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 5 - The Life-cycles of Elephants

The life-cycle of an elephant can shed some insights into their physical and psychological process. Elephant's life-cycle is no binding by rules and it is broken up in to three main divisions. These divisions are based on the group of experiences and changes that occur in the different phases of development in the life of an elephant.

The life-cycle is divided into three viz. Baby, Adolescent and Adult.

1. Baby

The life-cycle of baby describes the physical appearance of the new born calf and its dependency on others in the herd for survival. After being in the mother’s womb for about 22 months the calves have a great deal to learn. The earliest calves are born about two months before the rains appear with fresh growth.

The new-born may consume 12 liters of milk a day.[1] It is believed that the domestic elephant calf drink mothers milk up to the age of four.

The new born baby is seemed as slight reddish gray colour. Its body seemed to wrinkly, and hairy. The new born enters this world at an incredible mass of 77-133 kg with a height of about 91 cm. The brain of new-born elephants are 30-40% of size that of an adult. The young calves are tended not only by their mother’s but also by other females of the herd.

There are many eye witness accounts of the females in the herd gathering around to welcome the new-born. Within minute of the birth the mother and other females trumpet rumble and scream, oozing temporal secretions down the side of their faces. During this initial minute the mother also attempts to help the new-born rise to its feet. This is a matter of survival since the new-born must stand to drink its mothers milk without this necessary food, the calf is sure to perish.

The relationship and social contact allow the young elephants to successfully reach other stages in life-cycles. Infancy is not only an important time for young calves, but also for the young mothers-to be. It is through the close interaction and relationship between the two that allows the young females to develop necessary skills required for motherhood. However, first time, mothers can be very difficult to manage with their babies and depending on their experiences to play a role in preventing the calf from feeding.

The infancy life-cycle of an elephant is not a brief period. Young elephants are started on the process of weanling in their first year of life and may continue to be weaned until their tenth years or until another baby is born. But generally it is stated that the babies are weaned until their second year. This prolonged dependency period is worthless to the elephant. As a minimum, the African elephant calf is entirely depending on the infant's mother for three to five years.

Due to a calf’s fairly undeveloped brain, the elephant is very much like a blank slate which must be shaped over the upcoming years. The elephant is quite similar to the human and may of the other great apes in this one particular way, a great deal of brain development goes on out side of the womb. Amazingly this opens worlds of possibility for complex learning, social development and the formation of culture. In this situation a species tends to rely less upon instinctual behaviours and more upon socially learned behaviour within each individual’s genetic boundary.

Also this stages of development lays the foundation for the caregivers to play a role in shaping the particular being growing up. The new born elephant is born with a minimal amount of ‘innate’ knowledge, For eg. despite a calf’s precocious nature, they lack the ability to use their trunk with any real skill. Hence as the calf grows and through experiences it will understand what it can do with its trunk paralleling a human baby learning how to walk. The young calf will within times comprehend that it is to be used as an extra hand to pick up it's, to scratch with, to drink with, and wash as well as many more tasks.

II Adolescent

The second stage is called adolescent. This stage briefly describes the sexual maturity that is achieved, as well as the phenomenon of herds being broken up and formed. The adolescent life-cycle means that the elephant is now ready to have its own baby and elephant may leave the hard for to find a new home.

III Adult

The adult life-cycle briefly describes the great similarities between the adult elephant and adult human, such as age-related illnesses. Taken together, these sections on the elephant life-cycles will provide fascinating information on the elephant. This can only further validate what amazing being they are!

Elephants begin mating at the age of 20 (twenty)

Female elephants have a long post-reproduction phase, similar to human menopause.

Diseases they suffer from are similar to man (humans) eg. They are prone to cardiovascular diseases and arthritis.

Elephants can live to be over 70 years. Some of the adulthood cycle experiences of an elephant are very similar to that of a human being. Both will continue to reproduce until mid-life; a cow typically produces a single calf and will have babies up to around fifty years old. The elephant also experiences post reproductive symptoms. In the case of females, they experience a long post-reproductive phase which is similar to human menopause.

