Ashanee  |  She/Her

Elephant Half

Colombo, Sri Lanka  |  Washington, DC, USA
Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests
Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests

Session 2: November 29, 2022

My story is just something that I’ve been thinking about. It’s about my patron god, Ganesha, who is half elephant, half… person/being. (He’s traditionally like half elephant, half man, but I’ve been seeing more and more depictions of him in feminine ways, so now I’m seeing them as half elephant, half non-binary person.)

And Ganesha used to visit my dreams. Since I was really, really young, I would see I would see them emerge around me; I would chit-chat with them. Ganesha is the god of poetry, academics, intellect. And I had always been very academically driven, so they were both assigned to me by people around me, because I was good at school, but I also felt very deeply connected to them.

And I’m from Sri Lanka, where there’s elephants everywhere. So I would also see them in the elephants, in the trees, in the air, in bananas, in things that elephants like to eat. So I really felt their presence for a very long time.

And then we got a little bit disconnected. I got very disillusioned by religion as a whole, and by faith as a whole for a long time. And only fairly recently did I reconnect with Ganesha—during the pandemic, maybe. So we’ve been strong since then, for the last couple years.

But more recently, I’ve also been feeling the presence of my mom’s patron goddess, who is Kali. And she has two sides. She actually has nine sides, but they can be simplified into two sides. One is this incredibly destructive force: she destroys in order to create. She is rage embodied. In most depictions of her, her skin is black or dark blue, her tongue is hanging out. She wears a necklace of skulls, and she has ten hands. In one, she’s holding the head of a man. And another’s got a plate to collect his blood. (Laughs) And in another hand she grips some kind of weapon. She’s a destroyer, and she’s the goddess of, like, endings. But endings in order to create.

And Kali’s other side is motherhood and creation and love and compassion. And my mom has felt very connected to her for a long time. Like if she’s in a Kali temple, her hands get really hot with healing energy, and whatever she asks Kali, she receives.

Lately, I’ve been feeling connected to Kali and trying to figure out, like, how do I reconcile her energy with Ganesha, who’s fairly calm and cool and relaxed, and very like rational. Whereas Kali definitely allows her emotions to lead her more, and is more in touch with her rage. So I’ve been trying to think about how, as a woman who was like an angry child and who was taught to suppress that anger, how can I embrace that rage now? So that’s been on my mind.

And then I remembered the story of when I was in Sri Lanka and I was on a safari ride in Yala National Park, and we had been driving for maybe an hour at this point. We didn’t really see any leopards, didn’t see any bears… we’re just seeing like dry shrubbery the whole time. And then out of nowhere we see this lone, adolescent female elephant.

We see her, she sees us, and then she runs across the road. And I can see that she’s warning the herd behind her. And before we descended on her, she was playing and just like hanging out. And then she sees us, she runs to her herd, and she starts bluff charging. She was running her foot against the soil like she was preparing for a sprint—this was her way of threatening us, saying, “If you come closer, I will charge at you.”

And she looked very young… (the tracker that was with us was able to read elephants’ age and stuff based on prints on their body, and was saying, “She’s really young. She’s probably not even the mother. She’s maybe like the older sister or something in this herd.”) But she was really taking responsibility this time, and bluff charging. And then after we left, she stopped charging and, you know, herded her herd away (Laughs).

So that story has been helping me reconcile those two things, you know? Sometimes the elephant has to embody Kali, and sometimes Ganesha has to embody Kali, too. And there are probably moments when Kali has to embody Ganesha.

Those are some things that have been on my mind that have been helping me connect to my environment, my ancestors, my mom, my nature, and myself.

Ashanee is a research analyst at The Earth Commons and The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics. She is inspired by her experience growing up in Sri Lanka, a beautiful tropical island, and embraces the responsibility to be a steward for homes—hers and others’—that bear severe and disproportionate consequences of climate change. She is a scientist, activist, and storyteller concerned about the security of this earth and the security of people. She is working towards decolonizing conservation, effective science communication, and marrying rigorous scientific research with empathy, embodiment, and performance.