The White Elephant
An adaptation of the Jataka Tale
Once upon a time, there lived a herd of eighty thousand elephants. They lived at the bottom of the majestic Himalaya Mountains. Their leader was a magnificent and rare White Elephant who was extremely kind. He loved and cared for his mother, who was old and had grown weak and blind.
Every day, this White Elephant would go deep into the forest to collect food for his mother. He would always look for the very best fruit as he wanted her to have the nicest food. He would ask his herd to carry the fruit back to his mother while he carried on his search. But he found out that his mother never received any. The unhelpful elephants would get hungry and eat it themselves! So his poor mother would have been hungry all day.
One day, he decided that he needed to take better care of her. He needed to find food close to home, so that he could give it to her himself. So he and his mother left the herd in search of a new home.
They travelled a long way and found themselves at Mount Candorana. There, they found a lovely little cave beside a beautiful lake. Around the lake stood tall pink lotuses. They decided to make it home.
They lived quite happily there. His mother was looking a little stronger and he was enjoying living at the lake.
One day, while searching for food, he heard human cries echoing in the forest. The White Elephant’s enormous ears flapped open to hear better where the cries were coming from.
Just then, a man burst through the trees, flailing his arms around in front of him. He fell to his knees, crying. The White Elephant felt sad for the man and started to walk over to him. The man heard him coming and looked up. He nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw the enormous White Elephant walking towards him. The elephant told him not be afraid and asked him why he was crying. The man was a forester and was lost. He had been visiting relatives and had got confused
in the forest on his way home to Benaras.
The elephant lowered his trunk onto the forester’s shoulder and told him that his troubles were over. He knew every inch of this forest and would be able to lead him to Benaras. The forester was so pleased and gladly accepted a lift on the elephant’s back as he carried him home.
Now this forester arrived back to the city of Benaras to hear that the king’s favourite elephant had just died. The king wanted a new elephant and anyone who knew of an elephant fit for a king would get a reward. Well, he knew of a fantastic elephant – a white one, and he told the king he knew where the elephant lived!
The king was very pleased with the information and immediately sent his best soldiers and elephant trainers off into the forest behind the forester. They walked for many days. The forester remembered the path the elephant had taken and was able to lead the group right up to the lake.
They crouched behind the trees and watched as the rare White Elephant came out of the cave in search of lotus roots for his mother. The elephant immediately sensed that there were humans about and stopped in his tracks. He searched the tree line and his eyes found a familiar face – the forester!
At that moment, all the soldiers and elephant trainers jumped into the clearing and captured the great animal. It was
easily done; he didn’t want to injure anyone with his strength, so the elephant didn’t fight. He was too kind to injure anyone. He had been hurt by the betrayal of the forester, but he decided to go along with them to Benaras and ask the king to set him free.
On his arrival to the beautiful city of Benaras, the elephant was led down the main street. Hundreds of people had come out to celebrate the arrival of the new State Elephant. He was taken to his luxury stable filled with beautiful garlands and fragrant flowers. There was a table covered in food and a very comfortable elephant bed!
But the new State Elephant neither ate anything nor drank anything. He did not look at the garlands and did not lie on the bed. He just sat there looking sad!
The soldiers were worried by the sadness of the animal and told the king of his behaviour. The king too was worried . He didn’t want his new elephant to become ill! So he visited the stable where his new elephant sat, looking sad. The king just couldn’t understand it! He should be the happiest elephant in the kingdom to have been chosen by the king. He would live in luxury his entire life!
But the grave White Elephant explained that he would never be happy here. He had left his mother alone in a cave in the forest. She was blind and could not look after herself. All he wanted was to be there with her and to be able to look after her.
The king was very touched by this story and felt sad for the mother. He thought this rare White Elephant was magnificent – not just his size or beauty, but his kindness and his nobility.
He took the elephant to the edge of the forest and freed him. He bid him look after his mother well.
The White Elephant ran back to the lake as fast as he could and found his mother walking along the side of the cave, feeling her way with her trunk; tears coming down her face. He picked up some water with his trunk and showered it over her. She was so scared of whoever had done this that she called out for her son to come home. Little did she realise that he was home.
He stroked her face and she recognised his touch and was overjoyed. He told her of the compassion of the king who set him free and she blessed the king with peace, prosperity, and joy till the end of his days. She was so thankful to him for sending her son back home.
The White Elephant was able to take good care of his mother till the day she died. And when he died himself, the king had a large statue of him put by the side of the lake. He held an elephant festival every year in memory of such a caring and noble soul.