elephant mother with calf

Pachyderms on Parade

Elephants are large mammals of the family Elephantidae. There are three distinct species:

  • African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana)
  • African forest elephant (L. cyclotis)
  • Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)

The most noticeable features of the elephant is a long trunk which is called proboscis and large floppy ears. The elephant uses its trunk for many purposes; breathing, drinking and spraying water, and grasping objects. An elephant's trunk can make powerful twisting and coiling movements as well as delicate tasks such as cracking a peanut shell. The trunk of an adult elephant can lift up to 770 lbs (350 kg). When the elephant swims underwater, the trunk is used as a snorkel to breath air.

Throughout history elephants have been objects of worship and subjects of stories and song. In China, the elephant (chia yen) is considered to be one of the Seven Treasures of Buddhism. The white elephant,considered a sacred animal, is believed to have announced the birth of Buddha, Siddhartha Gautam in May 563 BC.

Hindu mythology includes Ganesha, the Elephant-God. Ganesha has many names, faces and purposes. The most prominent elephant gods are:

  • Ganapati: lord of the tribe
  • Vigneshwara: controls all obstacles
  • Vinayaka: a prominent leader
  • Gajanana: elephant faced person
  • Gajadhipati: Lord of all elephants
  • Lambkarna: A long eared being
  • Lambodara: pendant with large belly
  • Ekadanta: has only one tusk
  • Gajavadana: an elephant face
    Shoorpa-Karna: small ears
  • Chaturbhuja: has a red-complexion and rides upon a mouse. This deity has four hands. Three of which carry a Pasha (rope), Ankusha (a curved spear) and Modaka (a sweet pudding dish). The fourth hand gestures a message of help and protection.