Elephant Transport

May 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Annone made two long sea voyages, possibly three. In the early 1500’s there was an active elephant trade between Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and the West coast of India. If Annone came from Ceylon, as one writer suggests, he would have been transported by ship to Cochin.(1)
On the six month voyage  from Cochin to Lisbon in late 1510 or early 1511, he rode a Portuguese nau, or carrack. By Bedini’s calculations, Annone would have been about one year old when he made the trip.(2) A one year-old Indian elephant weighs about 1000 pounds. The name of the ship is not known, but fleets of Portuguese nau had been making regular trips back and forth since 1497. Some of the armadas are well documented, but the return voyage of 1510-1511 is not.
Documents do, however, exist in the State Archives of Portugal that refer to the care and feeding of elephants destined for Portugal. 
Annone’s third sea voyage was from Lisbon to Civitavecchia, a port north of Rome. The trip is described in detail by Bedini in The Pope’s Elephant, and is notable for several reasons, including the story of a companion ship destined for Pope Leo X carrying a rhinoceros which sank in a storm off the coast of Italy. The rhino that washed ashore some days later was the one that Durer depicted in his woodcut of 1515, although he never saw the beast, dead or alive.

Elephants are moved in various ways- by truck, train, boat and plane. Circus elephants still ride trains where they are kept tightly chained for many hours between stops. And they walk. One of the prime mistreatments of elephants in India today is the practice of making elephants walk long distances on burning hot pavement to and from various money making engagements such as weddings, political rallies, temple festivals and commercial events.

(1)  H.A.J. Hulugalle, author of Ceylon of the Early Travelers, is cited by Jayantha Jayewardene in Elephants in Sri Lankan History and Culture  for the following: “In 1507 the Viceroy of India sent a gift of a small elephant, imported from Ceylon, to King Manuel of Portugal. After seven years in Lisbon this elephant, named Annone, was presented to Pope Leo X and moved to Rome. Annone lived in Rome for three years but died after developing stomach trouble due to the variety of food given to it by visitors and admirers. There is a memorial in Rome to Annone the first elephant in the Vatican.”

(2) Bedini, S. The Pope’s Elephant

The Cantino Planisphere

May 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Cantino Planisphere is a world map compiled by Portuguese explorers and cartographers detailing discoveries made and routes used in the late 15th and early 16th century. An Italian horse trader in Lisbon, Alberto Cantino, working secretly as an agent of the Duke of Ferrara, had a copy of the map made and smuggled out of Portugal in 1502, when such maps were heavily guarded state secrets. Among its many details is a depiction of the West coast of India, including Goa, Calicut and Cochin.

In 1504, in response to the loss of such a valuable map, Manuel I of Portugal passed a law instituting state censorship of all private map and globe production, prohibiting any depiction of coast beyond West Africa.
The map passed through various hands, was cut into pieces, reassembled as a room divider, and used in a butcher shop before eventually finding its way to the Biblioteca Estense in Modena.

Vijayanagara, Pepper and the Portuguese

May 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

In 1001 A.D., Muslim armies began a relentless attack on Northern India, pressing ever southwards, establishing themselves firmly and permanently. War followed war for nearly 350 years until all of India north of the Krishna River was under Muslim rule, and the country to the south was threatened with imminent ruin and devastation. Abruptly, in about 1344, the wave of foreign invasion was stopped. The Hindu south was saved by an alliance of weak partners who together formed a solid wall of opposition, the Empire of Vijayanagara. The empire flourished and grew fabulously rich until it too was finally crushed in 1565. The peak of Vijayanagara’s power and influence coincided with the ascent of the Portuguese, and their fates were closely intertwined. It was Vijayanagara’s wealth in spices, particularly black pepper, which Portugal’s armadas sought to exploit through trade. By controlling the west coast trading centers of greater Goa, the Portuguese Casa da India grew enormously rich.

