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From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Gaja literally means ‘that which roars due to the arrogance of strength’, ‘an elephant’.

Relevance of Gaja to Gaṇapati[edit]

The gaja or an elephant is a familiar figure met with in mythology and other religious literature. Being the biggest and the most powerful of all the animals on land, it might have induced awe in the minds of the aboriginal people. According to one guess, this might have been the origin of the elephant-headed god Gaṇapati and his sect. Even by the time of the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa,[1] use of tamed and trained elephants in warfare, was common.

Gaja and War[edit]

Possessing elephants was often a symbol of one’s wealth and power. It was a must for a king or an emperor who would have an elephant, generally a white elephant, as the State elephant after a ritual baptism. This would then invariably be a part of his entourage on all the important occasions. The Śaṭapatha Brāhmaṇa[2] ascribes a divine origin to the elephant as being evolved out of Mārttāṇḍa, a son of Aditi, the mother of gods.

Mythical Elephants[edit]

Eight mythical elephants are supposed to be carrying this earth on their shoulders. They are:

  1. Airāvata
  2. Puṇdarīka
  3. Vāmana
  4. Kumuda
  5. Añjana
  6. Puṣpadanta
  7. Sārvabhauma
  8. Supratīka

Elephant and Army[edit]

Elephants formed one of the four divisions of an army[3] of a king, the other three being horses, chariots and infantry. The elephant is listed among the Aṣṭamaṅgalas, eight objects signifying auspiciousness. Elephants are often shown in the motifs on the walls of temples.


  1. Aitareya Brāhmaṇa 8.22
  2. Śaṭapatha Brāhmaṇa
  3. Army means caturañgabala.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore

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