Elephantology and its Ancient Sanskrit Sources

by Geetha N. | 2012 | 36,369 words

Elephant is considered as an inevitable part of Indian community. So they developed the study of Elephant which is based on Hastyayurveda and Matangalila. Even from the ancient time Indians were awareness about their hygiene and health. They were protected against diseases. They protected not just their own race but also plants and animals. Therefo...

Chapter 1 - Introduction

"According to Caraka, all the creatures of the world are divided in to two groups viz. Cetana (living being or living sentient) ie. with senses and Acetana (non-living, insentient) i.e. without senses and again classified in to Sthavara (non-moving) and Jangama (moving). Jangama again divided in to two groups. They are Vanaspati and Vriksha (plants and trees). The first part is Prani-varga (animals). The prani-varga again divided into four groups - Jarayuja, Andaja, Shvetaja and Udbija. Among them jarayuja is the first type, which is born from the womb, viviparousplacental animals/mammals like men, elephants, cow etc.

The pedigree is below:—

Keywords: Creatures, Cetana, Sthāvara (non-moving); Acetana, Jaṅgama (moving), Vanaspati, Prāṇivarga, Jarāyuja, Aṇḍaja, Udbhija, Svetaja, Placental, Animals, Mamals, Man, Elephant, Cow etc. Vṛkṣa, Plants, Trees.

Ayurveda is the knowledge (Veda) of life (Ayus). It is applicable to all types of living beings or the Jivasrishti, consisting of the humans, plants and all living being in the world. The Ashva-ayurveda, Gaja-ayurveda or Hasti-ayurveda, are the discussion about the health as well as the diseases and the remedies there of in the case of the animal world and the plant world respectively. The fundamental theory of Tridosha (vata, pitta and kapha) is applicable like the consideration of the rasadi seven dhatus, and the malas (filth) like mutra (urine) and purisha (feacus). The concept of Bala (strength) is also narrated in the Hastyayurveda. It states that the elephants born and brought up in the jungles more freely, play happily in the water and mud. By playing more and more, the ojas or Dhatuprasada is produced; resulting in the good health, which in turn gives good strength and the Bala (strength) or Ojas.[1]

The Hastyayurveda specifically says:—

pamshukardamatoshaiccha tatah kridantiharshitah
dhatuprasadam kshipram tu kriitatam jayatedhikam
dhatuprasadandarogyadbalameva ca
balacca sarvaroganam nivrittih syadatah param

General awareness of elephants

There were various kinds of elephants in this universe. But only two kinds are still existed viz. Asian elephants and African elephants. Asian elephants are scientifically termed as "Elephas-maximus" and African elephants are termed as "Laxodonta".

It will be very interesting to study and observe the main differences between Asian (Indian) and African elephants.

Difference between Asian Elephants and African Elephants

  African Elephants Asian Elephants
1 There is a dip in the back The back is arched
2 A loose fold of skin joins the hind legs and the sides of the body No such skin fold is present
3 Hind legs have three toes Hind legs have four folds
4 Four legs have three toes Four legs have five folds
5 Two nobs of flesh are three on the trunk Only one nob of flesh on the tip of the trunk
6 Forehead forms a smooth curve Forehead has to bumps on it
7 Ears cover the shoulders Ears do not cover the shoulders

Origin and Categorisation of Elephants

Elephant includes the group of proboside. Its trunk is known as proboscis. In 1921, Gray the Latin scholar who nominated elephant as proboside. There were 352 species (Trunked) belongs to the Elephantide family. It is also belongs to the proboside group. The word 'probosics' is a Latin and its means trunk.

Charls Darvin in his book Origin of species had mentioned the theory of evaluation before 150 years ago. The first elephant on earth was known as 'Moritherium' in 50 million years ago, which had 60cm in height and shaped as a pig with no tusks and no trunk but fangs forud, lived in Egypt. After evolution, the Moeritherium became Mammoth.


Mammoths are vanished from the earth before 5000 years ago. World's one Mammoth memorial centre is situated in Ukran. The mammoth is a pre-historic animal closely related to the present day elephants, they were huge, lumbering beasts. Some of the Mammoths measured 4-5 metres in height at the shoulder. They had trunks and tusks too. After some times they grew up to 4-5 metres long tusks. They were wooly animals and lived in the icy lands of Asia, Europe and America.

They belonged to the Elephantidae—the family of elephants and they are comparable to the Arala and the Atyarala varieties of elephants, described in the 18th chapter of the gajashastram.

astarathi dashsyame caikadasha ca nahatah
aralah satu vinjeyah sarvakarmasu garhitah
na varantyunnato nagah tadhaiveka dashayatah
nahato dradasharatnih atyarala iti smritah[3]

Taxonomists separate the African elephants in two kinds viz. Savanna elephant (Laxodonta Africana) and Forest Elephant (Laxodanta african cyclotis). Among them savanna elephant is the biggest mammal in the land. It has 3.5 to 4 metre height and about 7000 Kg weight. The lowest size cow elephant have 2.5 to 3 metre height and 3500-4000 Kg weight. In Africa about 60,000 elephants are seen.

Variety of Elephants

Kullana (Elephus maximas borneensis)

An elephant is found in Maleshia's Bornia, Indoneshia are known as Kullans or elephas maximas borneensis, which is Bornio Pigmi elephant's sub-species. It's height is below 2.5 metre. They can walk loft stone bondage. So they are known as Kallana or Kullana.

White Elephants

It is known as white elephants, though it is not white in colour, but it is slight reddish. This type of elephant is only seen in Burma and Thailand. White elephant is considered as the symbol of prosperity and purity. White elephants are only used for royal procession and not for other works. It is said that Trivandrum zoo and Burma Zoo contain one white elephant. Indra's Vehicle Airavata is a white elephant, mentioned in the Puranas.

Airavata is a four tusked elephant, who emerged from the primeval churning of the ocean by the gods and the anti-gods. According to another legend it was born from the egg shell from the right hand of Brahman. He and his mate Abhramu, guard the eastern quarter.[4]


Countries where African elephants are seen

Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkinafaso, Camaroon, Central African Republic of Congo, Coted Voire, Equational Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Bissaue, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mosambique, Nambia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Switzerland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbave, Burundi, The Gambia and Mauritania[5] Asian Elephants n Elephas maximus.

Countries where the Asian Elephants are seen

India, Srilanka (Myanmar), China, Nepal, Bhootan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Lavos, Indonasia, Kambodia, Vietnam, Malesia, Sambaha, Bornio.

In Asia, about 37,000 to 40,000 elephants are seen. It is considered that India contains 50% Asian elephants in the world. In Kamboochiya, Lavos and Vietnam the number of elephants are very low. The elephants are not seen in the countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Pakisthan, and Java.

The Indian elephants are taken first place in its beauty more than African elephants, even though the Asiatic elephants are very small in size; Light ash colour beautiful tusk, stout trunk etc are the peculiarities of Indian elephant. Especially North Indian elephants are most beautiful.

In India, elephants are found in Kerala, Thamilnadu, Karnataka, Orissa, Jarkhand, West Bengal, Bihar Assam, Arunachalpradesh, Meghalaya, Thripura, Manipur and Missoram.

Elephant Census - 2007

No. Elephant Reserve Total No.
1. Waynad 1240
2 Nilambur 663
3 Anamudi 2505
4 Periyar 1660

Famous Elephant Reserve in Kerala

Project Protected area and the forest division
Waynad Elephant Reserve 1 Waynad wild animal sanctuary
  2 Aralam wild animal sanctuary
  3 North Waynad forest sub division
  4 South Waynad forest sub division
  5 Kannur forest division
  6 Kozhikkode forest sub division
Nilambur Elephant 1 Silent Valley National Park
  2 Nilmabur North Forest division
  3 Nilambur South division
  4 Kozhikode forest division
  5 Palakkad forest division
Anamudi Elephant Reserve 1 Parambikkulam Elephant Sanctuary
  2 Peechi Elephant Sanctuary
  3 Chimmeni Elephant Sanctuary
  4 Thattekkad Elephant Sanctuary
  5 Chinnar Elephant Sanctuary
  6 Iravikkulam National Park
  7 Idukki Elephant Sanctuary
  8 Nemmara forest division
  9 Chalakkudi forest division
  10 Thrissur forest division
  11 Vazhachal forest division
  12 Munnar forest division
  13 Malayattur forest division
  14 Kottamangalam forest division
  15 Mankulam forest division
Periyar Elephant Reserve 1 Periyar Tiger Reserve
  2 Senthuruni Elephant Reserve
  3 Thiruvananthapuram Elephant Reserve
  4 Kottayam forest division
  5 Ranni forest division
  6 Konni forest division
  7 Acchankovil forest division
  8 Punalur forest division
  9 Thenmala forest division
  10 Thiruvananthapuram forest division
  11 Agastyavanam Biological park special division

Famous Elephants now seen in Kerala

About 40 Elephants are the most famous in Kerala.

They are:

  1. Guruvayur Padmanabhan
  2. Thechikkottukavu Ganapati
  3. Mangalamkunnu Ganapati
  4. Pambadi Rajan
  5. Thiruvambadi Shivashankaran
  6. Mangalamkunnu Karnan
  7. Bastyan Vinaya Shankar
  8. Erattupetta Ayyappan
  9. Ezhuthacchan Shrinivasan
  10. Malayaliappuzha Rajan
  11. Kodungallur Gireeshan
  12. Mangalamkunnu Ayyappan
  13. Guruvayur Valiyakeshavan
  14. Kuttamkulangara Ramadasan
  15. Thirunakkara Shivan
  16. Thrikkatavoor Shivaraju
  17. Puthankulam Ananthapadmanabhan
  18. Shenayi Chandrashekaharan
  19. Kuttamkulangara Arjunan
  20. Chirakkal Kalidasan
  21. Pallathamkulangara Gireeshan
  22. Poothrikkovil Ganapathi
  23. Adiyatt Ayyappan
  24. Chirakkal Mahadevan
  25. Puthankulam Mahadevan
  26. Paramekkavu Padmanabhan
  27. Thadathavilia Suresh
  28. Kongad Kuttishankaran
  29. Cheruppulashshery Parthan
  30. Thrippayar Ramachandran
  31. Thiruvullakkavu Manikandan
  32. Manishshery Raghu Ram
  33. Deepu Koduman
  34. Iringappuram Prakash Shankar
  35. Thiruvanikkavu Jayaram Kannan
  36. Iringolkkavu Lakshmi
  37. Poomulli Prithvi Raj
  38. Oottoli Rajashekharan
  39. Chullipparambil Vishnusharman
  40. Kiran Narayanankutty and
  41. Koduman Kannan.

Synonyms of Elephants

Elephants have several synonyms. viz.Gaja, Garja, Matanga, Matangaja, Mahamriga, Mahakaya, Mahavrinda, Hasti, Hastihayana, Shastihayana, Pushkari, Ibha, Danti, Dantavala, Dantabala, Stamberama, Samootbhava, Sammada, Sindhura, Samaja, Kushi, Kumbhi, Kunjara, Kumabhu, Kapi, Kari, Karati, Kalabha, Mushkari, Dvira, Dvirada, Dviradana, Dvipa, Varana, Bhadra, Nagam Naka, Asura, Anepaka, Dhrumari, Shurpakarna, Shundala, Padmi, Pundrakeli, Ashtaprahari, Vishani.

Cow elephant’s synonyms

Hastini, Padmini, Matangi, Vasha, Vasita, Dhenuka, Ibhi, Karenu and Karini etc. are the synonyms of Elephant

General characteristics of Elephants

An elephant has a short, muscular neck and enormous head with huge, triangular ears. The trunk extends from the upper jaw at the base of the trunk. It consists of a strong flexible, boneless mass of flesh. An elephant breathe and smells with its trunk and it use while eating, drinking and sniffing. It carries food and water to its mouth using the trunk. And adult elephant's trunk can hold about 11/2 gallons (6 liters) of water. Elephant grasps object with its trunk, and it can carry a log weighing as much as 600 pounds (272 kg). It is a formidable weapon.

Elephants' tail is small in relation to the rest of the body. It measures about 31/2feet (1 meter) long. The tail ends in a large tuft of hair. Hair grows from both sides of the tail.

Tusk is a noticeable part in elephant body. It is actually modified upper incisors and they grow continuously. Tusks are crept when the animal is one year old. They use their tusks to dig for food and to fight. The tusks can lift and carry a load weighting as much as one short on. The new born baby has milk tusks, and it will fall hour before it becomes two years old. Permanent tusks replace them and continue to grow throughout the animal's life.

The legs of an elephant are pillar like structures. The feet are nearly round. Foot expands under the elephants weight and contracts when the animal lefts the leg. There are four or five hoof like nails on the front foot and three on the hind foot.

Elephant's trunk provides a keen sense smell, and they depend on this sense more than on any other. They frequently wave their trunks high in the air to catch the scent of food or enemies. An elephant can smell a human being more than a mile (1.6 km) away.

They have also good hearing. Their huge ears pick up sounds of other animals from as far as two miles away. It hears the sound very curiosity; its ears stand straight out.

Elephant's sense of touch is in the sensitive tip of its trunk. An elephant can recognize the shape of an object and determine whether the object is rough or smooth and hot or cold.

Unfortunately elephants have poor eyesight, and are colorblind. Their eyes are small in relation to the enormous head and it can't turn its head completely, so it can see only the front and to the sides.

Compared to other animals they have a highly developed brain and they rank high in intelligence. An elephant can learn to perform a variety of tasks and tricks if commands and signals are repeated over again. Younger elephants can be trained easily, but they can't do heavy works.

Elephants’ Life

Most elephants live in herds and it consist of a number of several adult and their young ones, and the herds leads an old elephant cow-called 'matriarch'[6]

Wild elephants eat about 650 pounds (295 kg) food daily and drinking water 70-90 liters per day


Musth is associated with the elephant's mating period. However, elephants also mate when they are not in musth. Musth is not a disease but it is only a process which occures in the temporal glands flowing water, with odoor; which will attracts cow-elephants; the musth odoor caused by phenoms.

Conception and Purturation

The cow-elephants show its musth in 13 years old; if it has provided best food and treatment and then the cow-elephants became sexual growth. Their menstrual time is approxiamately 15-16 weeks (after 4 months). They copulate in musted time. Conception time is 18-30 years. The purturation period gaped in after 4 years 50-55 years is considered the menopause time. The conception period is 20-22 months. Tuskers show its sexual activities in 17-18 years but the reproductive capacity is calculated in 20-30 years. The purturation of cow elephant is same like human beings. Delivery time may be night and the pain lasts about 1or 2 hours. After delivery mother cleans its baby. There will be as a nurse among them for helping.

Importance of elephants

In ancient times elephants are considered as the chief of all pleasant beasts to ride. They are extremely strong and high intelligent. People have tamed and trained them before thousands of years ago. The logging industry uses elephants to carry heavy loads. People throughout the world enjoy watching elephants in circus, movies and zoos. Trained circus elephants stand on their heads, lie down and roll over, dance and perform other tricks. In ancient times they were used for warfare. Elephant's success in an expedition depends upon the numbers of the brave and wellequipped elephants led by able mahouts. Now it is used as a trim in the temple festival and as an inevitable component of timber industry. Man uses them only for his economical achievements. Now they are considered as a symbol of wealth and status.

Elephants are considered as an indispensable part of the army. It is a royal sign. Elephant is considered as the symbol of war and peace.[7] In ancient time elephants are considered only as wild animals, while now-adays they are considered as a domestic animal. They are favorite royal mount in the sixth and seventh century B.C. The Epic Mythology mentions that elephants are always good in fighting against evil demons.

The first deity to be worshipped at Kailash is Ganesha, goddess Lakshmi/Gajalakshmi is considered as traditional place the threshold of shrine. Two tuskers raise their trunks above the goddess and shower her with water. Gajalakshmi of the elephants is unicorn of fertility, one of the most fundamental images of Hindu tradition.

Importance of Elephants indicated by symbols

Government of Kerala, Karnataka, Orissa and Jarkhand are issused as the emblem of Elephant. Delhi University is also used as the symbol of Elephant. Elephant is symbolised on postal stamp in India and abroad. Hyder Ali's army also contains elephant's symbol. Elephant and arrows are the symbol of Chera Kings; Elephant is used for war and magnifies in ancient times. Decorated elephants are used for festive occasions, religious matters, and government programmes. In ancient times elephants are considered as the chief of all pleasant beasts to ride. They are extremely strong and intelligent.

At the time of British rule development elephants are used for forest journey and for carry wood. Now-a-days also the tourists and timber industries are depending upon elephants. The most famous Thrissurpooram have also elephants take an important role.


It is believed that the Ashtadiggajas are protecting eight directions. The eight diggajas are

  1. Airavata,
  2. Pundarika,
  3. Vamana,
  4. Kumuda,
  5. Anjana,
  6. Pushpadanta,
  7. Sarvabhoumo and
  8. Supratika.

According to Hindu purana, diggajas are the pillars of the universe sky and cloud. They are also protecting their wives. Their wives name are-

  1. Abhramu,
  2. Kapila,
  3. Pingala,
  4. Anupama,
  5. Tamrakarni,
  6. Shubhradanti,
  7. Angana and
  8. Anjanavati.

