell'Elefante (Fountain of the Elephant - see image), assembled in its present form in 1736 by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, but including a far older lavic elephant - considered to be a prehistorical sculpture reforged in the Byzantine Era.
  • In Shatranj - the Medieval game from which Chess developed - the piece corresponding to the modern bishop was known as Pill or Alfil ("Elephant" in, respectively, Persian and Arabic). In the Indian Chaturanga game the piece is also called "Elephant" (Gaja). The same is true in Chinese chess which has an elephant piece ("Xiàng", 象), and the move of blocking this piece is known as "blocking the elephant's eye". In the Japanese Shogi version, the piece used to be known as the "Drunken Elephant"; it was, however, dropped by order of the Emperor Go-Nara and no longer appears in the version played in contemporary Japan. Even with modern Chess, the word for the bishop is still Alfil in Spanish, Alfiere in Italian Feel in Persian and "Elephant" (Слон) in Russian. As all these games were originally a kind of simulation of a battlefield, the piece was evidently intended to represent a war elephant. In the present-day canonical chessmen (Staunton chess set), the piece's deep groove, which originally represented the elephant's tusks, is now regarded as representing a bishop's (or abbot's) mitre.
Elephant & Castle statue, London.
  • The "Elephant and Castle" or in short "The Elephant" is a well known name in the geography and popular culture of London - being officially the name of a major road intersection and a London Underground station and uofficially used for the entire surrunding district, largely displacing its official name (Newington, London). The name is supposedly derived from a vision that someone had on London Bridge when they saw an elephant with a castle on its back in the clouds. A pub of this name had continually existed in the area since at least 1765, when a manorial Court Leet had met there - though the pub was several times demolished and rebuilt. The name of the North American Elephant and Castle Pub and Restaurant chain is derived from the British name.
  • Elephanta Island (also called "Gharapuri Island") in Mumbai Harbour was given this name by 17th century Portuguese explorers who saw a monolithic basalt sculpture of an elephant near the entrance to what becme known as the Elephanta Caves. They Portuguese attmpted to take it home with them but ended up dropping it into the sea because their chains were not strong enough. Later, the British moved this elephant to the Victoria and Albert Museum (now Dr Bhau Daji lad Museum) in Mumbai [5]

Political Parties with an elephant emblem

1874 Thomas Nast cartoon featuring the first notable appearance of the Republican Party's elephant[6]

The elephant as the symbol for the Republican Party of the United States originating in an 1874 cartoon of an Asian elephant by Thomas Nast of Harper's Weekly (Nast also originated the donkey as the symbol of the Democratic Party).

Popular culture

  • The phrase 'elephants never forget' refers literally to elephants supposedly having an excellent memory.
A white elephant in 19th century Thai art.
An elephant on the Thai flag of 1855-1916. The present Thai flag has no elephant, but one still appears on the country's naval ensign
Elephants on the flag of the Kingdom of Laos (1952-1975).
  • The expression white elephant refers to an expensive burden, particularly to a situation in which much has been invested with false expectations. The phrase 'white elephant sale' was sometimes used in Australia as a synonym for jumble sale.
  • Jumbo, a circus elephant, has entered the English language as a synonym for "large".
  • Elephanchine, a cartoon elephant from the Dance of the Hours segment of Walt Disneys Fantasia.
  • Dumbo, the elephant who learns to fly in the Disney movie of the same name.
  • The French children's storybook character Babar the Elephant (an elephant king) created by Jean de Brunhoff and also an animated TV series.
Elephant statues at the ruined Buddhist temple in Udaygiri, Orissa, India.
  • The Oakland Athletics mascot is a white elephant. The story of picking the mascot was started when New York Giants' manager John McGraw told reporters that Philadelphia manufacturer Benjamin Shibe, who owned the controlling interest in the new team, had a "white elephant on his hands", Connie Mack defiantly adopted the white elephant as the team mascot, though over the years the elephant has appeared in several different colours (currently forest green). The A's are sometimes, though infrequently, referred to as the Elephants or White Elephants. The team mascot is nicknamed Stomper.
  • The Elephant's Child is one of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories.
  • Horton Hatches the Egg is a book by Dr. Seuss about a faithful elephant who sits on the nest of an irresponsible bird for months.
  • Joseph Merrick, a British man in Victorian England was nicknamed "The Elephant Man" due to the nature and extent of his deformities.
  • American band the White Stripes' fourth album was entitled Elephant, possibly because of lead singer Jack White's fondness of the animals' extreme sensitivity toward each other. The album was #390 in Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Best Albums of All Time".
  • The Thai movie Tom-Yum-Goong (US title: The Protector, UK title: Warrior King) is about a man named Kham who travels from Thailand to Australia in pursuit of poachers who have stolen two elephants. Kham is a member of a family that protects the elephants of the King of Thailand. The movie was directed by Prachya Pinkaew and stars Tony Jaa.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings story, there exist oliphaunts, house-sized ancestors of elephants.
  • Scared of mice in reallty
  • The latest (2008) book by the well-known Portuguese writer José Saramago is "A Viagem do Elefante" ("The Voyage of the Elephant"), with its main protagonist being an elephant named Solomom travelling across 16th Century Europe (see [1]).
  • Jasmine, a trained elephant and companion of Lychee in the Ranma 1/2 movie Big Trouble in Nekoron, China.
  • A famous story of Ivo Andrić is titled "A Story about the Vezier's Elephant."

See also


  1. ^ Hajjah Adil, Amina, "Prophet Muhammad", ISCA, Jun 1, 2002, ISBN 1-930409-11-7
  2. ^ William Montgomery Watt (1974), p.7
  3. ^ Encyclopaedia of Indian literature vol. 1. Published by Sahitya Akademi, 1987. ISBN 8126018038. P.312
  4. ^ South India Handbook. Footprint Travel Guides, 2000. ISBN 1900949814. P.4
  5. ^ HT Cafe, Mumbai, Monday, June,4,2007 pg.31 - Article 'Lord of the Islands" by Jerry Pinto
  6. ^ Cartoon of the Day: "The Third-Term Panic". Retrieved on 2008-09-01.


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