Rachel Dwyer’s TLS review picks out some of the nuggets from R. Sukumar’s The Story of Asia’s Elephants . In a world where the boundaries between creatures and the gods are “extremely porous,” it’s not surprising that the majestic elephant is one of the forms the gods choose to use: “Ganesha . . . has an elephant head and a human body. Nor are elephants entirely confined to any one of these categories, for they are partly divine and seem very human. Famous elephants, including the distinguished Kesavan, who stood 3.2 metres in height and served the Guruvayoor temple in Kerala for over fifty years until his death in 1976, were thought to be an incarnation of the deity. A life-size statue of Kesavan stands guard outside the temple, garlanded and honoured by a procession of elephants every year on the anniversary of his death. Temple vendors still do a brisk business selling photographs of him, and near-lifesize cut-outs of this celebrity animal welcome travellers to airports in Kerala. A popular film adaptation of his life made in 1977 portrays him to be very human in his morality and devotion, although when he dies, his soul is shown leaving his body and joining the divine, dropping a lotus as an offering at the feet of his beloved god, Guruvayoorappan.”

Elephants form their own little glory-environment: “They enhance the landscape as they exude ichor from their temples, as well as other bodily apertures. The smell of ichor is compared to cardamom, and a common conceit is that it is so sweet that it not only perfumes the water in which the elephants bathe, but also attracts bees who cluster round elephants’ foreheads, finding the fragrance more attractive than that of flowers. Elephants are compared to clouds, dark, large, grey, thundering and full of water (the Irrawaddy River shares the name of Airawat, the seven-trunked elephant of Indra, king of the gods), thus making the earth seem like the sky when they form in herds. Elephants use their tusks to dig up mountains to show their prowess, which is likened to that of kings who uproot their enemies.”