Elephants: Symbolism Across Cultures
Elephants are regarded as symbols of wisdom and strength across cultures throughout the world. In India and Africa they are symbols of great strength and wisdom. In the Ashanti traditions, elephants are considered to be their past leaders, reincarnated into the stoic and powerful beings. In Buddhism they represent one's inner strength, but perhaps the most well known is the image of the Hindu God, Ganesh.
Ganesh is the patron of arts and sciences, deity of wisdom, and is worshipped in Hinduism as the bringer of auspicious beginnings.
There are a number of legends that describe the birth of Ganesh. He is said to be the son of Lord Shiva, the god of death and destruction. One of the most popular stories of his birth is that he was magically created by Shiva’s wife, the goddess Pavarti. Needing someone to guard her door while Shiva was away in battle, she created her son Ganesh out of clay. Ganesh took his job seriously and he refused to allow anyone to enter his mother’s house.
All was well until the Lord Shiva returned home from war unexpectedly. He was so angry at being stopped at his wife’s door by a stranger that he cut off Ganesh’s head. Pavarti was the only person in the world whom Shiva was afraid of, and she was outraged by what he had done to her son. The God of death and destruction became remorseful, and he promised to make amends. He decided to remove the head of the first animal he could find, and then used this to replace Ganesh’s amputated head. The first animal he came across was an elephant. Ganesh was thus restored to life and rewarded for his courage by being made lord of new beginnings and remover of obstacles.
When we wear or decorate our homes with images of Ganesh, his powerful energy attracts abundance and helps us to be wise and discerning in our decision-making. He helps us to overcome obstacles through calm determination, and to think big while also recognizing the importance of tending to details. Overall, he is an auspicious symbol and a powerfully positive deity, and it is no wonder he is one of the most revered in all of Hinduism!