Monday, April 5, 2010

Sri Lanka's Elephants

The other day, my friend told me about a Buddhist temple here in Colombo where we could go to see a big elephant. Imagining a large statue, maybe marble or bronze, boy was I surprised when our tuktuk (motorized rickshaw) pulled up beside the gate and there loomed one very large, very real elephant. Later, on the bus ride, we saw another elephant chilling by the side of the road.

Indeed, elephants - real and imagined - are everywhere in Sri Lanka. Although the lion decorates the country's flag, the elephant is the true national animal. Ganesh is an important Hindu deity, also revered by Buddhists, who has the head of an elephant, four arms and a protruding belly. He’s the god of letters and learning and the Lord of Obstacles, taking them away when you need a break and putting them in place when you need to be checked.

Not limited to religious iconography, elephants are also Sri Lanka’s biggest trend, appearing as statues large and small in homes and cafes, on necklaces and bracelets, shirts and skirts, stools, notebooks, puzzles and everything else you can imagine. Here are a few examples: