However, the country’s entire past and the body of her entire literature, the sectarian as well as secular, right since the Epic days, abounds in innumerable fables echoing with the presence of elephant as their crux. In the legends of the pre-birth dreams of the mothers of Mahavira and Buddha, Trishala and Maya, elephant was perceived as abounding in great auspiciousness. In Puranas elephant became synonymous of auspiciousness, so much so that when looking for a head to graft on the torso of Ganesh, the god of auspices, the divinities chose an elephant head for it. Now the part of the iconography of Lord Ganesh elephant was deified. Elephant played most vital role in medieval architecture where along with Lord Ganesh who occupied a building’s lintel elephant usually held its plinth on it or guarded its entrance.
Emerge from ocean-churning, the white-complexioned one, named Eravata – the Indra’s mount, the elephant is claimed to have celestial origin. Not a mere mount, Eravata was an invaluable asset too. It appeases Lord Krishna and seeks his pardon for its master when annoyed with Indra for his impertinence Krishna had decided to punish him. Vishnu deploys his elephants that he had befriended by rescuing their chief from a crocodile’s jaws to bathe and please Lakshmi for her favours in maintaining the world. A miracle, despite such massive body-size, elephant is purely vegetarian living largely on tree-leaves, perhaps the reason for its suitability to Jain and Buddhist cults. All along the centuries-long feudalism in India elephant was the apex of the status of a ruler determined by the number of elephants he had in his stable. Mughals’ madness for elephants was unsurpassed. Akbar had at Fatehpur Sikri a special shed for his favourite elephant just in the foyer of his Diwan-i-Khas. The 1982 Asian Games had an elephant form, named Appu, as its shubhanka – memento.
These excellent marble-images, exactly identical but independently sculpted enabling diversified display, more than a sculptor’s, the two jewels are a jeweler’s work. The beauty of translucent marble apart it makes wide use of gold for discovering all significant parts, tusks by gold-plating, and others – trunk, forehead, neck, feet etc, by ornamenting them. There are some colour-zones too, most of the effects have been created by gold-foils, gold-line-drawings and inlay of semi-precious stones – rubies, zircons, emeralds and others. There reign on the faces of the two figures a divine composure and calm and rare innocence. Each of them has been saddled tastefully with rare grandeur and great elegance and refinement. Both icons have been identically adorned using various kinds of ornaments, diamond-bells on the side-faces being of special interest. The trunk has towards its end an object, perhaps a pot which in iconographic tradition is an attribute of the elephants bathing goddess Lakshmi. Thus, the two elephant forms may also be identified as Vishnu’s elephants deployed for bathing and appeasing Lakshmi and have thus rarer significance.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.