The Asian elephant often symbolises wisdom in various Asian cultures and especially in the form of the deity Ganesha (Ganesh), the elephant-headed god of Hindu culture. According to legend, Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Pavarti. His father cut off Ganesha’s human head when he refused to let him enter Pavarti’s bath chamber. Shiva then gave Ganesha an elephant head, so that his mother could breathe life back into him. Ganesha then took on the wisdom of the elephant and so became the Hindu God of wisdom. His large head symbolises the ability to acquire wisdom and knowledge, while his big ears means he can listen patiently. His small eyes means he can recognise truth and see the future.
Elephants are also used as mounts (vahana) for various Hindu gods, again representing wisdom. They also represent divine knowledge and royal power. Airavata is the sacred white elephant which acts as the mount of the god Indra.
White Asian elephants are highly treasured animals and especially in Siam (nowadays Thailand) are an important part of imperial ceremony and power as well as being the country’s national symbol. All white elephants are to be presented to the Thai King but the last one found was in the 1960s. In the Thai language, Ganesha is known as Phra Phiganet and is to be found in spirit houses and home altars throughout Thailand as he removes obstacles.
The position of the elephant’s trunk is associated with good fortune. Some say if the trunk is up the elephant will shower good fortune on all who walk past it. Others believe it is better if the trunk is down because this means the elephant lets good fortune flow freely and naturally on everyone’s path.
Elephants in Thailand Vol 3: White Elephants in Thailand and Neighboring Countries by Joachim Schliesinger