India is home to a little over 27,000 Asian elephants, accounting for 60% of the world’s population. But of late these elephants mostly make the news in cases of human-wildlife conflict, which has been fueled by encroachment on their habitats.
Named India’s national heritage animal in 2010, the elephant has a rich history as a religious symbol, not just in Hinduism, in which the deity Ganesha is worshiped as the remover of obstacles, but also in Buddhism and Jainism. Elephants can be found carved into ancient temple architecture across the country, and in Mughal miniature paintings from the 16th century and beyond, too.
It’s this extensive history that the writer Tripti Pandey wanted to capture in her new book, India’s Elephants: A Cultural Legacy, published by Penguin India. Beginning in 2011, Pandey travelled across the country to document the many different ways elephants have and continue to be featured in Indian life, from ancient mythology to cave paintings to the colourful modern-day festivals that bring thousands of visitors to cities such as Jaipur and Mysore.
Here’s a selection of photos from the book that showcases India’s elephants through the ages.