Turtles (and elephants) all the way down?

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan palaniappa at AOL.COM
Sat Apr 17 17:42:13 UTC 2010

I have a few somewhat related questions. Does the myth of the tortoise/turtle supporting the world have anything to do with the hibernating behavior of the tortoise? Is that why in Agnicayana a tortoise is buried under the altar? For two Indology posts related to this issue, see: 

But then not all species of turtles/tortoise hibernate. I do not know if there are any tortoises/turtles in north India that hibernate. If not, could the myth have originated outside India where tortoises are known to hibernate?


On Apr 3, 2010, at 11:48 AM, John C. Huntington wrote:

> In Buddhist Art, especially early, elephants play a major role in "supporting" structural establishments Buddhist worlds, presumably paradises, although the early literature does not mention that as part of of the Buddhist architectural considerations. Pitalkhora and Karle in the western caves have elephant plinths, and the Maha-stupa at Anuradhapura has a spectacular one all around it. In all cases the elephants face the viewer and support the structure on their backs.
> In later Buddhist art, (ca, 11th century and on) in India, Nepal and Tibet the elephant commonly figures as either throne supports under the seat of a Buddhist figure (often a Buddha) or as part of the side throne-back supports, in which they often support other, often mythic, animals.  From the existence of these I would suggest that elephants were an early (as early as we have sculpture of them) marker of the division between the mundane and the attained worlds.
> As for turtles, offhand, I cannot think of a one in Buddhism. Maybe somebody else knows of some.
> Cheers
> John

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list