World Elephant

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An 1876 drawing of the world supported on the backs of four elephants, themselves resting on the back of a turtle.

The "world-elephants" are mythical animals, which according to some authors, appear in Hindu cosmology. However, this concept is not found anywhere in the Puranas or the Epics[1] and Al Biruni makes no mention of it, only quoting Brahmagupta who states "the earth is the only low thing".[2]

The popular rendition of the World Turtle supporting one or several World Elephants is recorded in 1599 in a letter by Emanual de Veiga.[3] Wilhelm von Humboldt suggested that the idea of a world-elephant was 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.[4][5][6]

The Amarakosha (5th century) lists the names of eight male elephants bearing the world (along with eight unnamed female elephants). The names listed are: Airavata, Pundarika, Vamana, Kumunda, Anjana, Pushpa-danta, Sarva-bhauma, Supratika. Four names are given in Ramayana 1.41: Viru-paksha, Maha-padma, Saumanas, Bhadra.[7]

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".[8] The spelling Mahapudma originates as a misprint of Mahapadma in Sri Aurobindo's 1921 retelling of a story of the Mahabharata,

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]



  1. ^ "J L Brockington, Indology mailing list". 2010-04-02. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  2. ^ "INDOLOGY archives - April 2010 (#8)". 2010-04-02. Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  3. ^ 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.)
  4. ^ Sadashiv Ambadas Dange, Glimpses of purāṇic myth and culture (1987), p. 70.
  5. ^ "INDOLOGY archives - April 2010 (#17)". Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  6. ^ "INDOLOGY archives - April 2010 (#33)". Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  7. ^ "Monier-Williams, ''Indian Wisdom'', p. 430f". Retrieved 2013-04-14. 
  8. ^ Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 15th ed., revised by Adrian Room, HarperCollins (1995), p. 1087. also 14th ed. (1989).
  9. ^ "Love and Death: Love and Death". Retrieved 2013-04-14.