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World Elephant

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An 1877 American drawing of the world supported on the backs of four elephants, themselves resting on the back of a turtle.

The Ashtadiggajas (Sanskrit: अष्टदिग्गज, romanizedAṣṭadiggajas, lit.'eight elephants of the quarters') is a group of eight legendary elephants that appear in Hindu cosmology, serving as the guardians of the eight zones of the universe.[1] There are also eight female elephants that stand beside the Ashtadiggajas, referred to as the Ashtadikkarinis.


There are a total of eight Ashtadiggajas and Ashtadikkarinis that stand guard over the eight zones:[2]

Direction Male Female
East Airāvata Abhramu
South-east Puṇḍarīka Kapilā
South Vāmana Piṅgalā
South-west Kumuda Anupamā
West Añjana Tāmrakarṇī
North-west Puṣpadanta Śubhradantī
North Sārvabhauma Aṅganā
North-east Supratīka Añjanāvatī


Besides the Ashtadiggajas, there are four elephants who support the earth from the four directions from the netherworld, whose names are given in the Ramayana: Virūpākṣa (east), Mahāpadmasama (south), Saumanasa (west), and Bhadra (north).[3][4]

In popular culture[edit]

The popular rendition of the World Turtle supporting one or several World Elephants is recorded in 1599 in a letter by Emanual de Veiga.[5] Wilhelm von Humboldt claimed that the idea of a world-elephant may be due to a confusion, caused by the Sanskrit noun Nāga having the dual meaning of "serpent" and "elephant" (named for its serpent-like trunk), thus representing a corrupted account of the world-serpent.[6][7][8]

Love and Death
On the wondrous dais rose a throne,
And he its pedestal whose lotus hood
With ominous beauty crowns his horrible
Sleek folds, great Mahapudma; high displayed
He bears the throne of Death. There sat supreme
With those compassionate and lethal eyes,
Who many names, who many natures holds;
Yama, the strong pure Hades sad and subtle,
Dharma, who keeps the laws of old untouched.[9]

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable lists Maha-pudma and Chukwa are names from a "popular rendition of a Hindu myth in which the tortoise Chukwa supports the elephant Maha-pudma, which in turn supports the world".[10] The spelling Mahapudma originates as a misprint of Mahapadma in Sri Aurobindo's 1921 retelling of a story of the Mahabharata.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ www.wisdomlib.org (2018-05-14). "Diggaja, Dish-gaja: 14 definitions". www.wisdomlib.org. Retrieved 2022-10-03.
  2. ^ www.wisdomlib.org (2019-01-28). "Story of Aṣṭadiggajas". www.wisdomlib.org. Retrieved 2022-10-03.
  3. ^ Williams, Monier (July 2003). Monier-Williams, Indian Wisdom, p. 430f. ISBN 9780766171985. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  4. ^ "Maharshi Valmiki, Ramayana, Bala Kanda, Sarga 40, Verses 12--22". Retrieved 2018-12-14.
  5. ^ J. Charpentier, 'A Treatise on Hindu Cosmography from the Seventeenth Century (Brit. Mus. MS. Sloane 2748 A).' Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London 3(2) (1924), pp. 317-342, citing John Hay, De rebus Japonicis, Indicis, and Peruanis epistulæ recentiores (Antwerp, 1605, p. 803f.)
  6. ^ Sadashiv Ambadas Dange, Glimpses of purāṇic myth and culture (1987), p. 70.
  7. ^ "INDOLOGY archives - April 2010 (#17)". Listserv.liv.ac.uk. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  8. ^ "INDOLOGY archives - April 2010 (#33)". Listserv.liv.ac.uk. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  9. ^ "Love and Death: Love and Death". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  10. ^ Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 15th ed., revised by Adrian Room, HarperCollins (1995), p. 1087. also 14th ed. (1989).