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 2 - Books on Elephants

Animal husbandry was one of the topics which has drawn attention from the vedic period itself. Among those animals elephants are depicted as the sign of wealth and prosperity of a country. Here an attempt is made to list those works where elephant has got additional care as a component of military force.


This Purana was narrated by Agnideva to Vasishtamuni. Some part of Agnipurana mentions a detailed description of animals, especially of elephants. Agnipurana describes the elephant treatment and gajashanti in detail. It also describes good characteristics, marks of elephants, capturing of elephants and the role of elephants in the army etc.


Kautilyas Arthashastra is the oldest book, depicting the hastivana and nagavana, the royal elephant reserves and stipules how elephants are to be cared after. Its second part deals with this science (elephant science) in detail. It contains 48 chapters known as prakaranas. Its 20th and 48th prakaranas give some details of elephants. It describes the protection of elephants, expedition, different category of elephants etc. in detail. In the 48th prakarana of Arthashastra known as hastyadhyaksha explains the topics like the duty of mahouts, elephants abode, their movement, exercise and characteristics.


Vagbhata is the author ofAshtangahridaya is the most popular and authoritative treatise on Ayurveda.

It describes the merits and defects of milk, curd, butter and urine of the elephant as follows:—

madhuram hastinikshiram vrishyam guru kashayaka
snigdam stairyakaram shitam cakshushyam balavardhamam

Curd from milk of elephant cow provides beauty and is indigestable, increasing body heat and decreasing cough. The elephant ghee causes constipation and affects bile causing cough and destroys worms. Elephant urine helps to decrease vomiting, cough, worms, leprosy and wind. The mushroom born from elephant dung is a good medicine for polio.


Varahamihiracarya, the author of Brihatsamhita has devoted two separate chapters for showing the characteristic marks of elephants. In its second portion Varahamihira depicts the characteristic marks of elephants and movement of them in detail. The description of musthflud of the elephant shows good and bad characteristic etc. are seen in his Brihatsamhita.

The good characteristic mark of elephant is described as follows:

tam roshta talu vadanah kalavinganetrah
snigdonnatagradashanah pridulayatasyah
caponnatayataniguda nimagna vamsha
stanvuekaromacita kurmasamana kumbhah
vistirna karnahanunabhilala dagrihyah
kurmonnata dvinavavimshatibhirnakhaishca
rekhatrayopacita vrithakarah suvala
dhanyah sugandhi madapushkaramarutashca

Bhagavata Purana[7]

Bhagavatapurana deals with elephant omen, which is the belief good omens. Before we begin with anything the sight of an elephant is considered a good omen. Trijata dreamt of an elephant carrying Rama. This is believed to be a good omen for Rama in his struggle for victory. The dream of Gaudama Buddhas mother reflects worth note before his birth. In this case the elephant indicates the birth of an exceptionally brilliant child. It is only a belief, so it is the defect of this omen.


Carakasamhita explains that an elephant parts or most of its limbs have medicinal value. This topic explains elephant's different body parts and such body parts used for preparing medicines in various diseases. eg. Caraka recommends an ointment made from elephant bone and neem, which is used for curing piles and helps to prevent bleeding and is also used as a poison detector and penis as an apbrodisiac.

danti shyamamritasangah paravatashangudah
pralepah syatangajasthini nimbo bhallatakanica


Narayanadikshita is the author of Gajagrahanaprakara, who narrates different method of catching elephants and their training. The work is known as Gaja-grahana-prakara, but the last verse suggests the name of the work as Gajasamgrahana-prakara of Narayana Dikshita indicates the author's name, which shows below:

iti gajasamgrahana kalaprakara esha kshamatale jiyat
narayanena dikshitavarena racita sureshanodaya

The work contains 881 verses in, Arya metre and is divided into five chapters called Ashvasas.

The first ashvasa includes 29 verses, which describes the role of the elephants as auspicious animals, useful for work and protection from war.

The second ashvasa contains 363 verses describes the method of low catching the elephants.

The third chapter depicts the places of regions were and regions were elephants are found.

The fourth chapter contains 241 verses dealing with the training of the captured elephants and the last chapter describes exhibition of the elephants conducted every year for evaluating their worth for entertainment and instruction of the public. This work elaborately describes the methods of capturing and training of the wild elephants.

Gajagrahanaprakara is a metrical work dealing with the catching and training of elephants.


This text refers to the prakriti (natural) treatment of elephants. It is written in Malayalam in three Sargas. It describes in catching, training and treating of elephants. This work is done by Puthumana Pushpakathu Shankaran Nambiar.


Pālakāpyamuni is the author of Gajaśāstra. Gajaśāstra contains 10 chapters named prakaraṇās. The text begins with the history of Pālakāpya. Origin of elephants, characteristics of various elephants, capturing, training, good and bad characteristic marks, their must, age, elephant treatment construction of elephant stall etc. are described in this book.

Narrative of the good marks of battlefield elephant is the notable fact in this text.

adityasyanalasyapi savarno yasya cakshushi
sa eva varano rajan samareshu jayavahah

Dr. Siddharth Yeshwant Wakankar, edited Gajaśāstram. This book deals with topics like Pālakāpyotpatti kathanam, diggajotpatti kathanam, diggaja śāpānugraha kathanam, Gajavana nirūpaṇam, Kālīyagajalakṣaṇa nirūpaṇam (which describes the different stages of elephants), Varṇagajalakṣaṇam, Deśabheda gajalakṣaṇa nirūpaṇam, Gajagrahaṇa prakāra kathanam, Gajajātilakṣaṇa nirūpaṇam, Amśagajalakṣaṇa nirūpaṇam, Superiorelephants, Gajabalasatva nirūpaṇam, Sātvika guṇa nirūpaṇam, Gajajati lakṣaṇa nirūpaṇam, etc.


Narada Gajashiksha is attributed to sage Narada. It contains nine chapters named patalas. The first patala describes how sage Narada visited the court of Indra and how on the request of the latter Narada proceeded to teach him the gajashiksha. It contains 28 verses. This patala also deals with the mythological origin of elephants. Elephants are created by Brahman by singing Samaveda. At first they had wings and used to bring unexpected damage to the world. So God made them incapable of flying in the air and thus they became the largest intelligent and beautiful animals; on the land.

The second patala contains 104 verses that describe the characteristics of twenty eight varieties of elephants. They are categorized as gods, semi-gods and human beings. They are again classified as high class; middle class and low class.

The catching method is described in23 verses of the third patala. For this purpose, the places where the good varieties are found in India.

The fourth chapter deals captivity of the elephants and good omense.

The fifth chapter contains 73 verses, which depicts the four methods of catching elephants.

Sixth patala mentions the methods of bringing elephants the city of the king and the qualities of the mahouts are described here in 13 verses. This is the shortest patala in Gajashastra.

The construction of abodes is described in the seventh patala in 28 verses. Various types of stalls for animals and the quarters for the mahouts are elaborately described here. The topic is very unique and are seldom described in other texts.

Eighth patala includes 20 verses, describing the different traits features and behaviour of elephants.

The ninth and last patala is the last chapter in Gajashastra. It contains 105 verses, giving an account of details regarding various age groups of elephants. Various training methods are described in Gajashastra.

This text contains totally 447 verses. Gajashastra describes the 26 types of elephants found all over the world. Five types of trainings are described in Gajashastra. They are prarambhashiksha, khelanashiksha, dhavanashiksha, ekalghadishiksha and dvighadishiksha.[16]


Sage Palakapya is the author of Hastyayurveda. So the work is also known as Palakapyam. Hastyayurveda is an earliest treatise, which deals with elephants disease and medicines. Sage Palakapya has elaborately furnished personal details in his work. A commentary on Hastyayurveda is available, which is translated and published by Vaidyamadom Ceriya Narayanan Namboodiri.


Indian medicine not only deals with the treatment of human beings but also animals As Hastyayurveda & Matangalila also deal with the diseases of elephants.

Matangalila is the best and known Sanskrit work on elephant science, by Nilakantha. Hastyayurveda is a majestic and exclusively spreading work, so it is out of reach for common people, that may be the reason for Matangalila to originate.

For about 400 years, before no other commentaries are arise on Matangalila. After that, Mahakavi Vallathol wrote a commentary on Matangalila.[19] Then after available an ‘Arthavedi’ translation on Matangalila by Brahmashri Ceruvalli Narayanan Namboodiri.[20]


Sri Someshvarabhupati is the author of Manasollasa. In its first part many topics connected with elephants are mentioned. The characteristics of elephants, caputre of elephants, favourable marks, various trainings, the treatments and the medicinal dictionary related to elephant diseases etc. are described in it. The last one is a notable chapter because it is only found in Manasollasa.


In the sutrasthana’s of Sushrutasamhita, Sushruta states that the milk, curd, butter, urine and flesh of the elephant is suitable to the uses of man.

