By Swami Harshananda
Gaja literally means ‘that which roars due to the arrogance of strength’, ‘an elephant’.
Relevance of Gaja to Gaṇapati
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, use of tamed and trained elephants in warfare, was common.
Gaja and War
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 ascribes a divine origin to the elephant as being evolved out of Mārttāṇḍa, a son of Aditi, the mother of gods.
Eight mythical elephants are supposed to be carrying this earth on their shoulders. They are:
Elephant and Army
Elephants formed one of the four divisions of an army 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.
- Aitareya Brāhmaṇa 8.22
- Śaṭapatha Brāhmaṇa 126.96.36.199-4
- Army means caturañgabala.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore