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What does Elephant Symbolism mean?

Elephant Symbolism – Good luck symbols have existed just about as long as mankind. They are common in every culture worldwide. Many pass them off as mere superstition. Others have faith and say Good Luck Symbols work. Maybe these good luck symbols work because our attitude and behavior changes according to what we believe.

The notion that elephants bring good luck has a long history. In many cultures, elephants represent strength, power, wisdom, longevity, stamina, leadership, sociability, nurturance and loyalty. Elephants have been the subject of religious beliefs.  There are many meanings and interpretations behind elephant symbols – Elephant Symbolism, which are particularly significant in Indian and Asian faiths, including Hinduism and Buddhism.

Elephant Symbolism - elephant coin
Elephant Symbolism on the Coins of Ptolemy I @Branko van Oppen – ancient history

Elephant statues are popular worldwide. It is a common superstition that an elephant carving or picture should always face the door if you want to bring good luck into the house. It also protects the home when facing the entrance making sure only good fortune passes through.

There are different opinions about whether the elephant’s trunk should be up or down. Some say if the trunk is up, then the elephant will shower good fortune on all who walk past it – sure enough, the most common belief is that the trunk has to be up for good luck; some even claim the owner will suffer a lot from misfortune should the trunk be down, while others believe the trunk is far better being down since it means that the pachyderm lets good fortune flow freely and naturally on everyone’s path.

Now elephant charms are increasingly popular. They are worn by millions worldwide as a general good luck symbol. Because the presence of the figure of elephants in jewelry, dates back thousands of years, so its meaning covers much, and more originating in an exotic and millenary region as is India, with its saturated culture rich in stories and legends, where the fingers of the hands are not enough to count all their deities and animals represented finely in their jewelry and ornaments.

Many believe that a bracelet made from elephant hair will bring good luck.

Elephants have been admired by humans for many centuries. They are intelligent animals. Elephants have the largest brains of all mammals.  Elephants master the task of using tools. They have a suburb memory. Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher claimed that the elephant surpassed all other animals in wisdom. Elephants are capable of showing great compassion and expressing grief.

Elephant Symbolism In Hindu faith

The elephant is a very powerful and significant symbol in the Hindu faith as one of their favourite gods, Ganesha, is depicted in the form of an elephant. Ganesha is thought to be the remover of obstacles, as well as the god of luck, protection, and fortune.  

Elephant Symbolism
Lord Indra Elephant

Elephant Symbolism – Airavata

Elephant symbolism in Hindu mythology, is also associated with water and rain because of the god Indra. Indra was the god of thunder, rain, river flows and lightning and was usually depicted riding on a white elephant. Elephants also represented royalty as they were depicted as the mounts of gods, and were ridden by kings in processions. Airavata is the name of the sacred white elephant belonging to Indra. Airavata is the king of elephants. This elephant guards the entrance of Svarga where Indra lives. Airavata is often just called “The elephant of the clouds”. It is Airavata who controls the rain clouds. Airavata is married to an elephant called Abharamu.

Elephant Symbolism – Erawan

The Airavata (Erawan in Thai) three-headed elephant in Hindu mythology is not only the god Indra’s vehicle but also a symbol of the eastern religion’s cosmography. The Erawan Shrine stands majestically in glittering gold at the busy junction of Ploenchit and Rajadamri Roads in the heart of downtown Bangkok.

Every day, thousands of devotees both Thai and foreigners pray at the shrine to seek blessings, fulfillment of dreams, success in personal lives and careers. It often features performances by Thai dance troupes, who are hired by worshippers in return for seeing their prayers answered at the shrine.

Elephant Symbolism – Lakshmi

Lakshmi or Laxmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity. She is the wife and shakti (energy) of Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism and the Supreme Being in the Vaishnavism Tradition.With Parvati, and Saraswati, she forms Tridevi, the holy trinity.

Lakshmi is also an important deity in Jainism and found in Jain temples. Lakshmi has also been a goddess of abundance and fortune for Buddhists, and was represented on the oldest surviving stupas and cave temples of Buddhism.

She’s often shown with one or two elephants. She is associated with elephants and an owl. Elephants represent steadfast work, strength, rain and the ability to produce abundant wealth.

Queen Māyā and the White Elephant

Elephant Symbolism – Queen Māyā of Sakya was the birth mother of Gautama Buddha, the sage on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. She was sister of Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī, the first Buddhist nun ordained by the Buddha. Māyā is also called Mahāmāyā (“Great Māyā”) and Māyādevī (“Queen Māyā”). She was the daughter of King Śuddhodhana’s uncle and therefore his cousin; her father was king of Devadaha.