The interval between births typically ranges between two and half to four years. This is primarily due to the elephants’ very long gestation period. It is not hard to understand why a mother and her family become so attached to the bay infant given the 22 months she carries it around. The faithful day is one filled with joy for the whole family. This includes family members crowding around the mother and her new-born greeting the other elephants with high temporal gland secretions streaming down the side of their faces, and of course urinating. An event that can only be described as true joy and celebration, each elephant shares in the excitement of the new-born that has joined the world.

The adult elephant also experiences similar adult human illness which is attributed to age. The elephant can suffer from cardiovascular problems, as well as suffering from the age related arthritis. Despite these age-related illnesses, the elephant can live a long natural life, it is not poached. But it is generally stated that the life span of an elephant is 120 years. During their long lives the female herds will continue to narrate their young ones; while the male herds roam great distances in search of female herds. They continue to be activating reproductively up to approximately, fifty years old. Their life span, as described by the section on teeth is limited to the fact that once their last tooth wears out they will essentially starve to death. It is possible for an elephant to live seventy years or more.

Elephants live in small family groups led by old females (cows) where food is plentiful, the groups join together. Most males live in bachelor herds apart from the cows. More bulls and cows both possess two glands that open between the eye and ear. Elephants of all ages and sexes secrete a fluid called temporion out of this orifice. Males however enter a must.

Adult elephants get sick easier, just like older humans. They also get slower and have a harder time moving.

The life-cycles of an elephant can give key insights in to their physical and intellectual process.

The life-cycle of an elephant has been broken up into three main divisions. These divisions are based on the multitude of experiences and changes that occur in the different phases of development in the life of an elephant.

Stages of development and various names of elephants

According to Gajashastra, the duration of elephant age is 120 years; and it is divided as follows-

In the first decade (1-10) they have separate names

  1. Bala
  2. Puncaka (Pashuka)
  3. Upasarpaka
  4. Barbarah
  5. Kalabha
  6. Naikarika
  7. Shishu
  8. Majjana
  9. Prabhava (dantaruna) and
  10. Cikka.

After ten years they are known as respectively

In the second stage Prota (colt), third stage Javana, IVth phase–Kalyana, V–Yodha, VI–Kshinita VIIManda (Arivarna), VIII–Shokamuka, IX–Purana X–Avasha, XI–Balahina and XII–Atyavasha.

1. Bala (Infact)

At first the new-born baby is called bala. It’s body is slight reddish colour, always like to sleep, very short trunk always like to drink mother’s milk these are their characteristics.

2. Puncaka or Pashuka

In the second stage the baby elephant is called Puncaka or Pashuka. It also seemed same colour of Bala. Its eyes seems to partially shut, it begins to eat the spring leaves and grass indisposed to drink milk mostly like sweety food, journey is orgastic, it likes to play.

3. Upasarpaka

At the third stage is known as Upasarpaka. At this period it is matured. Its nails, vidhu, joints, ear and sheaths and covering of the tusks and spotted on the breast and on the lobes of the ears on the head, its body filled with hairs, he begins to eat grass with firm rows of teeth, these are the signs of the third age.

At the fourth age, the elephant calf is known as barbarah. This year, its forehead and back are reddish in colour. Not like to drink mother's milk. Like to eat grass. Body is in stout. Small tusks are seen which described below:

4. Barbara

Vilaganishkosha vilohitah payodvit
prarohashandana khanastrinapriyah
Krishnantataluh prithulashcatushkaye
manak prarohat dashanohi barbarah

5 Kalabha

With hard, skin, sewing up of a wound, in the skull, thin hair, fond of mud, water and dust shows a very little sexual excitement, becomes angry controlled by a mahout, and also understand the commands, sensitive to pleasure and pain, tusks become prominent. In this stage, it is known as Kalabha.

6. Naikarika

In the sixth stage it is fairly marked with abundant spots on the ear lobes, temples, mouth comers both ear tips and its body is free from wrinkles, now it is called naikarika.

7. Shishu

Compact nails, soles, joints, proha, samdana cikka, pali, trunk and nail tips, eating with teeth showing well developed speed of limbs, with smooth fore legs and end of the trunk tips, is called Shishu.

