Untold lives blog

22 February 2013

Elephant beauty parade

In 1949 Jawaharlal Nehru sent an elephant to the children of Tokyo in response to an appeal made by them. The elephant, named after his daughter Indira, was intended as a messenger of affection and goodwill from the children of India.

  Elephant c13614-14
Noc Thomas Daniell, Oriental Scenery (1789-90) Images Online

There is an amusing letter about this gift amongst the generally staid files of the India Office Political and Secret Department (IOR/L/PS/12/1409). The UK High Commission in New Delhi wrote to the UK Liaison Mission in Tokyo that Indira, a 15 year old weighing two and a half tons, would be leaving Calcutta by ship on 15 August 1949.  The elephant is described as 'a lady of particular beauty'. She was selected at a beauty parade of 20 elephants not only for her good looks, but also because she was the youngest, had a broad forehead and long trunk, and was the most docile of the group.  Moreover she had 18 toenails instead of the usual 16 which was regarded as 'particularly propitious'.

Indira arrived in Japan on 24 September 1949.  She was taken to Ueno Zoo where she was greeted by a large crowd.  Prime Minister Nehru's elephant continued to be a very popular attraction for visitors to the Zoo until her death in August 1983.


Margaret Makepeace 

Lead Curator, East India Company Records    Cc-by



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