World Elephant

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Classical Sanskrit literature has references to World Elephants as mythical animals supporting the world in Hindu cosmology. This image augments the stock of mythological world-bearers over the earlier World Turtle (Kurmaraja) and World Serpent (Nagaraja or Shesha).Indeed, Wilhelm von Humboldt suggested that the idea of a world-elephant was due to a confusion, caused by theSanskrit noun N%C4%81ga having the dual meaning of "serpent" and "elephant" (named for its serpent-like trunk), thus representing a corrupted account of the world-serpent. The various Hindu myths of the world being carried or enclosed by either a tortoise, a serpent or an elephant were referred to by Taylor (1878:339). In the epics and major Puranas, there "is no myth of a world-upholding elephant", and Al Biruni makes no mention of it, only quoting Brahmagupta who states "the earth is the only low thing".

The elephants are supposed to be guarding (and supporting) the earth at the compass points of the cardinal directions, and they cause earthquakes when shaking their bodies. Thus there are four, eight, or sixteen of them. The Amarakosha (5th century) lists the names of eight male...
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