The Earthy and Elegant Elephant MotifA leader, gentle giant, reliable plodder and playful rogue – the magnificent personality of the elephant found in nature are so dynamic and versatile. When part of a formidable army, the elephants march together in exceptional harmony and during other times in solitude, they walk in quiet dignity and exhibit majesty and poise. Also called Yanai, Hathi and Gaja, the elephant is a symbol of strength, wisdom, prosperity and royalty. In India's textiles, elephant motifs are well-renowned, especially because this great and graceful animal holds an honourable place in history and mythology.
In Indian mythology, Indra the god of the sky is seen riding a white elephant called Airavata. In the thick of battle, he hurled his thunderbolt at dark monsoon clouds visualized as a herd of dark elephants and forced them to release rain so that the Earth turns green. In another story, Queen Maha Maya dreamt of an elephant entering her womb and later gave birth to a son who grew up to become the Buddha. Mythological stories like these truly portray that elephants were associated with rain and fertility.
Even in Indian history during the Mauryan period, only Kings were allowed to own elephants – a sign of power and wealth. Elephants were also said to have terrorized Alexander's army when he reached India's borders. The references shown in India's history indicate that the elephant was over and beyond just a royal animal.
Tales of Elephants Told in Fabric
Elephant motifs in sarees drew inspiration from folklore and were created from several environmental and cultural influences. The motifs were intricately drawn by hand and arranged with other patterns according to the saree’s colour, material and handloom capacity. Elegantly woven as warp and weft in cotton and silk, elephant motifs are exhibited almost in every region’s handcrafted weaves.
Banarasi silk sarees, gold and silver threads are used to weave elephant motifs throughout the fabric as a reflection of the imperial Mughal era. The animal was a recurring figure in art, war and entertainment, and also used as a means of transportation for the Royals.
Chikankari embroidery which involves 40 different forms of stitches also features the elephant motif. This intricate art form came to India from Persia through Noor Jahan, the Mughal Empress and wife of Jahangir.
In Gadwal sarees, the elephant motif is intermingled with geometric patterns and stripes. The saree features a cotton body that is woven separately and later interlocked with a pure silk pallu and border with a contrasting colour.
Pochampally Ikat sarees feature the characteristic elephant motifs which are created by tying the section of warp and weft yarns and then resist dyeing them to achieve the pre-fixed design patterns.
Kanchipuram silk sarees draw inspiration from the city’s temple architecture and sculptural details. The elephant is a recurring figure in the temple sculptures and its stories and legacy have been a source of inspiration to weavers. Reminiscent of old-world charm, the motifs are exquisitely woven on the silk saree’s body, pallu and border by using gold-dipped silver threads.
At Sundari Silks, we present this magnanimous motif in our exclusive saree collections. Elephants have truly been part of our country’s rich cultural heritage and its design integration into our textiles can be traced to the craftsmanship of our looms.