A mandala is an astonishingly beautiful thing, and not just in appearance: its meaning is deeply significant. Emerging from the Indian traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, the intricate patterns represent both the “internal universe” of the person creating the mandala, as well as the universe at large and the person’s connection to it. A mandala (which simply means “circle” in Sanskrit) can help a person to center themselves, aiding greatly in meditation and helping to create a spiritual link to the cosmos.
Naturally, not all mandalas are the same, but – on the contrary – each one is highly unique. Different mandalas utilize different symbology. For example, themes of different animals. where each animal represents a specific set of virtues, are common. The elephant, possibly the most revered animal in India, is a favorite for this purpose. So which virtues does this beautiful animal represent? Below, we’ll take a close look at the meaning of the elephant in India and its significance in mandalas.
The Virtues of the Elephant
The elephant is respected by almost every culture on Earth, and it’s not difficult to see why: they are truly impressive creatures, stalwart and imposing. Elephants are regarded by Indian cultures as an unyielding animal, and therefore represent robustness and determination. They are powerful symbols of mental and corporeal strength, and also signify the desire to bring positive change to a life. Due to these attributes elephants are, in a sense, the perfect representation of someone who is ready and able to take the steps necessary to enhance their spiritual life.
Beyond the representation of strength and endurance, the elephant is also associated with good luck and the bringing of rain to make the ground fertile. The animal is a universal symbol of wisdom, ancient Indians surely recognized the elephant for the incredibly intelligent being that it is. Additionally, because elephants are matriarchal animals, in which the herd is led by an elderly female, they can be used as a representation of female wisdom and motherhood.
Religious Significance of the Elephant
The elephant also has very specific religious meanings for both Hindus and Buddhists. For Hindus, elephants are important due to their connection with the Ganesha, one of the most worshiped symbol of the subcontinent. The representation of Ganesha as an elephant is highly symbolic, and further elucidates the significance of the elephant to Indians in general. For instance, the large ears show his ability to listen patiently and think before speaking, and the small eyes symbolize his focus on spiritual rather than physical vision.
When it comes to Buddhism, it is believed that the Buddha reincarnated several times as an elephant. The white elephant is particularly important since it is believed that Buddha lived as one after reaching Enlightenment. The significance of the white elephant goes beyond that, however: the noble, almost otherwordly creature represents mental clarity, specifically the kind that is needed to achieve Enlightenment. As a contrast to this, the grey elephant is sometimes used to represent a clouded, undisciplined mind, and therefore the transition from grey elephant to white elephant represents the spiritual progression of an individual.
The elephant has intricate, deep-reaching significance in Indian tradition, representing what is needed to reach Enlightenment as well as representing Enlightenment itself. Wisdom and clarity of mind as symbolized by an elephant are perfectly suited for a mandala, and the virtues of the elephant are worth emulating. For all these reasons, a person creating a mandala can’t go wrong by selecting the elephant as their theme. Elephant mandala symbolism is truly powerful, helping an individual to achieve focus and bring, ultimately, prosperity to their lives.