The Elephant and the Buddha

Digs & Discoveries September/October 2023

(Courtesy Anil Dhir)

While working in the village of Gada Balabhadrapur on the banks of the Daya River in India’s state of Odisha, archaeologists unearthed a three-foot-tall sculpture of an elephant dating to the third century B.C., a time when Buddhism flourished in the area. Elephants are potent symbols in the Buddhist religion. Queen Maya of the Shakya Clan is said to have dreamed that a white elephant with six tusks entered her womb, signifying that she was pregnant with a child who would become the Buddha, or the awakened one. Other Buddhist scriptures say that the Buddha was incarnated as an elephant in one of his previous lives. According to archaeologist Anil Dhir of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, the newly discovered elephant sculpture is very similar to three other statues previously found in the area that date to the same period. “The region has yielded many temples in the past that include Buddhist symbols, including elephants,” Dhir says.

  • Artifacts September/October 2023


    Read Article
    (Courtesy James Davidson)
  • Around the World September/October 2023


    Read Article
    (Flinders University)
  • Digs & Discoveries September/October 2023

    Nose to Tail

    Read Article
  • Features September/October 2023

    Ukraine's Lost Capital

    In 1708, Peter the Great destroyed Baturyn, a bastion of Cossack independence and culture

    Read Article