Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Blessed by an Elephant

Yesterday morning Liz and I were blessed by an Elephant. If is sounds surreal, that's because it was. Liz, Alan and I were talking a lovely walk through early morning Ponducherry when up ahead we saw an elephant walk by with a man on his back. We ran to take a closer look and saw that it was beautifully painted and had green eyes, but why it was there walking down the street was a mystery.

We thought, 'wow, that was thrilling' and we began to walk away. That is when a man said 'follow the elephant to the temple' and we did. The elephant walked to a temple that is large and colorful (and needs to be described by Liz in all it's glory) and proceeded to walk inside!

The elephant enters the temple
Again, we followed (after taking off our shoes) and found the temple full of people. The temple design is such that there an enclosed shrine in the center and an aisle/corridor that goes around it. When the Elephant entered the temple, she trumpeted, and then ambled down the aisle as people touched her and lay down to pray. Along the way the priest gave her food and worshipers gave her money.

As the Elephant left the temple, so did we, and we thought she would leave. But the Elephant trainer then directed the Elephant onto a stage that she backed into and bracelets of bells were put on her ankles.

Worshipers went up to her and gave her food and she would then lift up her trunk and tap them on the head--blessing them! A father also handed his daughter to the trainer to sit on the Elephant.

We watched for a long time seeing how the ritual of blessing was done. We noticed that people would give the Elephant coins which stayed in her trunk and jingled as she moved.

Liz then handed the Elephant money and she took it and tapped Liz on the head blessing her, and then she turned to me, looked at me and I at her, and tapped me on the head--blessing me. It was stunning and moving and beautiful.

With my limited understanding, the elephant represents Ganesha, the son of Shiva and god of Serendipity, Happinness, Remover of Obstacles and Success. We were lucky to have Alan documenting this with pictures (which I still don't know how to upload).


  1. What a beautiful moment!

  2. this may be beautiful outwardly, but it leaves me with deep questions: if an elephant may or can " bless" may or can it or she also "curse"? Had it stepped on a child while intermingling in the crowded temple, would the typical Indian "worshipper" have accepted that as "an act of god" sans human responsibility, or would the trainer be held liable? And what is the difference in the public mind between the cow that may or can step into traffic at will and cause an accident or human death, and the cow which must may or can pull a cart should it cause an accident?

  3. Anonymous - it's interesting that from an American point of view (admittedly I make an assumption here) among the first things one thinks about is liability and danger. Mahouts, or traditional elephant trainers, are incredibly skilled men, highly sensitive to the moods and needs of 'their elephants.' Elephants CAN be dangerous - see Charles Siebert,s heartbreaking work on elephant-human conflict in places (like India) where animals and humans are in competition over scarce habitat:

  4. Thank you, Dr. Kent, for taking the time to comment on my comment! I hope you will permit me to take up the discourse again! I'll admit my initial comment took on a somewhat "lawyerly" tone, but I was actually reflecting more deeply. If, for instance, an elephant is publicly or socially or religiously perceived as having the ability to "bless" or worst case scenario, "curse" through moral initiative actions, must it not also bear some social responsibility for such actions? When a trainer is involved, is there is is there not some perception of a shared responsibility, despite the "divine" aspect of what an elephant may represent in India? Perhaps more pointedly, if a cow is allowed to ramble at will on busy highways, presumably because it has a socially elevated standing with which society permits it to choose where it walks, does it or does it not bear responsibility for stepping into the path of an oncoming car and causing human death? If it does or does not in that society, which I would like to know, I would also like to know what differentiates the "sacred" cow (if you will excuse my use of a tired phrase,) from the status of the bullock harnessed to pull a cart at the will of its owner? Society based on Judeo-Christian-roman concepts in most such case inflicts liability upon the animal "owner" - based upon the presupposition that humans are a "higher order" and in a religious and societal sense are "given" responsibility for domesticated animals, and to some extent even care or stewardship of wild animals and the earth itself. So my deeper meaning really is - to what extent to Hindu presuppositions or religious beliefs effect society in a legal, social, and economic sense? Beyond the novelty of it all, how have basic philosophical and religious idea brought about social differences between east and west?