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PGE Distinguished Lecture

“Elephants, Gods and People: The Cultural History of the Asian Elephant”

May 17, 2010

A talk by Raman Sukumar, Professor of Ecology at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India.

Ever since it was first tamed nearly 5000 years ago by the Harappan civilization, the Asian elephant has enjoyed a relationship with humans unparalleled in its diversity and splendor by any other animal-human relationship. This talk relates the story of this rich elephant-human relationship in Asian cultures through successive stages in history, from the Harappan through the Vedic, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, and colonial periods to the post-independence era. Using literary sources and artistic representation of elephants in painting and sculpture, the talk traces the changing paradigms in the elephant-human relationship through history, and provides possible ecological explanations for the same.

Raman Sukumar photoRaman Sukumar is the author of three books on the ecology and conservation of elephants, and the recipient of the International Cosmos Prize in 2006. He is presently completing a cultural history of the Asian elephant that will be published in late 2010.

Cosponsored by the University of Chicago Program on the Global Environment, the South Asia Language and Area Center and the Committee on Southern Asia Studies.