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Are the temple elephants being used to negatively portray India and Hinduism?


By Nithin Sridhar

“sham no astu dvipade, sham chatushpade” meaning “let the two-legged (humans) and the four  legged (animals) attain welfare” says one of the famous mantras used in Hinduism.

India and Hinduism have always recognized animals as an inseparable part of their ecology and ecosystem and hence not only worshiped various animals but also prayed for their welfare. Many animals were brought into our festivals where they played an important role. Many animals are considered highly sacred and as an embodiment of God. In the case of elephants, they are considered as a representation of Lord Ganesha.

The manufactured discourse around temple elephants

BigTemple_ElephantOn 15-August, Daily Mail published a story by Liz Jones that made shocking claims about the condition of temple elephants. The story begins dramatically “They seem like statues, or stuffed exhibits in a museum – 57 of them, studded around a patch of scrubby forest.” Then it moves on to reveal how Nandan, a 43-year old tusker, has been chained to the same spot for 20-years; how Padmanabhan’s leg was deliberately broken 15-years ago; and how Devi, a female elephant, has been chained to the same spot for 35 years and has never ever moved even a single inch.

Of course these tales are horrible, but thankfully it turns out that they may have been “manufactured”. On 18-August, Prem Panicker, of published an article where he clearly established how many of the heart-wrenching facts narrated in the Daily Mail story were nothing more than a figment of imagination of the author.

This is what Prem Panicker writes: “As a Keralite, and a Hindu who has visited the temple on a few occasions, my reaction to this article would be bewildered amusement.

“But as a journalist and editor, my reaction is far more visceral. I have many problems with this piece – beginning with the fictions, the distortions and the exaggerations. Only some of them are cataloged above; all of them are examples of journalism so shockingly inept that they can be disproved given a functioning internet connection and a few minutes of time.

“Then there is the overt racism embedded in declarations of the order of ‘The mahout, a vicious- faced little thug.’”

This is not to suggest that there are no issues with the upkeep of the temple elephants, only that the discourse depicted in the Daily Mail story not only did great disservice to the issue of status of temple elephants by opting for distortion and exaggeration instead of ground facts, but also it comes across as a deliberate hit-job trying to associate India and Hinduism with animal cruelty.

For example, in the Daily Mail article, the author states: “We discuss whether condemning the way the animals are kept will be perceived as attacking Hinduism (as so many people have told me since I arrived in Kerala, I will be insulting traditions going back thousands of years).”

So, a subtle suggestion is introduced in the discourse about how criticism of elephants may be perceived as criticism of Hinduism. But, in reality the author also appears to be doing the same thing. No body perceived various study and reports by experts regarding the issue of condition of temple elephants as a criticism of Hinduism. On the other hand, the author of Daily Mail story appears to be using distortions and fabrication of facts regarding temple elephants to make veiled commentary about India, Hinduism and Hindu practices. The question is, if there are no hidden agendas, why opt for distortion and fabrication?

Prem Panicker rightly sums up: “Such distortions and untruths harm the very cause the reporter purports to espouse, because they dent the credibility of not just the particular story, but of any reporter or activist raising this issue now and in the future.”

The real issue surrounding temple elephants

The most important issue with respect to temple elephants is the fact that elephants by nature are independent and like to roam freely. They need large space to live and move. But, in temples there is a great restriction on their movements due to reduced availability of space compared to wilderness. Elephants are often chained due to this reason as well. Another issue is that of availability of clean water in sufficient amount. Also, the work schedule may be too hectic and the living shelters may not be up to the mark. Temple elephants often suffer from isolation as well. The extreme methods used in taming of elephants is a grave issue.

Traditionally, mahouts are usually classified into Reghawan, Yukthiman, and Balwan. Reghavan controls the elephant using love and care and develops a bond with his elephant. The Yukthiman uses wit and intelligence to outsmart the elephants and hence tame them. The Balwan uses forceful means to achieve the same.

The temple authorities, as well as the government, must make sure that only the first and second types of mahouts are employed in the handling of elephants. Secondly, various modern equipment and techniques can be combined with traditional methods of taming elephants so that the activity of taming and transporting of elephants are done as smoothly and peacefully as possible. Utmost care must be taken to not handle elephants violently.

