The Story of Asia’s Elephants




The relationship between elephants and people in Asia over thousands of years is a unique one. This story of the Asian elephant begins with a brief account of the ancient origins of the creature and its possible relationship with early humans, leading eventually to the taming of the animal between 4,500 and 5,000 years ago in the Harappan period. Subsequent chapters cover successive periods in Asian history, tracing the story of the elephant broadly under the major religious establishments – Vedic, Buddhist and Jain, post – !st century Hindu, and Islamic – of the Indian subcontinent and beyond, including the fate of the elephants that Alexander and his successors took with them to the Mediterranean region for use in battle. After a discussion of the fortunes of the elephant under colonial rulers in Asia, the author presents the post – Independence history of the animal in 13 range countries. The final chapter is a summary of the latest scientific knowledge of the elephant’s ecology and behaviour, and of how we can plan for the conservation of the species.

This book is not an art history, but rather an ecological and cultural history of the Asian elephant from ancient to contemporary times. The focus is on India because of the great significance of the elephant in this ancient civilization as well as the profusion of material, both artistic and literary, available from the Stone age to the present; at the same time however, the elephant- human relationship across the Asian continent, from the Mekong in the east, is narrated in substantial detail. This is the first single volume to comprehensively cover the history of Asian’s elephants, profusely illustrated with images of the elephant in art through the ages, offering new interpretations, and drawing upon a wide range of literary sources.

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Raman Sukumar

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