Tag Archive: elephants


Ganesha

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Making his way among the rained-on, green leaves and brush, the great elephant walks through the forest, clearing a path for all the other forest animals as he goes.  He pushes aside obstacles with ease. A being of immense power and strength, he never uses force to oppress others.  Indeed, he is kind and beneficent, a protective power.  Among the gentlest and wisest of beings, he is a vegetarian, though it must be admitted that he does gobble down a huge quantity of plants – sometimes nearly half a ton each day.

 

Ganesha, the beloved and most popular God of the Hindu people, is an elephant God, with an elephant’s head.

 

There are many variations of stories told to explain how Ganesha has the head of an elephant – some of the stories are a bit bizarre and depict other Gods behaving rather badly – chopping off Ganesha’s head when he was a young boy, and then finding another one to replace it. However, they are allegories, not meant to be taken literally, and they reflect deeper cosmic realities.

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In whatever way Ganesha obtained it, his new head worked out really well, and he couldn’t have asked for a more propitious head. It was endowed with the wonderful natural qualities of the elephant – gentleness and strength, great wisdom and intelligence, a keen enjoyment of life, along with overflowing generosity that  bestows good fortune, peace, blessings, and success on all who seek his help.

 

His huge elephant ears signify his willingness to listen to all those seeking his help.

 

All Hindu prayers begin with an invocation to Ganesha, who is never too far away and is always within reach of the person who prays.

 

The celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi, which marks the birth or re-birth of Ganesha, lasts for several days and takes place during the lunar month of Bhadrapada  (mid-August to mid-September). In 2013 the celebration runs from September 9 through September 18.

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Traditionally, as part of the festival, large clay statues of Ganesha were made out of mud or clay, carried through the streets and then ritually immersed in bodies of water.  In recent years however, the practice grew up of making these statues out of plaster of Paris, a harmful substance that pollutes streams and lakes.  Now there are efforts to return to the original practice of using natural clay instead, which does not harm the environment or the birds, animals, and fish in the water.

 

Sadly, over time, people have tended to forget that wild animals, including elephants, should not be taken out of the wild, where they are meant to be and where they are happiest.  Today there are elephants kept captive in many temples in India. Worshippers who pass by ask blessings of the temple elephant, never thinking that it is uncomfortable for her to be standing on the hard pavement hour after hour.

 

In honor of Ganesha, it is to be hoped that soon temples can set aside some acres of land, covered in grass and trees, with a pond – to be a sanctuary for elephants. Though these sanctuaries wouldn’t be the same as being in the wild, they would nonetheless offer a comfortable shady spot, a quiet place for the elephant and her elephant friends to rest and be at peace, where they can still bless devotees from a distance.  Their blessings, given from a place of comfort, will no doubt be all the more effective and auspicious.

 

Ganesha is not only a God of great power, he is also warm, jovial, and friendly. He is the God of knowledge, well-being, and success — in short, of positivity. Depicted as a plump, rather roly-poly being who loves life; he is often shown playing the flute or dancing. In Hindu homes and temples, he graces people’s lives with his presence. The vehicle that he rides on is an animal without pretentions of grandeur — his vahana is a simple mouse.

 

Early on, around two thousand years ago, the worship of Ganesha spread from Hinduism to Jainism and to Buddhism. When Buddhism was carried from India by missionaries, worship of Ganesha took hold in Japan, Tibet, China, and throughout southeast Asia.

 

According to a system of worship formalized by the saint Adi Shankar, in the eighth century CE, Ganesha is one of the five primary deities of Hinduism. The others are Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, and Surya.  There are many thousands more deities too, and each one may have thousands of names, so it is quite complicated.

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Ganesha’s elephant head symbolizes the soul, while his human body signifies the earthly existence of human beings. His trunk represents the syllable om, the eternal sound of cosmic reality.

 

Ganesha is a scribe, and he wrote down the whole epic poem, the Mahabharata, as it was being dictated to him by the sage Vyasa.  It is 18 volumes long, so it took a lot of writing.  Ganesha was using a quill pen, but at one point it broke.  He didn’t want to stop, so he broke off one of his own tusks to use as a pen, so he could continue to write.  Now he is always shown with only one complete tusk, and the other one is broken.  His one tusk has another meaning too.  It stands for Advaita Vedanta, which is the predominant, non-dualistic form of Hinduism. It recognizes the soul and all beings as being part of God and returning to God. In other words, there is One Eternal Power in the universe, not two competing ones. Evil does exist, but it is not permanent and has no ultimate reality.

 

Many volumes have been written, and many more could be written, about the beloved Ganesha. So this is only the briefest of introductions.

 

In prayers and rituals, Ganesha is addressed first before other Gods because he opens the way for the soul on its journey towards the divine; he provides the bridge between earth and heaven – and also the pathway from heaven to earth, by which blessings descend.

To learn more about Ganesha, these books are available at Amazon.com:

 

Ganesha: The Auspicious…The Beginning by Nanditha Krishna and Shakunthala Jagannathan  To view this book on Amazon.com, click here

 

Sacred Animals of India by Nanditha Krishna  To view this book on Amazon.com, click here.