Further, the living conditions and the infrastructure provided for the elephants including, food, water, shelter etc. must be conductive to the health and happiness of the elephants. Their working conditions must be improved and they must be allowed to rest more and work less.

The 2009 report “Captive Elephants of Temples of India” written by Surendra Varma and others observers that, if the temples were to cater to the welfare of elephants, there are only two ways. The first way, the report says is to put a complete end to the practice. This is what is being demanded by the Bangalore-based Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, which has filed the PIL in the Supreme Court for banning the use of elephants in religious functions and processions. But, there are some serious issues with this argument.

elephantsIf a ban is demanded on keeping the elephants captive in temples, then such a ban must be demanded about any kind of captivity of animals. That would mean shutting down of not only various zoos across the country, but also prohibiting the practice of having pets at home. After all, if captivity itself is the issue and not the living conditions, then even a dog or a cat or even a cow are all in captivity in one way or the other. But, most people will definitely disagree with this suggestion.

Therefore, it is not proper to target a ban on captive elephants in the temples. If such a ban must be enforced, it must be equally enforced across the country on all kinds of animal captivity, including captivity of animals for scientific research. As such a blanket ban is not practical, it is better to improve the living conditions of the temple elephants. This is the second way suggested in the Surendra Varma and other’s report. It suggests that the owners of elephants must be mandated to provide natural conditions for the living of elephants like large space with sufficient vegetation, presence of companions and keeping at least 2-3 elephants together. The report further suggests following measures to be stipulated for temples that own an elephant:

1. The work load on the elephants should not be too much. The work schedule of the elephants should not be packed with as many festivals as possible in order to generate higher income. This can be achieved by charging higher fee per festival but limiting the number of festivals that elephants attend.

2. Another aspect of work is that the elephants should be provided natural transit living conditions in between periods of work. This implies not only restricted duration of work for the elephants but also taking care of all its needs during working hours.

3. Temples within a region could think of setting up a common facility capable of holding elephants belonging to different owners. This can be done independently or in association with the forest department. This will ensure presence of companions for the elephants and provide socializing opportunities.

4. Feeding the elephant needs to be managed scientifically, that is, not only the nutrient needs of the elephant but also psychological stimulation can be an objective while feeding the elephant; cultivation of fodder crops by temples can be practiced.

5. Formulation of policies/ monitoring/ providing recommendations on the captive situation for temple elephants needs to be streamlined to a single person or group of persons.

6. Establishment of mobile veterinary units to provide health care for temple elephants.

7. Motivational measures to be implemented for boosting morale of mahouts and schemes to improve their welfare.

8. General public must be allowed to view elephants at a distance and not allowed to touch or abuse elephants during parades, festivals, transportation, or rest.

When seen in the backdrop of the recommendations of the Surendra Varma report, the Supreme Court’s directive in the PIL by Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre is a very positive step.

The SC has ordered a head-count and registration of all captive elephants present in Kerala. It has asked the concerned authorities to issue “declaration of ownership” to the elephant owners. This will help in pinning responsibility for the health, safety and security of the elephants on the owners of the elephants and on the organizers of the festivals.

Cruelty towards animals is a ground reality. It is not just limited to treatment of elephants at few temples. When chickens or cows are slaughtered for food, even that is cruelty. When animals are hunted for their horns or fur; that is also cruelty. To use this issue of cruelty towards animals to create a negative discourse about India and Hinduism will serve no useful purpose. It will instead do a great damage to the genuine issue of animal welfare.


  1. I have been following this issue on various internet forums, all the posts from Kerala back the Liz Jones article. In fact some say it is worse than she reports.

    • yes its worse, i know , i have seen it myself in Kerala, in Tamil Nadu, in Karnataka, in Rajasthan, in Assam. I have worked with captive elephants and human-elephant conflict all my life, and articles like these make my blood boil..go out and do something to help these animals, instead of writing these poisonous articles that hide the truth and cause some controversy about some imagined slight to the oh so great hindu religion. I am a Hindu and im sick and tired of this religion being brought out as a magic cloak to cover all social ills perpetuated in its name!

