As human beings, we often take for granted all the animals that exist on this planet. There is so much to learn from them and their wisdom of the universe. The elephant is one such majestic creature. Found commonly in parts of Africa and Asia, they are worshipped as gods in many different cultures.
In Hindu mythology, the god ‘Ganesha’ is depicted as having the head of an elephant and the body of a man. He is one of the children of Shiva and Durga. In yogic philosophy, ‘Shiva’ and ‘Durga’ (also known as ‘Shakti’) symbolize the two divine energies: masculine and feminine, that exist within all of us.
So let us understand how the elephant can guide us on our journey to achieving samadhi (superconsciousness):
Myths of the Elephant God:
While Ganesh represents good fortune and the removal of obstacles from one’s life, He is not the only elephant god in Hindu mythology.
In the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic, ‘Airavat’ is the king of elephants and Lord Indra’s consort. The word ‘Airavat’ means “someone who can summon clouds and produce rain”.
In Thai mythology, Airavat is known as ‘Erawan’.
In the Gita, the holy scripture for Hinduism, He states “Of lordly elephants I am Airavata, and among men, I am the monarch.”. (10.27)
Airavat is a sacred white elephant and it is widely believed that their wisdom is endless and they hold the sacred knowledge of all mysteries of the universe.
Symbolism of the Elephant:
Ganesha symbolizes prosperity. He is married to three wives: ‘Buddhi’ (wisdom), ‘Ridhhi’ (prosperity), and ‘Siddhi’ (success).
When we channel our inner Ganesha or seek Him, we are capable of overcoming any obstacle that comes our way. We are calm, focused, and attract only positive things.
A yogi or a practitioner is required to be perseverant. During times of frustration and duress, Ganesha helps us stay resilient and ready to face whatever comes our way.
Learning From the Elephant
There are many things to learn from the elephant in Hindu mythology and implement the principles in not just our yoga practice but also our daily lives.
While the elephant looks intimidating, they are gentle creatures that roam the forests. We should aspire to be as gentle as them when we deal with ourselves and others. In our yoga practice, it is important not to be too critical of ourselves and remember that learning is a constant process.
When we are unable to perform an asana, we must not feel dejected. We should be gentle with our bodies. This kindness towards oneself will also shape the way we interact with others.
Luck and Good Fortune
Lord Ganesha is worshipped to bring in good luck and prosperity. While it is not important to pray to an idol, we can ask for Ganesha’s blessings in our daily lives. In Sanskrit, the chant “Om Gan Ganapataye Namah” is often used at the start of one’s day to offer one’s respect and ask for divine blessings.
Removal of Obstacles
The elephant uses its trunk to remove obstacles in its path. Spiritually, we can channel our inner elephant and fight whatever obstacles that come our way and stop us from progress.
The elephant teaches us the importance of inner strength.
When we first learn about a pose in yoga, especially if it is a difficult one, we feel intimidated. It is completely natural to feel scared and even dejected. But we must remember the elephant in such moments of feeling low. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, we can take one step at a time towards our goal.
Elephants live in herds, they coexist with other animals. This is something all of us can strive towards. Our human instincts often encourage us to be selfish and not think about the bigger picture. We must not succumb to such thoughts.
It is important to be able to coexist with others no matter what the differences. Elephants don’t abandon the weaker members of their tribe and as a society, neither should be. Instead, we should be empathetic and compassionate towards those who struggle. We should offer help in whatever way we can.
In a herd of elephants, it is an older female who leads the young ones. She protects her family from danger and cares for the younger ones. She is the embodiment of Shakti.
In our lives too, we can benefit greatly by channeling our inner divine feminine energy for better decision making.
One does not have to be a woman to tap into their divine feminine energy. In yoga, it is believed that feminine and masculine exist in each person. It is the harmony of these two energies that help us awaken our kundalini.
Elephant Pose in Yoga:
The ‘Elephant’s Trunk’ pose and its variation is known as the ‘Eka Hasta Bhujasana’ and ‘Dwi Hasta Bhujanasana’ in Sanskrit. These are two advanced yogic postures that can be practiced to increase strength in the arms and legs, increase flexibility of the lower back and shoulder joints, and massage abdominal organs.
In the final pose, our body resembles an elephant’s trunk and practitioners generally need flexible joints and flexibility before they can practice this. The pose also helps us preserve our sexual energy and those who are on the path of Kundalini yoga will find it helpful to focus on their meditation when they practice this pose.