Indian mythology attaches great importance of elephants. Divine elephants are mythological guardians of the quarters.[8] The Ashtadiggajas are known as 'Ashtadigpalakas' in Sanskrit. They protected the right dishas or areas.

Ashtadiggajas and their protected areas

No. Direction Tuskers Ashtaidggajas Cow-elephant (Karin is)
1. East Airavata Abhramau
2. South east Pundarikan Kapila
3. South Vamanan Pingala
4. South west Kumudan Anupama
5. West Anjanan Tamrakarni
6. North west Pushpadantan Shubhradanti
7. North Sarvabhauman Angana
8. North east Supratikan Anjanavati

God Ganesha is depicted as having an elephant face, and he is worshipped to avoid in-auspiciousness. Even now the sight of an elephant is auspicious to a typical Indian mind. According to the ancient Indian thought elephants are considered as the important constituent of the army and strength of the army.

Arthashastra mentions this:—“hastyashvarathapadatam anekamukhyam ca avastapayet”

Elephants in arts and literature

In the contemporary era elephant take much more importance.

Elephants are depicted in Ramayana, Mahabhagavata, Agnipurana, Brihatsamhita, Brahamapurana, Arthashastra, Pancatantra stories, Jataka stories, Amarakosha, Kamparamayana, Sanghasahityakritikal etc. Hastyayurveda is most famous in all times.

Significance of Elephant in Malayalam stories and poems

S.K. Pottakkads' Shikkari, indicates the story about Bush, the elephant catcher. M.R. Vasudevan Nair's Varikkuzhi, narrated the pit's fallen elephants and human beings story. Sugathakumari's Ana, C.Radhakrishnan's 'Madam', N.V. Krishna Varier's Anakkaran, Kottarathil Shankunni's Aithihyamala, Vaikkam Muhammed Basheer, Karur Nilakanthan, Kunhunni Master and Mahakavi Olappamanna have written about elephants. Elephants are mentioned in Bible Quran and Bhagavatam.

Project Elephant Scheme

For Elephants dwelling system make secured and for procreation improvement project elephant scheme is begins in 1991-1992. This scheme is undertaken by the Wild Life Trust of India. According to this project census 20, 150 wild elephants are found in India.

This project aims at

1. To assured improved shelters, plenty of trees, grass land, water and food available for elephants.

2. Protect the villagers from wild elephants and to protect their farm and other wealth, and if they lose their wealth; they (the village folk) must provide the compensation.

3. Protect the elephant from killing and stealing of ivory.

4. If any burden elephants must be catch and keep as domestic animal other wise it must send to the forest.

5. Domesticated elephant should be protected and mahouts should be trained and experienced.

6. Elephant's diseases and its treatments care best management given to it and to encourage elephantological based research.

7. Elephants dwelling systems are care well. An elephant corridor is to prepare for its easily travel.

Wild Elephants in Kerala until 2007 survey

Year Elephant Numbers
1979 2572
1983 2865
1990 3645
1993 4286
1997 5737
2002 6939
2005 5135
2007 6068


For recognizing elephants, its ears back have fitting an electronic product which is known as microchip or transponder. It contains Alfa numerical Number (10 digits) sized only as a paddy grain. This chip is remaining still the life time of an elephant and it can't to erase or rewrite.

It is does not adversely bad to elephant. Until 30-06-2009, In Kerala 702 domestic elephants avail Microchipping.[9]

Heriditary animal

Elephant is considered as a heriditary animal of India. This opposition is awarded to this animal for considering the relation with the country, because India is rich by its own cultural and religious values. The elephant is protected from torment by this position (heriditary animal).[10]


In short, even though studies of Elephantology gave much importance of the mind of ancient Indian peoples. Now-a-days also this science got much more important place with as a whole or separately, comprehensive study covering all the subjects based on Sanskrit literature alone is perhaps being done for the first time.

Footnotes and references:


Gajashastra Siddharth Yeswanth Wakankar, Introduction-1-2.


Hastyayurveda: Maharogasthana, 1.211.12.


Gajashastra. 18.2.6.


The Ramayana of Valmiki, Plal, Uttarakanda, Glossary-164.


IUCN 2004 Report (IUCN=International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources)


Joy. M.S. Ana. 4.32


Sarvadaman Sigh, Ancient Indian Warfare (Ancient Indian Warfare), 4-78.


Amarakosha: Pradhamakanda, dvivarga, 113.


Ana Kazhachayude Kanappurangal. 6.161-162.


Malayala Manorama daily, 1.9.2010.

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