What Does the Elephant Symbolize in India?

In Indian culture, elephants are a symbol of mental strength, earthiness and responsibility. Hindus have worshiped elephants for centuries, and the large animals enjoy tremendous popularity and a charismatic status in other parts of South Asia. In Hinduism, the elephant is a sacred animal and is considered the representation or the living incarnation of Ganesh, the elephant-headed deity riding a mouse and one of the most important gods.

Hindus revere elephants not only because of their depiction of their god but also because of unique characteristics that represent the attributes of a perfect disciple. Each part of the deity Ganesh represents a symbolic function. The large ears mean he is a patient listener who does not use his mouth for naught. His small eyes are believed to behold the future, recognize truth and see not from the physical but through the spirit. The long narrow trunk allows him to smell what is good and evil, while the big belly symbolizes its ability to digest all the good and evil in life.

In Indian mythology, white elephants are associated with rain and are identified with rain-bearing clouds. In Indian society, elephants are believed to bring good luck and prosperity. Ganesh is the god of success and the destroyer of obstacles and evils. He is also a part of the five major Hindu deities together with Vishnu, Shiva, Druga and Brahma.