Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Symbolism of Elephants in Chinese and Sri Lankan Buddhist Culture

Friday, July 6
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Rudraksha, Lower Ground Floor

Many animals have significance in Buddhism and Hinduism. Among these animals, elephants take a prime place. Elephants are thought to be of particularly high intelligence and also a sign of prosperity. They also symbolize physical as well as mental stability. White elephants are considered as a sign of great spirituality. In the Jataka Tales, there is evidence that Gautama Buddha had been born as an elephant in previous incarnations. It is also well known that the mother of Gautama Buddha was able to conceive after having seen a white calf elephant entering her body in a dream. The white elephant is depicted in various situations of pleasant nature in Buddhist literature and arts in both China and Sri Lanka. Therefore, I intend to make a study of this concept of the elephant in the literature and arts of both these countries. This study will also focus on the elephant with three heads and six tusks used by the Chinese Bodhisattva Samanthabhadra as his vehicle and the elephant with a lotus flower used by God Saman of Sri Lanka. For the purpose of this study, I used both literary and archaeological sources. It was possible to conclude that, while in Sri Lankan society a white elephant is considered mainly as a symbol of prosperity, in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, the elephant represents a symbol of mental fortitude.  

Sobhitha Madurawala

University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

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2 - Symbolism of Elephants in Chinese and Sri Lankan Buddhist Culture



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