The intelligence, memory, paternal instincts, the matriarchy and the gentleness of the peaceful giant has fascinated and inspired the human mind since centuries.
Ganpati Bappa Morya!
🐘A better way to begin this write-up did not occur to me. Because the elephant-headed deity, fondly called Ganesha or Ganpati, is invoked before any new venture is undertaken in the Indian culture. He is known as ‘Vighnaharta’ meaning one who removes obstacles. Thus, I started with a prayer to the cutest deity in the hope of lady-luck being kind to me with this piece.🐘
Before I delve into why the ‘haathi’ is the mascot at Language Curry, I want to share a personal anecdote from my childhood.
Tezpur, in Assam, is a scenic town on the banks of the river Brahmaputra. During one monsoon afternoon in the nineties, when many parts of the state were submerged, we noticed a huge commotion near the bank of the river from our residence in the hilltop. A wild elephant had swum across from the Kaziranga National Park! Was he a mast haathi out of all control? Speculations were rife.The wise elderly few in the crowd tried to calm the panic-ridden ones shouting at the top of their voice; ‘do not disturb him, he has come here for a purpose!’
Fortunately no one troubled him and the gigantic haathi disappeared uneventfully from our sight. After about half an hour, as we stood, still alarmed and with petrifying speculations, we watched the elephant retracing his path back to the river, eventually swimming back to its abode.
How much destruction had it caused in the jungles that it had visited? Did it trample anyone under its feet? Did it break anyone’s house? The thoughts got murkier. But the mystery that unfolded left me and those around me amazed. In fact the incident seeded a devotional admiration in me for the Haathi and Lord Ganpati.
We learnt soon that every monsoon, the same elephant, swims across the Brahmaputra and visits an unassuming Ganesha mandir situated half a kilometre from the river banks. He rings the bell of the temple, walks around the deity, and then spends a few minutes at the temple premises. The temple was quite old - neither well maintained nor renovated - and the locality is named Ganeshghat after the temple. The elephant remembers its exact trajectory-to and fro- across the river and on the land, as it pays a visit to its deity year after year. What made an elephant visit the mandir each year? Does it tell us something about the intelligence of elephants?
The Bengalis celebrate Durga Puja every year.
This is apart from celebrating the Goddesses’ victory over Mahishasur- marks the occasion when Maa Durga descends from Kailash and visits her maiden house. If Maa Durga makes her journey atop the elephant, it is considered to bring prosperity among the masses and is said to be the most auspicious.
Indians have been fascinated by elephants since time immemorial.
Elephants have always held a special place in the hearts and minds of Indians for ages. These majestic royal beasts have also been important cultural symbols. They took our warriors to wars. They guarded the portals of forts. They were part of prayer and sacred rituals, and remain so today.
They were found aplenty in Hindu temples, when Hindu temples existed in their full glory with enough land to sustain not just cattle but everyone from small birds, to pathshaalas, medicine, art, science, festivals, cultural events and elephants.
Those readers who are familiar with the Language Curry app have invariably come across the image of an elephant with its trunk raised. An elephant raises its trunk in a gesture of welcome. Our journey with Language curry could not have had a more promising start with this auspicious creation of God beckoning us!
Haathi is the only animal in the world that can distinguish human languages. Biologists Karen McComb and Graeme Shannon of the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, researched 47 elephant family groups at Amboseli National Park in Kenya and monitored the animals' behaviour.
The research used audio recordings to prove this. Human words uttered were played in front of the elephants from a friendly voice (forest dwellers who do not harm elephants) and a non-friendly voice (a tribe that is known to kill elephants for ivory poaching- deplorable!). They remained calm upon hearing the friendly voice; but as soon as the non-friendly voice was played, they immediately grouped and ran for cover! It can also distinguish a female or child’s voice from that of a grown-up man.
I share below my poem as my tribute to the beautiful mammal.
You are big, yet not without grace,
Quiet and composed- you glide at your pace,
Elegance in your walk, calmness in your face,
Winning without even being in the race,
You bring Durga Maa and give us hope,
Prosperity and success- you bring all in scope.
You symbolize Ganpati- majestic and sublime,
You defended our forts, for a long time.
You recognise language, you identify voice,
How can you not be Language Curry’s sole choice?
You welcome folks into Language Curry,
With you, as mascot - it'll be a success story!