The Airavarta or Six-tusked Elephant holds special significance in Buddhist traditions, as a symbol of purity, holiness and cleanliness. Elephants generally symbolize good fortune and luck and are considered an auspicious symbol. The Airavarta is also seen as synonymous with Buddha himself, as it is mentioned in Buddhist traditions. The six tusks are seen as a sign of divine conception and the beginning of Buddha’s physical journey.
Buddhism originated when Siddharta Gautama spread his philosophy of suffering, nirvana and reincarnation across India. Founded in the 6th century, Buddhism has spread across the world and remains one of the largest religions in the world. Its symbology is rich in mythology and depiction of complex Buddhist teachings and principles.
For Buddhists, symbols are primarily a way to represent the dharma and its different aspects. Originating in 4th century BCE, these symbols have been found in areas such as Gandhara. Although the actual role of the images within Buddhism remains unknown, these symbols have been found across artwork and temples in southeast Asian regions. They are a way to spread the teachings of Buddha and bring them in a more visual form. They communicate the key tenets of Buddhism and the concepts that are most important for followers. Some of the concepts these symbols explore include enlightenment, nirvana, time and its meaning as well as achieving pure consciousness.
Buddhist symbolism is the method of Buddhist art to represent certain aspects of dharma, which began in the fourth century BCE. Anthropomorphic symbolism appeared from around the first century CE with the arts of Mathura the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara, and were combined with the previous symbols. As it crossed regions and cultures, the symbols took new shape and form but the underlying meanings have remained consistent.
These symbols also continue to see usage in modern times. Whether individually depicted or together, the imagery is used in prayer flags, carpets, and ritual art. During many occasions, these symbols may be painted or drawn onto the ground during important ceremonies as a way to bless the proceedings.