  2. Mr. Sridhar, India recently banned the keeping of dolphins in captivity since keeping dolphins that need a large area to move around in is cruel, keeping tigers in captivity for commercial gain is banned too (read circuses). Why do you think these bans are there? Because elephants like tigers and dolphins cannot be completely domesticated as a cow, or dog or hen can , hence the distinction between ‘wild’ and ‘domestic’ animal. India has wild elephants and captive elephants but they’re not different species, they have the same needs of space, care, socialisation with their herd, ability to move around. Placing a howdah on them, adding chains,teaching it commands and then forcing it to kneel before some human created God, is unnatural and against its biological requirements. It’s an animal that we are using, and we are using it badly. Just like Sea World is losing its popularity in the West, as people begin to realise that keeping large mammals in captivity is cruel and unnecessary, so it is that in India people are beginning to question the way we use Elephants, a large mammal that is not suited for captivity. You can argue as much as you like about our 4000 year old history, but it was cruel to capture them then, its cruel to keep them in captivity now. That’s the undeniable truth. If we are okay with changing what was once tradition and reality, i.e. apartheid, colonialism then we don’t have any justification in continuing to abuse animals in the name of religion and tradition , just because we have always done so. People are becoming aware and the youth of today don’t have time for cruelty cloaked in religious jargon…and that’s exactly what an elephant in a temple is. It doesn’t belong there, it doesn’t add to your faith in any way, it only take away from it.

  3. and since the dolphin ban , i don’t see zoos being closed down, and till you have visited every single captive elephant in india as Mr. Surendra Varma did, please don’t criticise his findings, do your own research before you start debunking the meticulous work done by others.

  4. whose creating a negative discourse about india? by highlighting that you are the one whose moving the discussion away from animal welfare…you tell me how is a temple that can’t afford to keep even one elephant properly going to provide it with the socialisation it needs with other elephants? As usual you only have criticism and no constructive ideas. Go see all those captive elephants yourself first, I have…I helped edit Mr. Varma’s report, and I am shocked at how you can use a public platform to criticise his work, without going and checking the ground reality as you say, yourself!! Killing a chicken is cruel, keeping an elephant in captivity is cruel and there are good strong activists fighting against both, do the world a favour, and use your pen to support these poor animals who have no one to speak for them, they are the great voteless and voiceless majority, its just sad that a man-made religion is more important than an animal created by Nature who is right here, right now and suffering. Humans care more for their myths than for the natural world around them. But remember one thing, the temple doesn’t give you oxygen, food or water, nature does and elephants are part of that natural ecosystem, they were here before the temples were, but sadly they will be gone, while the temples will remain as testimony to man’s hubris in imagining that only he has dominion over all beings to use as he pleases. The greatest irony is that people like you will be gone, before the earth really starts to shut down and you won’t live to see the outcome of the issues we have all helped to exacerbate….we’re fighting a war against nature and we’re winning, the only thing we don’t realise is that we are going to our own doom. Captive elephants are an unnecessary and cruel relic from the past, give these poor creatures a chance to live, why the hell would you want them to keep suffering ????

  5. Oh, please. The reason Hindism is seen negatively in other countries has little, if anything, to do with temple elephants. Dowry murders, dowry extortion, the mere existence of dowry, burning Dalit children alive, killing Dalits for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and murdering someone for allegedly eating beef do a much more thorough job of making Hindism look bad. That and the blathering Hindutva nonsense and racism we hear from South Asian neigbhors and colleagues here in the West.
    We find amusement in the eagerness of South Asians to point at alleged US racism, etc. Given the history of India, and the mass murders in “communal riots”, it is like a bad joke for us to hear.

  6. Temple elephants aren’t making you look bad, the way you treat them makes you look bad. Duh. If your culture reveres elephants so much, why do you beat them? Very simple question. If you don’t want your country to look like crap for the way it treats it’s animals, don’t treat your animals like crap, and especially don’t do it in the name of religion!!! Seems reasonable enough. Yeah, that whole rape epidemic going on over there isn’t helping ya either 😉 Ya might want to do something about that if you’re trying to improve your rep to the rest of the world.


