The Elephant-headed God and elephants: Wild and random musings

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Big sized prayers and big-sized dreams!

Thousands across the length and breadth of the country are rejoicing and celebrating the “Lord of Wisdom”, Ganesh on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi. It is a fervent belief in the power of the supreme, a faith that rides over the tangibility of life on earth, an unending devotion to the deity. This positive madness drives throngs of people to take a pause from everyday chores and dip into the feeling of oneness and social belonging that the festival was first postulated on.

As I behold this possession of body and soul, one with the elephant-headed God, I cannot help but dwell over the elephant-connection of this much-loved deity! What could be the common thread binding our revered God-friend and our trunked friends from the wild? As I see, the possibilities for correlating these two are immense – a whole host of qualities that define their very essence. The jolly Ganesh is worshipped as the Lord of god of education, knowledge and wisdom.  A look into the elephant behavior, proves that they too, to exhibit a high level of intelligence, much beyond one would expect- social, analytics and cognitive intelligence. And yes, this includes phenomenal memories that go beyond many years!

Here is a fact file on the amazing gentle giants that roam this planet, as I take this opportunity of the Elephant-headed God’s festival to pay homage to the magnificent beasts of India’s wilderness.

  • Elephants have the largest brain of any land animal, and three times as many neurons as humans.
  • Elephants express a wide variety of behaviors, including those associated with grief, learning, mimicry, play, altruism, use of tools, compassion, cooperation, self awareness, memory, and communication.
  • They have highly evolved social units embedded in a matriarchal society. Elephant families can only be separated by death or capture, and then too are seen exhibiting intense periods of grief. They have been seen following elaborate death rituals. Some instances of elephants trying to bury dead elephants have also been recorded, followed by later visits to the graves in a quiet demeanor.
  • The altruistic nature of elephants is not limited to their kind, it is seen to extend to humans and other animals too.  On many occasions, they have buried dead or sleeping humans or aided them when they were hurt
  • Elephants have great problem solving abilities. Elephants are able to change their behavior radically to face new challenges, a hallmark of complex intelligence. This includes incidences such as using sticks to scratch themselves in areas they couldn’t otherwise reach, and design fly swatters out of branches. Another interesting observation is that elephants dig a hole to reach drinking water, and then plug the hole with a ball formed from chewed bark to prevent the water from evaporating to save it for later use! That’s some water conservation tactic!
  • Research indicates that they can understand the semanticsand syntax of language-based words they hear. Moreover, their social skills extend to the fact that they can distinguish differences in human gender, age, and ethnicity purely by the sound of someone’s voice. If the voice belongs to a person who is more likely to pose a threat, the elephants switch into defensive mode.

Now with these extraordinary levels of intelligence for the animal kingdom, who says they are no more than an epitome of wisdom?

As I bow my head in prayer to the elephant-headed god, a different kind of prayer emerges, a prayer for these beautiful creatures of the wilderness. These exemplary incidences of wisdom and knowledge, passed on from generations to the mere 3000 something Indian elephants that roam this country, free and wild.

A trinket of thought emerges-

if all of us were to respect and protect the elephant like we do the elephant-headed god, wouldn’t that be a miracle to save these magnificent beings?

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