Elephants and elephant products are in use for medical purpose in many countries across the Indian ocean. Stories about this animal were gathered and written by students. They are all part of a pedagogical project, funded by the National University of Singapore and the Université de Paris. The Bestiary site is a work-in-progress and a participatory educational tool, representing animals whose products or body parts are used to promote health and healing.
A story by Resheena Shankar
India has regarded the elephant as a majestic royal beast that symbolizes its culture for centuries. The elephant is also seen as a sacred animal and is considered to be the representation or the living incarnation of lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed Indian deity riding a mouse. Ganesh is the god of success and the destroyer of obstacles and prosperity.
Each part of the deity Ganesh represents a function, with his large ears representing a patient listener, and his small eyes invoking belief that they behold the future. His eyes are said to recognize the truth and see not from the physical, but through the spirit. His long and narrow trunk allows him to smell good and evil, and his big belly symbolizes its ability to digest all the good and evil in life. In Indian mythology, flying elephants are often depicted, and the white elephant Airavata is the most highly regarded. He has 4 tusks and 7 trunks, and is seen carrying the Hindu God Indra on his back. Airavata is also believed to possess the power of producing rain. These Hindu cultural beliefs have established the elephant as a symbol of divinity, royalty, peace, mental strength and power.
Over the years, people have worshipped and used elephants in several ways, such as in religious ceremonies and rituals in temples. This traditional practice continues in India until today. According to a World Animal Protection report, India is considered to be the “birthplace of taming elephants for the use of humans” (“Over 200 Elephants in India,” 2020).
Due to the significance of elephants in Indian culture, they are not used in traditional Indian medicine. In fact, there are many medicines and treatments for elephants in India, such as in Ayurvedic system of medicine. However, elephants are poached for their value in making products, such as ivory from tusks, and for their body parts to treat certain illnesses such as eczema in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).