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Mains Answer Writing

12-December-2023

1. When it comes to Indian culture, few symbols are as enduring and ubiquitous as the elephant and the lotus. Elaborate this statement with examples.

ANSWER

Symbols are an integral element of the Indian culture and have spiritual, mythological, and representational significance. In India’s rich and diverse cultural background, the importance of the symbols of Elephant and lotus can be seen from:

  1. Paintings:
  2. Depiction of elephants can be found in the wall paintings of Bhimbetka, showing the rich antiquity of the elephants in Indian culture.
  3. Elephant and lotus are seminal features of Ajanta caves. E.g., Bodhistava Padampani holding a lotus.
  4. Elephants are prominently present in Mughal paintings depicting battle scenes, hunting scenes etc.
  5. Lotus symbols are commonly found in the paintings of medieval era. E.g., Bani Thani of Kishangarh school.
  6. Religious significance:
  7. In Hinduism, religious deities are associated with the symbols of elephant and lotus. E.g., Lord Ganesha with an elephant head, Goddess Lakshmi is shown sitting on a Lotus flower, Goddess Saraswati is portrayed on a white lotus.
  8. Airavat, the lord of elephants is considered to be the mount of Hindu deity Indra.
  9. In Buddhist traditions, Padmanasambhav or the lotus born is a highly revered deity.
  10. In Jainism, the philosophy of Anekantwad is described using an elephant.
  11. Literature:
  12. The reference to Elephant can be found in the Indian literature. E.g., Asvathama in Mahabharat.
  13. Gajendra moksha (Bhagvat Puran) tells the story of lord Vishnu saving an elephant from crocodile.
  14. Architecture:
  15. Elephant symbols are palpable in the rich temple architecture of India. E.g., Elephants sculpture in Brihideshwara temple (Tamil Nadu), Vishwanath temple (Khajurao).
  16. Elephant sculptures are repository of Indian architectural brilliance and aesthetics. E.g., Elephant sculpture at Mahbalipuram; Arjuna’s penance etc.
  17. In modern times, Lotus temple (inspired from Lotus) is considered an epitome of architectural design.
  18. The architectural design of the lotus-mahal/chitrangi-mahal in Hampi (Viajyanagar empire) is inspired from lotus.
  19. Elephant sculpture in front of Elephanta caves gave the caves its famous name. The caves continue to be a tourism and cultural centre point.
  20. Lotus and elephant symbols are important aspects of prominent cultural and political heritage. E.g., inverted lotus in Mauryan pillar, Elephant sculpture in Dhauli; lotus sculpture used in Taj Mahal, Hiran minar at Fatehpur Sikri, elephant symbol in the abacus of Sarnath pillar etc.
  21. Modern times:
  22. The elephant is depicted on the official currency notes of the country, showing its importance in the current socio-economic context.
  23. Depiction of elephant has been central to the Progressive Artists Group. E.g., paintings of M F Hussein often depict elephants.
  24. Elephants are closely associated with human activities. E.g., use of elephant in Dasara

festival; recent documentary ‘elephant whisperers’ shows closely connect between humans and elephants.

  1. Elephant and lotus are commonly present in contemporary similes, thereby highlighting their importance in the socio-cultural context. E.g., Gajgamini (Elephant like movement), Kar-kamal (Lotus hand).

The rich Indian culture is akin a grand salad bowl where different practices, festivals, architecture, literature etc., come together in a composite whole. The Elephant and lotus symbols are a depiction of the same cultural richness.

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