The milk of a she-elephant is sweet and astringent and is spermato poetic heavy, demulucent, cooling and tonic and also, invigorates the eye sight.

Curd of an elephant - is light indigestion; subdues cough and increases fecal condition.

Butter of an elephant cow brings suppression of constipation and stomachic and derangement of cough.

Elephant urine subduse wind and enrages bile. It is used in the treatment of leucoderma and in the preparation of alkalies.

Elephant flesh destroys the wind and cough.

Ancient Indian Warfare[23]

Ancient Indian Warfare deals a chapter on elephants. It describes the history of wild beasts especially elephants. The author explains various types of elephants and how they are used for war.

Among Tigers and Tuskers[24]

Ramesh Bedi is the author of this book. It describes elephants in its one portion. The subject matter of this work includes various elephants in the wild, roughs and killers' forms and some unnatural diseases and miracular escape.

Dangerous to Man[25]

Rogar A. Carus is the author of Dangerous to man. It describes the difference between Asian and African elephants and the use of elephants in their age, and stages of life etc.

Domestic Animals[26]

Dr. D.R. Bhandarkar is the author of this work. This text gives short information about Palakapyam (Palakapya). It describes that Hastyayurveda was published as early as 1894. King Romapada mentioned as the mythical contemporary of Dasharatha famed in Ramayana. So that Hastyayurveda is claimed to be belonging to the stages of 5th or 6th century B.C. S.K. De mentions that the name Palakapya is derived thus–the sage Samagayana named his son Pala and the rest of the name Kapya is his house name and it became Palakapya.

Elephant lord of the Jungle[27]

Ramesh Bedi has also written a book on elephants named Elephant lord of the jungle. It depicts the matting habit of elephants, elephant and the glory, the hazards of hunting, state of must in disease and service, expectation of life, telling age last resting place, elephant against man, love of young, capture and training, feeding in trade and commerce etc.

Elephas Maximus

Stephen after attributed a book on elephant named Elephas maximus. It contains ten chapters deals the topics like winter sanctuary, elephants origin, questions of captivity, gajasutra, power and pomp. etc.

Epic Mythology[28]

Epic mythology describes the four types of elephants and their ancestors. This work deals with the divine elephants such as diggajas, disha-gajas, dingnagas, dig-varanas etc. This chapter depicts how elephants help a King in battle. For eg. protective elephants are always good in fighting against evil demons.

India’s Wild Life and Wild Life Reserves[29]

B. Seshadri describes the character of elephants, their must, food and such other peculiarities.

The Elephant-lore of the Hindus[30]

F. Edgerton his translated the work on elephant science on Matangalila. It consists of twelve chapters. It was translated in 1931. It depicts the elephant science in detail.


M.S. Joy is the author of the work named Ana in Malayalam. He mentions all the matters connected with elephants. The myth on elephant’s origin is described in its preface. He explains the creation of elephants in the marvelous birth of Palakapya, the major group of elephants; like Ayiravata Pundarika and Ashtadiggajas etc. It also depicts how the elephant had lost their wings and how they reached the earth etc. These facts are elaborately described in this text. How the elephant had got various names etc.are also described. Then he explains the various castes of elephants, their characteristics, food, watering, the ancestors of elephant, their must, mating, reproduction life span, catching, training, diseases, preservation of medicines; elephant drivers (Mahouts) etc. The ancestors lived before ten lakh decades, they are Dinotiriyan, Moritiriyam, Gomofoteris, Mastodone, Stegodone and Mamath.[32]

Anaye Ariyan[33]

Dr. T.P. Sethumadhavan is the author of this text. It describes the origin, characteristic marks, differencialities and peculiarities of elephants, protection of kids, mahouts, must, prestriation, treatment, diseases, elephant market. Thailand elephants, keeping of elephants, African and Asian elephants etc. It also describes that in Kerala, Guruvayur Devaswam had found more elephants. There, the Punnatturkotta is the abode of them.


J.H. Villiams, in his work Atharvaveda, describes his experiences with elephants. He categorises the four kinds of elephants such as IndoBurman elephants, Zelories elephants, Malayalam and Sumatran elephants. Four of them have no marked differences. Asian cowelephant’s have no tusks. Zelone cow and bulls have no tusks. The author tusk less bull is known as ‘Makhnas’. He describes the method of catching, preservation and characteristics, elephant drivers etc. in detail. This treatise also deals how the wild elephants lead their life. Their delivery time is considered the middle age of March to May. Their pregnancy period is 20-22 months. The delivery period is a festival according to them. During this time, a group of elephants would surround and protected the pregnant cow At the time of parturation a lot of wild elephants detach from her. The herds accompany her and give protection. After the delivery the kids begins to rise and walk alone. Other elephants help the kid for lactation. In forest the kid accesses to walk with others.

Elephant’s old age is very lamentable. At the end of its life he goes alone to the forest. The rest of his life is spent there. Realising his uselessness he trances away.[35]

Anakadhayum Karyavum

Kerala Agricultural University published a book on elephant, Ana kadhayum karyavum authored by Dr.K.C.Panicker. It explains the category of elephants, (their physical specialities) anatomy capturing methods, training, fooding, reproduction, diseases and treatments, elephant and human relation.

According to Dr.K.C.Panicker in this world more than 350 elephant categories are found in ancient period. Now-a-days, seen only to kinds of elephants in the world African elephants and Asian elephants.

According to him the elephants age goes in to its decay, for eg. It’s tusk is a valuable thing, so human beings killing them for their economical achievements.

Nammude Vamangalam Vanyajivikalum[36]

Arakkal Hassankutty is the author of this work. He refers that the elephant take very important place in the world. For instance elephant is the official animal of Kerala. The text explains that there are two kinds of elephant race in the world. It further states that the elephants live with family in forest. Each group includes 50 to 80 members. The newly caught elephants to tame are protected in the places like Nilambur, Waynad, Parambikkulam, Malayattur and Konni. In Mysore, the catching method is known as ‘Kheddha’. The catching period in Kerala is

December to April. The fallen elephant (in the elephant pit) must be raised before 24 hours from the time of their falling and after reaching the land it must be watered. Its body should be frequently made wet. The newly caught elephant needs more attention.


Valarttumrigangal describes the general characteristics of elephants. The author of this work is Harbans Singh. One chapter of this book explains elephant’s various habits such as food, training, abodes, general diseases, preservation etc. It states that elephants are usually seen in forest of India, Shrilanka, Burma (Myanmar), Island of Malaya, Sumatro and Bornio.

Harbansising is the author of this book.

Vanyajiviparipalanam (Vanyajiviparipalana)

V.C. Sadashivan is the author of this work. It indicates about the elephant race and their food, various types of elephants, their peculiarities etc. It states that Indian elephant–cow had not tusks, it had trunk only. The trunk grows in to two-meter length. Their height and weight are 3.20 meter and 5 ton respectively. Wild elephants are mostly seen in the in the Periyar, Tiger Reserve at Thekkadi.

Elephant welfare association published some Malayalam books on elephant edited by Dr.K.C.Panicker viz Madam anakalil, Surakshitamaya Anaezhunnallippu engine Sadhyamakkam, Gajaparipalanam Prasnangalum Pariharangalum, Nattanakal Paripalanavum) Prashnangalum etc. And some other works undertaken this association edited by Dr.G. Ajithkumar and Dr.T.P. Sethumadhavan, which named Kshayarogam Anakalil, and Anayum Pappanum compiled by Dr. Ajithkumar, Dr. T.P. Sethumadavan, Dr. K.c. Panicker, Dr. P.C. Alex & Dr.E.K. Easwaran.

Hari Hara Caturanga[38]

Hari Hara Caturanga of Godavarma mishra, a court poet of Prataparudragajapati (1491-1551) enumerates the matters connected with the elephants, such as elephant–chariot, archery, tactic with the elephants etc. The first chapter of this work consists of 313 verses describing various aspects of elephant science.

According to HindKesarishastri, there are same works connected with this shastra, it is available in the Tanjavur Library.

Both Shukracaryas Shukraniti, Bhojas Yuktikalpataru and the authors like Vaishampayanalomapada and Mrigasharma are describe of tje same topics about elephants.


It is an unpublished work on elephant. Dr. N.V.P. Unithiri has edited this. The work gives much detail about elephants and their diseases and treatments.

Saraswati Sushama[40]

Saraswati Sushama is a journal, which depicts a lot of descriptions about elephants and the sources of elephant science. S.S describes the two elephant class, descriptions to Hastyayurveda, derivation of the name Palakapya ancient sources on elephants. Some diseases like pakala and panduroga and the utility of elephant is describing are added in this journal.

