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An Elephant    

15th Century

Tamil Nadu

Height: 17.5 in (45 cm)

This dignified looking sculpture of an elephant bears intricate carvings on its back, sides and head. Decorative rings are also seen around its legs. The beast stands on its own base of stone, with its trunk falling straight towards the base and then curling inward. Attentive looking ears, well defined eyes, and the posture indicating motion accentuate the beauty of this sculpture.

In Indian mythology as well as history this peaceful animal has enjoyed pride of place. The elephant or 'gaja' has been tamed and used as a mode of transportation since ancient times, as well as for other peaceful and martial purposes. Gods, kings and people of status have all appropriated elephants as their vehicles, as they are symbolic of auspiciousness, abundance, strength, wisdom and royalty among other positive attributes. According to Hindu legend, Airavata was the first elephant, a pure white animal with four tusks and seven trunks who served as the 'vahana' or vehicle of the God of War and Thunderstorms, Indra. In ancient sculpture, one frequently sees rows of elephants placed in various parts of external architecture.

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