Virupaksha Temple Complex, 1856. Photo- J.A. Greenlaw. Victoria and Albert Museum

Black pepper, grown in Kerela, composed as much as 90% of the return cargo of the early armadas. Other spices could also be found in Calicut, Cochin and other major markets on the Malabar Coast of India –cinnamon from Ceylon, long pepper from Java, cloves from the Moluccan Islands, nutmeg and mace from  the Banda Islands.

Georg Braun and Franz Hogenber’s Atlas, 1572.

Trade goods brought by the Portuguese to sell in India were cut and branch coral, copper in pigs and sheets, quicksilver, vermillion, rugs, Flanders brass basins, colored cloths, knives, red barret-caps, mirrors and colored silks. But European products did not sell all that well in Asia, which meant that ship holds were frequently empty, or nearly so, on the outward voyage from Portugal. Outbound ships carried little more than metal bullion – principally silver, but also copper and lead– needed to purchase spices in Asian markets. However, if they stopped at Mozambique Island on the outward leg (as almost all India armadas did), they could expect to pick up gold, ivory, coral and pearls, acquired during the year by Portuguese factories, at several points along the Swahili Coast for sale in India.

Eastern Gopura, Pattabhirama temple complex,1856. Photo J.A. Greenlaw. Victoria and Albert Museum

Vijayanagara’s power waned after the Battle of Talikota in 1565, when the city described by de Varthema, Paes and Nunez, was destroyed. The king fled south with his treasure loaded on the backs of 550 elephants. With the fall of Vijayanagara, the dominant influence of the Portuguese in India began to unravel.

Royal Elephant Stables at Vijayanagara, 1856. Photo- J.A. Greenlaw. Victoria and Albert Museum

Elephant Emissaries of Shiva

May 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ganesha was Shiva’s son, or Parvati’s son, or was created by Shiva and Parvati, or appeared mysteriously and was discovered by Shiva and Parvati. In a fit of jealous rage, Shiva cut Ganesha’s head off because he stood between himself and Parvati. Recognizing his mistake, Shiva performed surgical therianthropy, mending the boy’s severed body with the head of an elephant, that hideous, snake-handed beast.

Ganesha, elephant-headed boy, dances lightly on a mouse with his axe, rope, tusk and sweets in his four hands, and like the mouse slips into the secret places.
Lord of beginnings, Lord of obstacles, patron of arts and sciences, pot bellied dancer poised delicately on a rat, ready to spring to heroic action. All the cosmic eggs, past, present and future are contained within him. He resides at the original base, the Muladhara chakra. Vasuki, the Naga King, who was Vishnu’s churning rope in the sea of milk, encircles his neck.

Shiva’s first ambassador:
Shiva sent Dionysus home from India on an elephant and waited for a sign, a message from Europe. Alexander’s army arrived, furiously assailed the ivory palisade and was rebuffed.
Shiva’s second ambassador:
Annone was not Manuel’s emissary, but Shiva’s. The Portuguese were merely the vehicle, the rat that Ganesha danced from Vijayanagara to Rome. It was young Annone who infiltrated the walls of the Vatican, slipped into the secret places of the city. He inspired painters and poets, seduced the Lion and made him weep. Only Raffaello with his art could restore what Nature had stolen away.

Luca bos

May 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Pyrrhus’ elephants, animals not seen in Europe since the end of the Pleistocene, first encountered by Roman troops at Lucania in southern Italy, were dubbed “luca bos.” Commonly translated as Lucanian cow, or ox, they were terrifyingly big to the soldiers who faced them, bigger by far than the biggest ox.

These were Asian elephants, probably a sub species from Syria. According to linguist J.C. Billigmeier, the mahouts would have called the elephants lukabos, or something similar, in their own tongue.(1) Roman soldiers, perhaps prisoners of war, may have heard this word and repeated it when they got home.

Thus the etymology of the name may not be Lucanian, or Libyan or white cow as suggested by other scholars, but Lycian cow, since the mahouts were likely people of northern Syria who spoke a language close to Lycian.