Other Books on Elephants:

There are some other Books on Elephants viz., Elephant Memories by Cynthiamoss, Elephants by Richard Carrigton, Elephants and their Disease by G.H. Evans, Hastividyarnava by Dr. Pratap Chandra Choudhary, Gajapalana by Pumulli Narayanan Namboodirippad, Elephants by K.C. Panikker, Gajaparipalanam by Dr. Girinadhan Nair, Paramakkavu Shriparameshvara, Shri Matangalilabhashya, Techniques and Procedure for Postmortem of Elephants, etc.

Among these books Hastividyarnava and Shri Matangalilabhashya by K.C. Kunjunni Ezhuthacchan are not available. The Hastividyarnava, is an ancient Assamies text on Gajashastra, compares the cosmos to an elephants-tusk. According to K.C. Panicker, Books on Elephants (Gajavinjanagrandha) is less in less in India. Hastyayurveda, Matangalila, Gajashastra etc. are the famous works on elephants. These are describes all matters connected with elephants.


There are some manuscripts available on Elephant Science. Matangalila, Matangalilabhashya, Gajashastra and Gajacikitsa. Among this Gajacikitsa is an unpublished manuscript. It describes the matters connected with the treatments on elephants.

Footnotes and references:


Hariharandha Saraswathi Agnipurana (Malayalam). Dronacharya Publications. Kozhikode.


Kautilyas ASh (Part II) Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. 1991.


Kaikkulangara Ramavariyer. Sampoorna Ashtanangahridayam (Ashtanga hridaya) Vol.2. Sultha Printers. Thrissur. 1997.


Ashtanga hridaya S.S. CV. 3.27.


Varahamihira. Brihatsamhita. Varanaseyasanskriti Vishwavidyalaya. Varanasi. 1890.


Varahamihira B.S. 66. 6-7.731.


S.S. Dange Bhagavatapurana. Ajanta Publications. Delhi.1984.


P.V. Sharma. Carakasamhita. Text with English Translation. Chaukhambha Orientalia Varanasi. Delhi. 1981.


Carakasamhita. CXIV. 55-231.


Narayana Dikshhita. Gajagrahanaprakara. Shri Venkateshwara University Oriental Research Institute. Thiruppati. 1968.


Gajagrahanaprakara. C.V. CC2 (881). 88.


Shankaran Nambiyar Puthumana Pushpakath.Gajarakshatantram GT. Mangalodayam Company. Kerala Kalpadruma Publication.


Palakapyamuni. Gajashastra. T.M.S.S.M. Library. Tanjore. 1958.


Palakapyamimi. Gajashastram (Gajashastra). TMSMM Library. Thanjore. 1958.


Naradamuni. Gajashiksha. Shri. Venkateshwara University Oriental Research Institute. Tirupati. 1975.


Gajashiksha Vyaktitippani. page No.79-81.


Palakapya. Hastyayurveda. Anandashrama Mudranalaya. 1894.


Nilakantha Matangalila. Govt. Press. Trivandrum. 1942.


Vallathol. Matangalila. Priyadarsini Printers. Cheruthuruthy. 1981


Ceruvalli Narayanan Namboodiri. Matangalila. Devibooks. Kodungallur.2005.


Gajanan K. Shrigondekar. Manasollasa. Curator of Libraries. Baroda. 1925.


Kaviraja Kunjalal bhishaggranta. S.S. Cosmo Publications. New Delh. 2006.


Sarva Daman Singh Ancient Indian Warfare. Motilal Banarsidas Delhi.


Remesh Bedi Among tigers and tuskers. National Book Trust India. 2000.


Roger A. Caras Dangerous to man. London. N5IRX. 1976.


Harban Singh. Domestic animals. National Books. India–1973.


Ramesh Bedi. Elephant lord of the Jungle. National Book Trust India. 1969.


Washburn Hopkins. Elephus maxim. Motilal Banarsidas. Delhi. 1915.


B. Seshadri. India's Wild life and Wild life Reserves. New Delhi. 1986.


Franklin Edgerton. ELH. Motilal Banarsidas. Delhi. 1931.


Joy M.S. Ana. Geoprinters. Trivandrum. 1992.


Ibid. 1-20.


Sethumadhavan. TP. AA. Current books. Kottayam. 2004.


Villiams. J.H. Anavilliam. Industrial School Press Ernakulam. 1959. 109.


Ibid. 25.


Arakkal Hassankutty. N.V.V.National Books. Kottayam. 1964.


Harbansing. Valarttumrigangal. New Delhi. 1973.


The present writer does not see the work. The reference to the same is obtained from this book Saraswati Sushama.


Unithiri N.V.P. K.R. Calicut University.


Vagishashastri. Sushrutasamhita 55. Varanasi. 1972.

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