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Hinduism is Not an Official or Preferred Religion in Any Country of The World, Says a New Report

Though Hinduism is the third largest religion of the world, it is not the official state religion of any country according to a Pew Research Center Report

Hinduism is not an official religion of any country in the world. Instagram.
  • No country has declared Hinduism as its official state religion – despite India being an influential Hindu political party
  • Hinduism is not an official or preferred religion in any country of the world, according to a Pew Research Center report.
  • 53% of 199 nations considered in the study don’t have an official religion
  • 80 countries are assigned either an “official religion” or “preferred religion”

Nevada, USA, October 16: Hinduism is the primeval and third largest religion of the world with about 1.1 billion followers of moksh (liberation) being its utmost desire of life. India is among the category of nations where the government do not have an official or preferred religion.

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank headquartered in Washington DC that aims to inform the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

The report states that a country’s official religion is regarded as a legacy of its past and present privileges granted by the state. And a few other countries fall on the other side of the gamut, and propagate their religion as the ‘official religion’, making it a compulsion for all citizens.

It adds up on the context of allocation that more than eight-in-ten countries (86%) provide financial support or resources for religious education programs and religious schools that tend to benefit the official religion.

Islam is the most practiced official religion of the world. Instagram.

Commenting on Hinduism, the report states:

In 2015, Nepal came close to enshrining Hinduism, but got rejected of a constitutional amendment due to a conflict between pro-Hindu protesters and state police.

Although India has no official or preferred religion as mentioned in the Constitution,it was found by PEW that in India the intensity of government constraints and social antagonism involving religion was at a peak. “Nigeria, India, Russia, Pakistan and Egypt had the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion among the 25 most populous countries in 2015. All fell into the “very high” hostilities category,” the report added.

As per the 2011 census, it was found that 79.8% of the Indian population idealizes Hinduism and 14.2% practices to Islam, while the rest 6% pursuit other religions.

While Hinduism stands up with the majority, Article 25 of the Constitution of India contributes secularism allowing for religious freedom and allows every Indian to practice his/her religion, without any intervention by the community or the government.

Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, President of Universal Society of Hinduism, applauded the Hindu community for their benefaction to the society and advised Hindus to concentrate on inner purity, attract spirituality towards youth and children, stay far from the greed, and always keep God in the life.

According to Pew, these are “places where government officials seek to control worship practices, public expressions of religion and political activity by religious groups”.

-by Bhavana Rathi of NewsGram.  She can be reached @tweet_bhavana

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Paintings Which Beautifully Depict Scenes From Ramayana

Ram lifting the bow during Sita Swayambar. Wikimedia Commons.

Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic which describes the narrative of Ayodhya Prince lord Rama’s struggles. The struggles include- exile of 14 years, abduction of his wife Sita, reaching Lanka, destruction of the evil. It is strongly ingrained in the Indian culture, especially, the Hindu culture since a long time. Hindus celebrate Diwali based on the narratives of Ramayana.

The story of Ramayana gives out the beautiful message that humanity and service to the mankind is way more important than kingdom and wealth. Below are five paintings describing the scenes from Ramayana:

1. Agni Pariksha in Ramayana

Agni Pariksha. Wikimedia.

When Lord Rama questions Sita’s chastity, she undergoes Agni Pariksha, wherein, she enters a burning pyre, declaring that if she has been faithful to her husband then the fire would harm her. She gets through the test without any injuries or pain. The fire God, Agni, was the proof of her purity. Lord Rama accepts Sita and they return to Ayodhya. 

2. Scene From The Panchavati Forest

scene from the panchavati forest. wikimedia.

The picture describes a scene from the Panchavati forest. It is believed that Lord Rama built his forest by residing in the woods of Panchavati, near the sources of the river Godavari, a few miles from the modern city of Mumbai. He lived in peace with his wife and brother in the forest.

3. Hanuman Visits Sita

Hanuman meets Sita. Wikimedia.

Hanuman reaches Lanka in search of Sita. At first, he was unable to find Sita. He later saw a woman sitting in Ashok Vatika, drowned in her sorrows, looked extremely pale. He recognized her. After seeing the evil king, Ravana making her regular visit to Sita, he hid somewhere in the Vatika. After Ravana left, Hanuman proved Sita that he is Rama’s messenger by showing her his ring. He assured her that Rama would soon come to rescue her. Before leaving Lanka, he heckled Ravana. Agitated by Hanuman’s actions, Ravana ordered to set Hanuman’s tail on fire. With the burning tail, Hanuman set the entire city on fire.


