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Elephant, King and Holy Man, Edmund Perry Lecture by Professor Thomas Trautmann

When: Tuesday, April 18, 2017
5:00 PM - 7:00 PM Central

Where: Segal Visitors Center, Auditorium, 1841 Sheridan Rd, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Rossitza Guenkova-Fernandez   847.491.3611

Group: Religious Studies Department

Category: Academic


Elephant, King and Holy Man

Religious Studies Presents
Edmund Perry Lecture
by Thomas Trautmann, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Professor Emeritus of History, University of Michigan

Indian kings began capturing wild elephants and training them up to be instruments of war three thousand years ago. Because it was impractical to breed elephants in captivity they were captured as wild adults in forests. We could say that elephants were domesticated one by one, through the ages. The institution of the war elephant gave rulers an incentive to protect both wild elephants and forests; as a result, India today has more wild Asian elephants than any other country.

The elephant-king relation came to have a numinous aspect, and the symbolic value of elephants flowed from the king to the holy man. The institution of the war elephant spread from India westward to Persia, the Hellenistic states, Carthage and Rome; and eastward to the Indianizing states of Southeast Asia. The war elephant tied the history of the kingdom to the forest, drawing us to consider what culture of land-use, what religio-philosophic land ethic, sustained this practice.

Reception following


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