Elephants: Majestic Murder – Gloria Norton


“Elephant Trampling a Tiger”

The elephant is one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet. Elephants exude strength and power while possessing a majestic calmness and tranquility, representing a state of being that many of us would like to achieve. They have a history of being objects of worship throughout the world, specifically in parts of Africa and India. A hindu God that fascinates me is the Lord of successes and the destroyer of evils and obstacles: Ganesha. This breathtaking figure is worshipped and revered, understandably, for his beauty and pride.

Bearing in mind this interpretation of the figure of the elephant, I was surprised when I found this painting of a dark, strong, ferocious elephant killing a tiger. The tiger and the elephant are suspended in the air almost entirely, caught up in the cycle of death, as a man riding the elephant brutally stabs the tiger. A beautiful gold frame surrounds the image and rolling green hills lie behind the two figures. This image is a representative of the execution by elephant trampling that occurred in the Mughal empire. Elephants were used to crush, torture, and kill prisoners in captivity. I would never have imagined this form of cruel torture, and the thought of dying in this way is chillingImage



16 thoughts on “Elephants: Majestic Murder – Gloria Norton

  1. I think it’s really interesting that you brought up how humans yearn to be like elephants in their formidable strength and peacefulness. I never thought about why we are so intrigued by elephants and that claim makes sense. Ferocious power and calm tranquility usually aren’t linked so you touched upon a really unique concept.

  2. That’s insane that they used elephants to trample their prisoners. I can’t even imagine that idea, they seem so regal and sweet. It reminds me of a hippo though which is this huge beast that doesn’t look like it can do much harm, but a hippo is possibly one of the deadliest animals in the wild. You do not want to be locked in a room with a hippo that is angry. I guess these prisoners would not want to be trapped in a room with an elephant after knowing what it does.

  3. It’s interesting that being killed by an elephant can be more terrifying than a tiger. Elephants seem much more peaceful but are so massive that their physical being is their weapon. A tiger is fierce but an elephant is inherently powerful. As Nicola brought up, I’m also interested in the symbolism of the tiger, not just the elephant.

  4. I too love elephants and find them to be amazing creatures. However, I always thought of elephants as gentle giants so it’s shocking and sad to hear about that they were used to inflict such torture on humans and other animals (poor tiger). This is definitely am image of power, as our professor mentioned. It was a good choice because it draws everyone in, tells a story, and is very relevant to our class on the Mughal empire. Even though it’s a sad and almost a terrifying image, it’s still beautiful, dark, but beautiful.

  5. This sort of reminds me of the way that in western courts there was portraiture and allegorical painting that was sort of propaganda intended for the court itself–a reminder of the status quo and the power of the ruler. Here, the Mughal empire is overcoming one of the most ferocious beasts I can think of. It’s really about power.
    Also, death by elephant sounds absolutely terrifying.

  6. This shows these two totally separate perspectives on elephants in India. This was such a good connection between the two: the peaceful and respected figure of Ganesha and this violent and animalistic figure of this Mughal elephant. But they both have a power of sorts. Ganesha has a spiritual power and this Mughal elephant has a physical power. This post really highlights the importance of the elephant in India (and in this class). 😉

  7. It frustrates me that elephants were exploited in this way. If the elephant is so majestic and beautiful, why force it to play the role of executioner? This image is misleading in its portrayal of elephants, and that bothers me. Why is a tiger the victim? Did the tiger commit a crime? Probably not…

    • I think you’re reading too much into the image. The elephant is often considered the symbol of the Mughal Empire. I feel this artist is basically trying to portray the strength of the Mughal Empire. The elephant was an important animal in the Mughal court so i doubt if it was “exploited” in any way. Also, i doubt if the tiger is the victim, it basically shows how the Mughal strength can trample over a strong and ferocious beast such as the Tiger (which can not be tamed).

  8. I agree with how humans idolize elephants as I found such facts in my own research. I found it interesting how you found the representation of elephant in the painting as dark. I thought that it showed dominance rather than violence.

  9. The executions by elephants are something that I learnt about multiple times over Indian history and they actually occurred in the 14th Century before the advent of the Mughals. However, upon studying Indian history, many of the Mughal emperors found it a humiliating form of punishment for criminals. I really like that you bring in Ganesha and his role as the “remover of obstacles” and this could be another symbol for removing obstacles (criminals) to the reign of the Mughals.

  10. I really like how you connected the image to Ganesha, for one thing, but your words describing the image are also very interesting. The contrast between the beauty of the image and the description of death and the use of elephants to execute prisoners was also surprising.

  11. Gloria, I love the way you described the beauty of the elephant, both on a physical and emotional level. The connection you made between the sculpture of the elephant and the practice of elephant trampling that was utilized as a form of execution during the Mughal Empire is very frightening, but also interesting.

  12. I also found this piece really interesting- mainly because it showed elephants as weapons. I feel like today (at least in the west) we have a very different view of elephants. They are too be protected, especially after people tried to collect their ivory/hunt them. I had a stuffed animal of an elephant when I was little and there are stories of elephants bonding with other animals (ex an elephant and a dog were best friends)… Elephants now are cute, almost vulnerable. This piece reminds of us their strength (though I still don’t like to think about using them to kill people).

  13. I appreciate how in this picture the usual circumstances are inverted: we think of tiger as a ferocious killing machine, but when we think about elephants we relate them (as you said) to gracious power. Here it’ s the elephant slaying the tiger. Elephants were always very important to India and to its inhabitants, so that one of the gods they praise has the features of that animal. I wonder if this depiction has a metaphorical meaning other than the mere representation of an animal finishing off another.

  14. I like your last image about the different meaning of each symbol presented on the usual portrayal of Ganesha. Every aspect of the image has a very important meaning which when added together comes together in perfect sense and harmony. Which holds true for the Religion in general.

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