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Exploring the Faces of Faith and Devotion: 7 Principal Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism

Foremost among the several gods and goddesses of Hinduism are the Trimurti; Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, the holy triad that signify supreme divinity in Hinduism – the creater, sustainer and destroyer of the world

Are you familiar with the various gods and goddesses of Hinduism? Pixabay

New Delhi, October 9, 2017 : Devout Hindus have a god for every occasion and every day – over 33 million, according to popular beliefs. While people of other religions often interpret them as fictional characters, the multiple gods and goddesses of Hinduism are held with utmost devotion and sincerity by the believers.

Ours is a polytheistic religion – in other words, a myriad of gods and goddesses of Hinduism. Foremost among the several gods and goddesses of Hinduism are the Trimurti; Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, the holy triad that signify supreme divinity in Hinduism – the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the world. These divine forces are known to appear in different avatars, embodied by different gods and goddesses.

In Hinduism, Lord Brahma is the creator of the Universe and the first member of the holy trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh). However, he is not worshiped as Vishnu or Shiva with only one temple dedicated to him, the Pushkar temple of Rajasthan.

Here are some of the many gods and goddesses of Hinduism.

1. Vishnu

Vishnu is the second member of the holy Hindu triad, who sustains the entire world – Vishnu is believed to return to the earth during distressed times to restore the balance between good and evil.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Lord Vishnu. Wikimedia

Believed to have incarnated nine times, Vishnu symbolizes the principles of order, righteousness, and truth. His associate is Lakshmi, the goddess of family life and prosperity.

Vishnu is always depicted with a blue-colored human body with four hands, each of which carries four different objects – a conch, chakra, lotus flower and mace. The god is shown to ride the Garuda, an eagle.

So far, Vishnu has appeared on earth in various incarnations. These include fish, turtle, boar, Narsimha (half lion, half man), Vamana (dwarf sage with the ability to grow), Parsuram, Ram, Krishna and Buddha. Devotees believe he will re-incarnate in a last avatar, popularly known as ‘Kalki’, close to the end of this world.

Hindus who worship Vishnu are primarily known as Vaishnava and regard him as the greatest god.

2. Shiva

One of the members of the holy Hindu trinity, Lord Shiva is as the god of destruction, so that the world may be recreated by Brahma. Thus, his destructive powers are perceived as regenerative: necessary to make renewal possible.

Known by different names like Mahadeva, Nataraja , Pashupati, Vishwanath and Bhole Nath, Shiva is known to have untamed enthusiasm, which drives him to extremes in conduct. It is his relationship with wife Parvati which established the balance. While other gods and goddesses are represented in glorious avatars, Shiva is dressed in plan animal skin and usually sits in a yogic aasana.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
God Shiva, Wikimedia

Shiva is often addressed as the Lord of Dance, with the rhythm of the dance believed to be symbolic of the balance in the universe, masterfully held by Shiva. His most significant dance form is the Tandav.

Hindus who worship Shiva as their primary god are known as Shaivites.

3. Lakshmi

One of the most popular goddesses of Hindu mythology, Lakshmi gets hers name from the Sanskrit word ‘lakshya’, meaning ambition or purpose. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, prosperity and purity and is the associate of Vishnu.

Lakshmi is believed to reside in places of hard work, and sincerity, However, the goddess leaves whenever an individual is overcome with greed or malice or when these qualities are not evident anymore. Hindus believe Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi. Hence, they worship the goddess of prosperity primarily during Diwali, which commemorated the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Gods and goddesses of hinduism
Goddess Lakshmi. Wikimedia

Lakshmi is widely represented as an enchanting woman with four arms, settled or standing on a lotus flower.

Devout Hindus worship Lakshmi at temples and inside homes alike, and believe worshipping her with utmost sincerity blesses an individual with success and fortune.

