The elephant, especially in the East is considered by many to be a symbol of good luck. While trunk up or down discussions continue, it is never once stated that the opposing view is “bad luck”. That’s because it’s not the trunk, but the elephant’s size and its ability to use its immense strength with gentleness and intelligence that has endeared the creature to man for centuries. While it has often been pressed into service as a beast of burden, and sadly, sometimes treated brutally by those who imprison it, our general perception remains as one of a gentle giant. If you have ever watched one of these huge animals navigate a maze of streets or lift and move a heavy bundle, you have missed the opportunity for a rare display of athleticism and wisdom.
In most Eastern nations (including Thailand) the elephant is considered the symbol of strength because of its massive size and physical strength. Other attributes symbolized by an elephant are wisdom, perseverance and wisdom. In addition to its importance as a regional icon, it has also garnered religious and national symbolism on several fronts. No matter what position its trunk is held in, it’s a lucky token to possess.
As stated, the elephant has assumed roles in many religious and social belief systems. For instance, in the Buddhist religion, the “precious elephant” is a symbol of the mind. In this belief system, the elephant represents gentle strength and a sense of calm majesty. It is an animal that makes and knows its own path. It embodies the boundless powers of the Buddha including facets of his wisdom such as: aspiration, effort, intention and analysis. Though it is not a religious symbol to the Chinese, still the people of that nation hold the elephant in special reverence. He is a symbol of strength, power and of energy.
The Hindu religion introduces the idea of the elephant as a facet of Ganesha (a principal Hindu deity) with the head of an elephant. This head is symbolic of Genesha’s awesome power, strength and intellectual supremacy. All the qualities of the elephant are contained in the being of this deity. He is strong, gentle and since real elephants are vegetarian, he does not kill. He is also believed to be a loving and forgiving deity that is easily moved by the devotion of his followers. Still, like a real elephant, his power is not to be overlooked and he can be a force of great destructive power when angered. His trunk is a symbol of discrimination to the Hindu, as he can use it to either push down a great tree or to break open a single coconut and drink its milk. That statement alone should make it clear that an elephant’s trunks position is one of power, raised or lowered.
With trunks both up and down, elephants are widely depicted in Asian art. Elephants can be found with their trunks upraised as they thunder into battle carrying warriors on their huge backs. They are also depicted as lolling lazily by a river with their trunks resting peacefully in a downward position. Some even show the trunk reaching to one side or the other and, hence, it is neither upraised or down. That means that it is not how he holds his trunk that makes the elephant a unique and important talisman of luck to those who revere him. Instead, it is the basic tenets of his character. Because of his strength, his wisdom, his gentleness, his courage and his extraordinary size, he is the most important animal to many cultures that co-exist with these great beasts. It is what the elephant is, not how he holds his trunk that makes him a symbol of good fortune.
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