Today is World Elephant Day.
I am reminded of the days I spent at Hathi Gaon, a village near the Amber Palace, designed specifically for elephants and their mahouts. Tall enclosures shelter the elephants, there are lakes where the mahouts bathe the magnificent animals at the end of the day, bamboo is grown especially to feed them, the wives of the mahouts prepare chapattis for their breakfast along with those for family members and the elephants are treated with great devotion and love. The elephants are working animals, used to transport tourists up the steep slopes to the palace, hired for wedding ceremonies and stars of the annual Elephant Festival in Rajasthan. It was my privilege to be trained in how to paint them in glorious colours and geometric designs, intended to draw attention to their majesty and resplendence.
Elephants, in Hindu mythology, were the conveyors of Lord Indra, the god of heaven, and when Lord Ganesh was beheaded by his angry father an elephant offered his own head in order for him to survive. The elephant became revered and respected, used as a mode of royal transport by the ‘Maharajas’ to travel from one region to another and as a loyal escort on battle fields, held in the firm belief that power was best wielded from the back of an elephant. They became synonymous with wisdom, strength, loyalty, power and dignity. They have huge status in Indian culture and on special days are worshipped and anointed with oil.
But elephants are amazing creatures. They live in herds that are very like family units, showing a depth of care and kindness for the young, infirm and elderly that has to be seen to be believed. They are extremely calm, obliging, obedient, able to follow instructions, and have terrific memories that means they seldom forget places, faces and pathways. They also have tremendous tenacity, pushing themselves through obstacles to fully focus on achieving their tasks. These are the qualities that their mahouts admire more than their status and place in society.
There is a saying that the elephant has big ears in order to show us all how much more important it is to listen than to speak.
No matter what our status or position, how regal our outlook or how well painted our faces, true wisdom, strength and dignity comes in the quiet moments, the way we listen to others, care for those around us and concentrate fully on getting the job done well.