4. Ganesha

The pot bellied, elephant-headed god Ganesha, also known as Ganpati, Vinayak and Binayak, is the son of Shiva and Parvati. one of the most popular gods and goddesses of Hinduism, Ganesha is revered as the remover of all obstacles, which is why his presence is first acknowledged before beginning any new work.

The lord of success and wealth, Ganesha is also the patron of knowledge and learning; devotees believe he wrote down parts of the Hindu epic Mahabharata with his broken tusk.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
Ganesh Puja. Wikimedia

Ganesha is typically depicted as a pot-bellied, elephant-headed red colored god, with four arms and a broken tusk. This head is believed to characterize the atma or the soul and the body represents the maya or mankind’s earthly existence. The rats, which can gnaw their way through every hardship, are believed to symbolize Ganesha’s ability to destroy all obstacles.

Lord Ganesha is shown riding mouse, which can gnaw their way through every hardship, are believed to symbolize Ganesha’s ability to destroy all obstacles.

5. Krishna

Believed to be the most popular and the most powerful avatar of Vishnu, Krishna is revered as the Supreme Being or the Purana Purushottam out of a list of several hundred gods and goddesses of Hinduism, by several devout Hindus. One of the most loved and mischievous gods, Krishna means ‘black’ and can be believed to denote mysteriousness.

In Hinduism, Krishna takes several different roles- that of a hero, leader, protector, philosopher, teacher and a friend and is believed to have lived on earth between 3200 – 3100 BC. His birth is widely celebrated on the midnight of Ashtami during the month of Shravan, and is called Janmashthami.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Picture of idols of Lord Krishna and Radha, decorated for Janmashtami. Wikimedia

Stories of Krishna’s birth, childhood and youth and widely read and circulated, with every mother wanting to have a child like him. His raas with Radha is also remembered widely.

Krishna is held with utmost reverence for his role as the charioteer of Arjuna, as explained in the Mahabharata. It was in the middle of this war that Krishna delivered his famous advice about ‘Nishkam Karma’ which propagated action without attachment, which formed the basis of the Bhagwat Gita.

Krishna is extremely fond of white butter and there are several stories about how he stole butter from gopis throughout his childhood. He is depicted as a dark and extremely handsome, usually depicted with a flute which he used for its seductive powers.

6. Ram

Maryada Purushottam Ram is the ideal avatar of Vishnu. An epitome of chivalry, virtues and ethical demeanor, Ram is the seventh incarnation of Vishnu who is believed to have taken birth to eradicate all evils from the world.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Ram Darbar. Wikimedia

Unlike all other gods and goddesses of Hinduism, Ram is believed to be a historical character, instead of an imaginary figure. The Hindu epic Ramayana is a retelling and celebration of Ram’s life – a tale of his fourteen years in exile with his wife and brother.

Ram’s birthday is celebrated as Ramnavmi, wherein devotees invoke him with religious chants to attain his blessings shield. The festival of lights, Diwali, which is one of the major festivals in Hinduism, is also observed to celebrate the return of Ram, Laksham and Sita back to Ayodhya after an exile of fourteen years.

Ram bears a dark complexion to show his resemblance to Vishnu and his other avatar Krishna, and is almost always depicted with a bow and arrow in his hands and a quiver on his back. Ram also wears a tilak on his forehead. Accompanying the statues of Ram are idols of his wife Sita, brother Lakshman and the celebrated monkey-god Hanuman, who together combine the Ram Darbar.

7. Saraswati

Daughter of Shiva and Durga, and the consort of Brahma, Saraswati is revered as the goddess of wisdom, learning, speech and music. She is the goddess of knowledge and arts. Devotees often worship the deity before commencing any educational work- books and stationary items are often revered as Saraswati is believed to reside in them.

Saraswati Vandana, religious chants dedicated to the goddess of music often begin and end all Vedic lessons. The goddess also plays songs of wisdom, affection and life on the veena, a string instrument.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
Sarswati, Wikimedia Commons

Saraswati is visually represented in pure white attire and rides a peacock, with a lotus in one hand and sacred scriptures in the other. She also has four hands that signify the four aspects of learning- mind, intellect, alertness, and ego.

Out of all the 33 million gods and goddesses of Hinduism, devout Hindus believe only Saraswati can grant them moksha- the ultimate emancipation of the soul.