The red elephant with the seven trunks

The deeper meaning of mythical animals

Man has always tried to express the indescribable in symbols and metaphors. The invisible, divine, was made intelligible using beings and objects from the visible world. Sacred scriptures and myths of the gods abound with animals of all shapes and sizes. They play a hero’s role or they pose a danger. These animals almost always represent aspects of our inner world. Gaining insight into what an animal stands for can help us on our spiritual path. In this article, we’re going to see what we can learn from the elephant, the serpent, and the crocodile!

The serpent and the elephant

In our pelvis, near the sacrum, lies an energy source of divine origin. When this energy awakens, and ascends through the spine, it is the beginning of a spiritual transformation process. The kundalini-shakti, as the yogi calls this energy, has a purifying and healing effect.

A well-known symbol for this energy is a serpent. A fitting image, in several respects. A serpent renews (transforms) itself by molting. Furthermore, when viewed from the side, the human spine has the S-shape of a moving serpent. And the ability of many serpents to lift themselves upright from the ground will also have played a part in the fact that the serpent can be found all over the world as a metaphor for a kundalini awakening.

Much less known to the general public is the elephant as a symbol of a kundalini awakening. There are also a number of good reasons for the choice of this animal. The kundalini is a very powerful source of energy. If she awakens in an unprepared spiritual aspirant, it can have the disruptive effect on the mind and body of a proverbial elephant in a china shop. Though tempting given the prospects of experiencing God and gaining supernatural abilities, this does not make the kundalini energy something to experiment with lightly!

Our anatomy evokes associations with a serpent and an elephant

When we look at our anatomy, we see another possible explanation for the elephant as a symbol for the divine energy at our sacrum: the contours of the pelvis and the spine are strikingly similar to the head and trunk of an elephant!

The Hindu god Ganesha. A trident is depicted on his trunk. The small flask that Ganesha is holding with his trunk contains “amrita”: the drink of immortality. Amrita is a metaphor for the change of the cerebrospinal fluid: under the influence of the kundalini energy, opiates and hormones are released that conduct an experience of the divine.


The image of an elephant also fits the expansion of consciousness that is an aspect of the process of kundalini awakening. The popular Hindu god Ganesha can tell us all about this. According to the myths, he did not always have an elephant head. There are different versions of this story, but it usually comes down to this: the goddess Parvati (a personification of the kundalini shakti) while bathing makes her son Ganesha out of clay (or soap) and puts him on guard while she takes her bath. When her husband Shiva comes home and is stopped at the door by Ganesha, he becomes furious and beheads the boy with his trident. Then, when he finds out that he has killed his own son, he places an elephant’s head on his shoulders and brings him back to life.

Shiva and Parvati here represent the masculine and feminine energies in man that must merge in order to experience the oneness of the divine (samadhi). During this sacred marriage the ego ‘dies’. This is what the myth tells us in beautiful symbolism.

The bath of Parvati symbolizes the purifying effect of the kundalini energy. Parvati makes Ganesha out of clay while bathing: Ganesha represents the new human being that is formed through the purification process. Upon returning home, Shiva is not allowed to meet his wife (read: he cannot ‘unite’ with her) and therefore kills Ganesha. This symbolizes the ego that must die in order for the sacred marriage to take place.

The head is the seat of the ego. Decapitation is a classic metaphor for discarding the ego. The trident (trishula) with which the beheading of Ganesha takes place, represents the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening: the ida, pingala and sushumna nadi. In iconography, a trident is often depicted on Ganesha’s forehead or trunk.

Read more about the symbolism of decapitation in the article: “The spiritual process of losing the ego”

Freed from the ego, the spiritual aspirant experiences an expanded consciousness. The elephant head symbolizes this. The trunk is also very appropriate. A trunk is much like a serpent, and in Ganesha’s case it reaches from head to belly, the path the kundalini travels to the crown chakra.

Not many people are aware that Ganesha represents a process of kundalini awakening. He is worshiped by the Hindus as “the remover of all obstacles.” This actually describes the workings of the kundalini: removing energetic blockages.

A trident symbolizes the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening.


The elephant’s trunk in this ancient illustration is connected to a coiled (kundalini) serpent, via seven circles (the seven chakras)

Red elephant

In older depictions, Ganesha is often red or orange in color. This is a reference to the colors of the first (red) and second (orange) chakras. These two chakras are located in the pelvic area, where the kundalini resides.

All the puzzle pieces fall neatly into place when we look at the Eastern chakra teachings. It connects each of the seven main chakras to a specific animal. Muladhara (the first) chakra is associated with the elephant!

A red Ganesha is bathed by his parents Parvati and Shiva
(18th century miniature from Kangra, India)

An illustration of muladhara (the first) chakra, with Ganesha, Airavata, with its seven trunks, and the goddess Shakti, the personification of the kundalini energy.


Another mythical elephant, Airavata, has as many as seven trunks. These refer to the seven chakras that are purified and activated by the kundalini.

According to legend, Airavata was born from the “churning of the ocean of milk,” which we may read as a metaphor for a kundalini awakening. The relief from the Swaminarayan Akshardham temple complex in New Delhi (below) shows how this was done. A large serpent with seven heads is twisted around a mountain (the spine) and is moved back and forth by a team of (demi-) gods. We see Airavata on top of the waves created by the “churning.” A mythical image that takes place in the human pelvis during the awakening of the kundalini.

The elephant Airavata on a relief from the Swaminarayan Akshardham temple complex in New Delhi


We can learn an important spiritual lesson from the elephant Gajendra. According to Hindu legends, Gajendra was bitten by a crocodile while bathing, and it would not let go of him. At the end of his powers (according to legend after more than a thousand years) he begs the god Vishnu for help. As a sacrifice he holds a lotus in the air. Vishnu frees Gajendra by beheading the crocodile with his sudharshana chakra, a spinning disc with sharp serrations.

The crocodile represents our most primitive urges: the impulses that come from the part of our brain called the “reptile brain.” These animalistic tendencies are an obstacle to the realization of the divine.

The elephant Gajendra is liberated by the god Vishnu. The crocodile is beheaded with a sudharshana chakra.

A statue of Ganesha in Prambanan, Indonesia. His trunk is being cleaned by the many visitors. It is said that touching the trunk, then your forehead (the sixth chakra), will increase your creativity.

We now know enough to be able to interpret the rest of the symbolism. The image of Gajendra being held by the crocodile means that as long as we are guided by animal tendencies such as aggression, selfishness, greed and jealousy, the kundalini (Gajendra) will not awaken and will be ‘trapped’ in the basin (the lake ).

The lotus that Gajendra holds up with his trunk represents raising the kundalini (trunk) to the crown chakra (lotus). The sudharshana chakra with which the crocodile is decapitated refers to the spiral movement of the purifying kundalini.

The god Vishnu, who comes to Gajendra’s aid, tells us that if we focus on spiritual growth, we are not alone. We will get help from the divine dimensions!

This article was published in Paravisie magazine (May ’22)
Copyright Anne-Marie Wegh 2022

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Anne-Marie Wegh is author of the book:
Mary Magdalene, the disciple whom Jesus loved

By |2022-07-02T18:49:04+00:00June 4th, 2022|Anne-Marie|Comments Off on The red elephant with the seven trunks
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