8. Majjana

Nails, soles and joints are filled with wounds, eating slowly the soft grass with unstable rows of teeth (because it is dropping and become soft) always showing an unsteady gient, in this stage is named as Majjana.

9. Prabhava (Dantaruna)

With white eyed, walking behind the she elephant, handsome, smooth skinned, broad breasted, solid vulnerable points, strike vigorously these are the marks of the ninth stage and is known as Prabhava (dantarunah)

10. Cikka

Secreat the sperm, stout-limbed, errecting penis, strongly grown teeth, eating with relish, wishing pairs in the tenth stage he is known as cikka.

After ten year the elephant’s age is calculated as stages of dashakas

II Prota

In the second stage (11-20), it is called as prota (colt). At this time they are looked handsome with clearly developed joints in the forelegs, strenuous sensitive to pain, might in love, walking fastly, seemed yellow coloured (pale) surface of the tusks energetic etc. are the marks of this stage.

III Javama

At the third stage its ears, tongue, haunches and other body parts symmetrical according to its age, secrete the must fluid, with smooth hair and skin, locomotive eyes, handsome, bright, wish to kill, etc are the marks of the stage. Now it is called Javana.

IV Kalyana

In the fourth stage it appears slimy with the must fluid, he seemed to the best condition that is natural to him. He become mad and angried to the pairs, at this phase he is known as Kalyana or Yodha

V Yoadha

Sandana prabritipradesha vilasat
Sandrah karnakatakshayeshu sahaja
mayati ca shreshtatam
drang madyatya nimittameva muditah
Shurofti sarvamsaho
youdho nama sada madavilakatah
prapto dasham pancamim

When the elephant reached its fifth stage, then it is called yaudha.

VI Kshinita

The age of 51-60 is the sixth stage. At this time its body wrinkles crack open on the surface, decrease his sensation power, bodily humors spirit diminished, hair grows on, his tusks have fallen out these are the marks of the sixth stage and is named kshinita. (tired)

VII Manda

At the seventh stage he is known as Arivarna. In this stage they look like stiffy limbs rough skinned and fade in coloure.[4]

VIII Shokamuka

At the eight stage (71-80) they are known as Shokamukar. This time their body is fade highly and his wounds not heal quickly, the eye shyning decreased, marcescence the hairs, sensitive to sorrow and fear, walking alone, these are the signs of the eight phase. These shows that they are aged.

IX Purana

In the ninth decade they seemed sleeping always, teeth would be droping out, body movements, becomes slow, eating only soft foods, ugly in colour; these are the marks of the old age. At this stage he is called purana.

X Avasha

At the stage of (91-100) tenth, its ears, shoulders, tail and trunk hanging limbs and body, hairs fallen out, falling tusks, wasting away in flesh and strength with loose foot soles, hoof slippers, eating little, rough skin, faded eyes, vein covered body, evacuating and urinating with difficulty, worms filled nails etc are these stages mark. At this stage it is known as Vriddha or Avasha.

XI Balahina

At the eleventh stage (101-110) he looks like sleepy, always bield a tree for sleeping, dislike to eat, his tusk fall of, his four limbs are permanently weak. These are the characteristics of the 11th stage. In the decade the elephant is known as Balahina.

XII Atyavasha

At the age of 111-120 (Twelfth stage) he seems—

nicaishca mandam pramrishesca yaya-
?sdh shcalakarnabalah
prastabdagatrah paravanajasram
Sa dvadashim prapya dasham swapecca

Its trunks, ears and tail, swaying downward fore-and hind-limbs are stiff and he sleeps constantly. The age of up to 120 is considered as the last stage of an elephant. At this stage the elephant called Atyavashah.

Having performed many duties the elephant goes to heaven in his hundred and twenty year.

Elephant is considered as wild animal and the same as a domestic animal. To bringing the elephant from forest is a strenuous work. Next chapter introduce how to catch the wild elephants.

Footnotes and references:


Elephant. M.S. Joy. 8. 82.


Matangalila. 5.5. 29.


Matangalila. 5.15. 67.


Ibid. 16. 33.


Matangalila. 5. 23. 26.

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