Māyā and King Suddhodana did not have children for twenty years into their marriage. According to legend, one full moon night, sleeping in the palace, the queen had a vivid dream. She felt herself being carried away by four devas (spirits) to Lake Anotatta in the Himalayas. After bathing her in the lake, the devas clothed her in heavenly cloths, anointed her with perfumes, and bedecked her with divine flowers.

>> Read more Elephant spirit animal

Soon after a white elephant, holding a white lotus flower in its trunk, appeared and went round her three times, entering her womb through her right side. Finally the elephant disappeared and the queen awoke, knowing she had been delivered an important message, as the elephant is a symbol of greatness. Ten months later Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha was born from her right side.

During labor, she held on to a branch from a Sal tree and felt no pain. Scholars generally agree that most Buddhist literature holds that Maya died seven days after the birth of Buddha, and was then reborn in the Tusita Heaven. Seven years after the Buddha’s enlightenment, she came down to visit Tavatimsa Heaven, where the Buddha later preached the Abhidharma to her.

Elephant Symbolism
Photo: Kryštof Krejča

White elephants 

A white elephant (also albino elephant) is a rare kind of elephant, but not a distinct species. Elephant Symbolism – In Thailand, white elephants are considered sacred and are a symbol of royal power; all those discovered are presented to the king (although this presentation is usually a ceremonial one—the elephants are not actually taken into captivity).

Historically, the status of kings has been evaluated by the number of white elephants in their possession. From 1820 to 1917 there was a white elephant on the flag of Thailand. According to one story, white elephants were sometimes given as a present to some enemy (often a lesser noble with whom the king was displeased). The unfortunate recipient, unable to make any profit from it, and obliged to take care of it, would suffer bankruptcy and ruin. 

The Meaning of the term “A White Elephant”

The term “A white Elephant” means an expensive item that is troublesome or useless. The term comes from a story about the king of Siam, who was said to have given an albino elephant, considered sacred, to a member of the court whom he disliked, knowing that taking care of the animal would exhaust the person’s fortune. 

It also means  a fundraiser in which unwanted items have been donated for sale. Many charity organizations and churches sponsor “White Elephant Sales”. People will donate things from their homes which are not their taste. Finally, they are allowed to get rid of their “white elephants” with a good conscience as they are supporting a worthy case.

White Elephant Gift Exchange Party Game

White Elephant is a gift exchange game that is very similar in style to Yankee Swap, although the emphasis is to “steal” gifts rather than swap them. Most often, this type of gift exchange takes place at a party with other participants in attendance.

The game derives its name from the term white elephant as defined by something of dubious or limited value or an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others. Thus, in its basic form the game calls for people to bring “gag” gifts or gifts they received that they have no use for.

In a White Elephant gift exchange, each participant brings a wrapped, unmarked gift and places it in a designated area. Guests are given numbers as they arrive, or their names are randomly drawn, and they select gifts in that order — with a twist.

On the first turn, the person assigned with #1 picks out a gift and opens it so all can see what it is. On the second turn, the person assigned with #2 gets the choice of “stealing” #1’s unwrapped gift or choosing a wrapped one from the pile. If #2 steals #1’s gift, then #1 must choose and open a wrapped gift.

As subsequent players take their turns, they either select a new gift or take any already opened gift from any of the other players. Have any player who has a gift taken away either choose a new gift or take an already-opened gift from another player.

The game continues with the following rules:

  • If someone steals your gift, you can steal someone else’s gift or choose and open a wrapped one.
  • Continue until everyone has had a turn for a gift. A turn is ended when an unopened gift has been opened.
  • A gift can only be “stolen” once during a turn. If a gift is taken from someone during one round, she cannot take it back during that same round. She can, however, take it back in a later round if she is in a position to select a gift.
  • A gift cannot be immediately stolen back from the player who just stole it.
  • Once a gift has 3 “owners,” the 3rd owner of a gift gets to keep it – it is retired and can’t be stolen again.
  • The gift exchange ends when the last wrapped gift is chosen and opened.

After the last turn, the person who started (since she didn’t get a chance at the beginning) can put back the gift and “steal” a gift according to the rules. This starts the gift exchange again (following the above rules) and ends when someone chooses or is forced to take the gift given up by the person with #1.

Wild Elephants with relaxing music

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