Archaeologists Unearth 2,300-Year-Old Buddhist Elephant Statue In India

Published June 8, 2023
Updated June 9, 2023

The statue, found among other Buddhist artifacts in the Daya River Valley in India, likely dates back to the 3rd century B.C.E. when the region was a hub for Buddhism.

Ancient Buddhist Elephant Statue

Anil Dhir/INTACHThe 2,300-year-old Buddhist elephant statue unearthed near the banks of India’s Daya River.

An archaeological team surveying a village on the banks of the Daya River in east India just uncovered a 2,300-year-old Buddhist elephant statue.

The statue measures roughly three feet high and is carved in rock. In the same village, the team found other artifacts, including pieces of an ancient Buddhist temple.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the team that discovered the statue, state that the area where they found it is rich in Buddhist artifacts.

“We were surveying the Daya River Valley to document its heritage,” historian Anil Dhir told Live Science. “This area is rich in artifacts from the ancient Buddhism which flourished here.”

Researchers have found other elephant statues in the area, including one from the village of Dhaulagir that dates back to the 3rd century B.C.E.

The area of the Daya River close to Dhaulagir, a nearby town roughly 12 miles upstream, is significant to the researchers as it was once an ancient hub of Buddhism. The architectural team was surveying the area to find artifacts like the elephant statue that might help us better understand the importance of Buddhism to the ancient inhabitants of the region, as well as its evolution.

Historians know that Buddhism originated in northern India around the 5th or 6th century B.C.E. and was the predominant religion of the region until the 2nd century C.E., when Hinduism and Islam began spreading.

According to India’s 2011 census, only .7% of the modern population of India are practicing Buddhists, but motifs from Buddhism appear in Hindu ceremonies.

Decorated Elephant Statue

Anil Dhir/INTACHThe team decorated the elephant with a red mark on its head.

The elephant is an important symbol in both Buddhism and Hinduism. The symbol was once synonymous with royalty and thought to bring rain and fertility. In early Buddhism, the story goes that the mother of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who would later become the Buddha, had a vision of a white elephant entering her womb when she was pregnant with the future religious teacher.

Additionally, some Buddhist stories say the Buddha himself has lived as an elephant in other incarnations.

Archeological Group With Elephant Statue

Anil Dhir/INTACHThe archaeological team stands next to their finding.

Finding a statue of an elephant in the region further suggests how important the animal must have been in the lives of ancient Buddhists. Now, according to India News Diary, the archeological team has submitted a formal request to the government to study the artifacts and preside over their preservation.

The Daya River Valley often experiences cyclones and flooding, and the archaeological team hopes to continue their work before weather conditions make it difficult.

The team has also expressed interest in continuing their study of the area, as they believe there are more artifacts of cultural, religious, and historical significance buried in the Daya River Valley flood plains.

After reading about this fascinating sculpture of Buddhist history, dive into the dark Buddhist teachings that often surprise observers. Then, check out 29 awe-inspiring photos of holy places from around the world.

Amber Breese
Amber Breese is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Cite This Article
Breese, Amber. "Archaeologists Unearth 2,300-Year-Old Buddhist Elephant Statue In India.", June 8, 2023, Accessed April 19, 2024.