(1) J.C. Billigmeier, Latin Lucabos “Elephant”, Studies in Anatolian, Italic and other Indo-European Languages, Arbeitman, ed. 1988

Elephants at Sonepur Fair, Bihar, 1952

May 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

The annual fall cattle fair at Sonepur draws thousands of buyers and sellers from all over India. Although the sale of elephants is officially illegal, they still change hands.These photos are from a 1952 LIFE magazine photo story.

The Ivory Palisade

May 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

War Elephant frieze-Hampi

“sicut quadripedum cum primis esse videmus
in genere anguimanus elephantos, India quorum
milibus e multis vallo munitur eburno,
ut penitus nequeat penetrari:
tanta ferarum
vis est,
quarum nos perpauca exempla videmus.”

“We see that in classes of quadrupeds,
above all with snake-handed elephants,
whose many thousands keep India fenced in
 with an ivory wall,
so there is no way 
one can move into its interior—
that’s how numerous those wild creatures are.
Yet we see very few examples of them.”
-Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, Book II

“The ivory wall defending India has been interpreted as 1) a legend referring to an actual wall of ivory or a living barrier of elephants 2) an exaggeration of the practice of using elephant tusks as palings or incorporating them into buildings 3) a metaphorical allusion to the use of elephants in warfare.”
-Robert Brown, Classical Philology, Vol. 86, No. 4 (Oct., 1991) Chicago

Rama going into Battle

Mammoth Bone House

Ivory Wall

Elephants on Plates

May 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Pliny on Elephants and Dragons

May 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

“Africa produces elephants, beyond the deserts of the Syrtes, and in Mauritania; they are found also in the countries of the Æthiopians and the Troglodytæ as mentioned above. But it is India that produces the largest, as well as the dragon, which is perpetually at war with the elephant, and is itself of so enormous a size, as easily to envelope the elephants with its folds, and encircle them in its coils. The contest is equally fatal to both; the elephant, vanquished, falls to the earth, and by its weight, crushes the dragon which is entwined around it.The sagacity which every animal exhibits in its own behalf is wonderful, but in these it is remarkably so. The dragon has much difficulty in climbing up to so great a height, and therefore, watching the road, which bears marks of their footsteps when going to feed, it darts down upon them from a lofty tree. The elephant knows that it is quite unable to struggle against the folds of the serpent, and so seeks for trees or rocks against which to rub itself. The dragon is on its guard against this, and tries to prevent it, by first of all confining the legs of the elephant with the folds of its tail; while the elephant, on the other hand, endeavours to disengage itself with its trunk. The dragon, however, thrusts its head into its nostrils, and thus, at the same moment, stops the breath and wounds the most tender parts. When it is met unexpectedly, the dragon raises itself up, faces its opponent, and flies more especially at the eyes; this is the reason why elephants are so often found blind, and worn to a skeleton with hunger and misery. What other cause can one assign for such mighty strifes as these, except that Nature is desirous, as it were, to make an exhibition for herself, in pitting such opponents against each other?”

From Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, Book VIII, Ch. 11-12

Tear the Elephant of Ignorance Asunder

May 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Wrathful deities often wear the bloodstained skin of a freshly killed elephant stretched across their backs, which is sometimes referred to as ‘Indra’s skin’. The qualities of wrathful forms which are comparable to the wild elephant are revealed in their symbolic activities of bellowing, crushing, tearing, trampling, and uprooting. The symbolism of the flayed skin refers to the deity ‘having torn the elephant of ignorance asunder’. The elephant, human, and tiger skins which adorn wrathful forms symbolize the destruction of the three poisons of ignorance, desire and anger, respectively.”
Robert Beer, Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. (Boston, 1990)
On the left side of the deity’s body is the head of a flayed, white elephant. Other parts of the skin are visible against the flaming aureole.

Museum technicians cleaning an African elephant skin.

Tibetan rug with flayed elephant.

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