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.


March 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

from Elephantographia Curiosa, Hartenfels, 1715

Gods in Chains

March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Elephants have a long history of use in temples. However, their roles in most temples have changed significantly over time. Hundreds of years ago when elephants were used in warfare, they were kept in temples -in between battles- as symbols of strength and victory. The practical decision to keep elephants in temples when they were not used led to the cultural and religious belief that elephants were an essential part of Kerala’s historical culture. People began to donate them to temples as symbols of one of the most popular Hindu deities, Lord Ganapati. Now even temples that have no relation to Lord Ganapati keep elephants: they are looked upon as symbols of status by the temples to encourage more donations. In recent years, churches and mosques have also started using elephants at major occasions. Politicians often donate elephants to boost approval ratings. Temples in Kerala have significantly more elephants that anywhere else in India. The nationally renowned Guruvayoor temple houses 63 elephants, all given as gifts. The area around Thrissur in Kerala has over 500 temples, with approximately 250 captive elephants available for functions. Each temple has 2-5 major festivals between November and May, resulting in a strong demand for pachyderms.”

Rhea Ghosh, Gods in Chains

“Whenever we speak about elephants, we invariably take pride in the long cultural relationship between elephant and people in the country. There is no other example of a relationship between an animal and humans that is so remarkable for its splendor and contrast, of an animal that has been slaughtered and, at the same time, deified. This relationship goes back at least 4000 years to the Harappan period and almost certainly beyond.”

“To shackle such a god, to illtreat it or, worse, to ignore its plight would be a tragedy that history would not forgive our nation.”

Raman Sukumar, from the forward to Gods in Chains, Rhea Ghosh

Photo by Vinoth Chandar

Pope and Elephant

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment


If you believe, oh elephant, that you serve a lion of Libya,
You are deceiving yourself,
This lion has fallen from the sky.
This is your master, the chief glory of the earth,
With the triple tiara crowning his head.
Among the mortals he is held to be more than mortal,
It is him that has been given to open and close the heavens.
If to serve god is indeed to reign,
You will reign in serving Leo
For he is god on earth…

Giovanni Capitone Arentino. Written on the arrival of Annone and the Portuguese delegation in Rome, March, 1514.

L. from The Ghent Altar, VanEyck, 1432.
R. Seated Ganesh, Karnataka, 13th c.

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