Rampaging Elephant

Sawar or Kotah, Rajasthan
Circa 1720
Ink, opaque, and transparent pigments on paper
8 5/8 by 12 3/8 in. (21.8 by 31.4 cm.)
European Private Collection 

The bull elephant has just broken free from the chains binding his front leg and seized a man with his trunk.  The unlucky victim’s turban and bow have fallen to the ground, about to be trampled.  The mahout (elephant trainer) clings tenaciously to the marauding pachyderm while brandishing his hooked ankusa (elephant goad).  An identification inscription at the top reads “rajaprasanam.”

Elephants, and therefore also mahouts, have long been integral to politics and the economy throughout Southern and Southeastern Asia.  Usually, a mahout starts as a boy in the family profession and is assigned a particular young elephant. They remain bonded to each other throughout their lives. 

In addition to more traditional occupations, today’s mahouts are employed in many countries by forestry services as well as in tourism.