 

Photos:

Top photo: Author: Quadell / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / “Seated Ganesha 12th-13th century Hoysala dynasty Chloritic schist, Halebid, Karnataka, India This sculpture displays the ornate carving and exuberant decoration characteristic of art created under the Hoysala dynasty (1042–1346). The decorated floral arch surrounding the sculpture suggests that it once occupied a cell or niche in a temple. Housed in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.[1]”

 

Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Elephant on the wall “Descent of the Ganges” at Mahabalipuram

 

Third photo:  Sharon St Joan / On the first day of the holiday Ganesh Chaturthi in 2010, these elephants lined up on the river that runs through Samburu in Kenya, as if to wish Ganesha Happy Birthday.

 

Fourth photo: Wikimedia Commons / “This image… is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years…You must also include a United States public domain tag to indicate why this work is in the public domain in the United States.”/ “Basohli miniature, circa 1730. National Museum, New Delhi” / “Original uploader was Buddhipriya at en.wikipedia” / “Ganesha getting ready to throw his lotus.”

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In an interview by Jim Fleming on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “To the best of our knowledge,” Daphne Sheldrick talks about her book, Love, Life, and Elephants.

She had known Eleanor since she was a two year old orphan and had successfully rehabilitated her back into a wild herd.  Occasionally, she went to visit Eleanor, who would come over, greeting her affectionately.  They would spend a few moments together, and then Eleanor would go back to her herd.  One day Daphne Sheldrick wanted to introduce Eleanor to one of her human friends.  They set off to find her, and thought they had spotted her by a waterhole.  She didn’t look quite the same, but she was standing there quite unafraid, so it had to be Eleanor.  When called, she came over.  Daphne Sheldrick stood next to her and put her hand up to touch her behind the ear, as she always did with Eleanor.

It was then that she realized her mistake.  The elephant was startled and lashed out, using the same amount of force she would have used with another elephant, sending Daphne Sheldrick sprawling on the ground.  A moment later she felt the elephant trying to pick her up with her tusks.  With her knowledge of elephants, she knew the elephant would already have killed her if that was her intention.  Instead, she was trying to help her.  Daphne Sheldrick had a broken leg.  The elephant gently touched her with her trunk, trying to help, but seeing that there was nothing she could do, after a few minutes, she turned and walked away.

Daphne Sheldrick discovered later that this elephant, who she called Kathryn, was Eleanor’s best friend, and apparently the two must have had a talk with each other about Daphne Sheldrick, because Kathryn, a wild elephant, had immediately trusted her and even came when called. Kathryn only lashed out when she was unexpectedly startled, and then she was sorry, not having intended to cause any harm.

Daphne Sheldrick’s book, Love, Life, and Elephants recounts stories of a lifetime of profound experiences with elephants and other wild animals.  Of the elephants, she says they are very similar emotionally to humans.  She is convinced that they communicate telepathically, citing the story of Eleanor and Kathryn, but says that they are “very much nicer than humans.”

David Sheldrick, when he was alive was the founder warden of Tsavo National Park, which is the size of Michigan and which holds the largest population of wild elephants in Kenya.  Daphne Sheldrick worked in the park with her husband, and together they began to care for and rehabilitate orphaned wildlife.  After David Sheldrick’s death in 1977, she continued this work and founded The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, in memory of her husband.  Courtesy of the Kenyan government, she has lived and worked in the Nairobi National Park since that time, caring for wildlife, with a dedicated staff, at the Orphan’s Nursery.

To hear this Wisconsin Public Radio interview with Daphne Shelton online, click here.

 

To visit the website of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, click here.

 

Photo:  Sharon St Joan / wild elephants at Samburu National Park in Kenya

The Elephant who walks on the bank

Elephants and Vulturine Guineafowl at Samburu, Kenya

To go into the valley

Of veering shadows,

Of iron bands,

Of clamps and traps,

That shut and close

All round and round,

Is to forget the very stars of being,

To leave behind the sound

Of the peal

Of the bells,

To lose touch with the bright soul

Of the elephant,

Who walks on the bank

Of the river of peace,

Yet, only the blank

Face

Of death will die, in the end.

For there, within the lilies on the shoal,

Among the green reeds and glimmering shells,

Live the lands

Of many

Worlds, clad in clouds of beauty,

Dressed in the lace caps

Of the blue sea,

And the silver rings of the brilliant

Moonrise,

There, where

The voice of the mother of eternity

Is calling, clear

As the waters that bend

Over the stones, and so, to hear

The pure song

Of the mountain air,

To watch only

The mist-winged pair

Of storks who take

Flight over the dawn lake

Is to belong

At last to the shining

Skies

Of innocence, ever real,

Beyond the rift of time and space.

September 19, 2010

The Forest

From atop the bone-bent tree

Two raven watchers scry

The ending of the ashen days,

Glimpsing the moment

When the rattling reign

Of the purveyors of death

Will be done,

Swept clean

In the wind’s breath.

Then the star-sent ways

Of the spring that spills

Over the rocks, singing

Her song that gladdens the earth

And the wide

Sky

Will be handed on

To the scions of light

To the shining ones

Who were ever there

In the stillness beyond the wall.

When the forest will abide

Anew in the deep tones

Of the wild

Owl, and will shake, with the innocent

Footfall

Of the elephant

And her child,

Then gleaming worlds will live again

Under moons of mist that call

The winds to walk abroad on the steeps

Of the haunting hills,

Then out of the cast-off heaps

Will have climbed the brave ones,

Winged in robes of gossamer,

Born of the stones

Of the ever-dwelling

Night,

Of the mystical intent

Of the blackest ravens.

To view a larger version of the artwork, please go to

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-forest-sharon-stjoan.html