The Malayali and the pachyderm
The elephant army of King Puru was the reason for Alexander’s retreat from
Well, for the people of Kerala, the pachyderm is a gentle friend, one who graces the many festivals, processions, weddings, meetings and what not, when he is not lugging logs for its owners keep. As you start a drive on the North to South NH 47 highway in Kerala, you should not be surprised if you come across one of these ancient animals, hide fading with age, tusks yellowing but proudly poised, serenely ambling along the road side, with its bare bodied mahout atop it, a coconut palm leaf clutched in its trunk & tusks, nor caring a hoot about the economic riches changing the countryside or the noise & pollution. The trucks belch past spewing acrid black oily smoke with some having names like ‘Ashamol’ stating proudly ‘National permit’ on their foreheads (if one may call it so), the buses careen through the median, cars of various colors and makes speed past and you see the ever present auto rickshaws and two wheelers. Sometimes you would even see a lorry chugging away with an elephant standing on it…Ah, I miss it all…
You can’t help but love this gentle animal. The weary old eyes always intrigued me and as a child I have always wanted a bit of the elephants tail hair – legendary in Kerala for instilling courage and warding away enemies ( I never got one)…We have had so many movies featuring elephants and popular actors like Jayaram even owned one. When you go to Guruvayoor, you can visit the Anakotta or elephant sanctuary which is what the old Zamorin’s Punnathur palace grounds are used for now and where the sixty odd temple elephants live. In the past and even today only the very wealthy can own an elephant due to the prohibitive maintenance costs involved. My wife always tells me about her great grandfather who owned an elephant, and about the massive chain that was used to tie the elephant, lying in the corner of the attic, rusting away…reminding me of the majestic book by Vaikom Mohammed Basheer – ‘My grandpa had an elephant’
Wiki introduces it well; The Elephants of Kerala are an integral part of the daily life in Kerala, south
We have in Kerala Auyurvedic ‘elephant treatment’ books and even a monsoon rejuvenation therapy for elephants. Not all 700
of the elephants living in captivity in Kerala may get it, but well, in the days when they had more stature, I believe they were kept happier… Today you can even go on package tours in Kerala called = Spend a day with an elephant!!See them doing their thing in a lovely photo site of Seby Varghese.
Many centuries ago there was a mythical dwarf elephant that graced its forests called the ‘ikallaana’. Oct 4th is Elephants day in Kerala. Between Jan 17th and 20th, Kerala hosts the elephant march from Trichur to
The Guruvayoor temple spends about Rs3 crores every year for the upkeep of the 60 elephants they maintain. They do earn a third of their keep as rentals to other temples. Devotees can participate in the upkeep or even donate elephants, but it is not for the faint hearted or the middle class. New temple guidelines stipulate,that any devotee wishing to donate an elephant should also pay Rs 400,000 towards its upkeep. Instead of donating an elephant, a devotee can also make a 'symbolic offer' by paying Rs 500,000 to the temple. The latter provision, temple officials say, makes economic sense for the devotees because an elephant can cost anything between Rs 600,000 and Rs 800,000. "If a devotees offers an elephant to the temple, it could cost him more than Rs 10 lakhs (Rs 1 million) including the maintenance charge of Rs 400,000 we now ask for," a temple official points out. But the new rules have not deterred devotees.
Malayalis are famed for their sarcasm – Hear this, K P Krishnan, a frequent visitor to the Guruvayoor temple, says its elephants are the best looked-after pachyderms in the country. "The Guruvayoor temple," he declares, "takes care of its elephants much better than the Indian government or Kerala government looks after its citizens."
Malayalam movies have featured elephants in key roles – Gajakesariyogam, Guruvayoor Keshavan, Kudumbasameetham, Anachandam are a few. Keshavan – the most famous of them all, standing over 3.2 meters tall, was known for his devout behavior. Kesavan died on "Guruvayoor Ekadasi," considered a very auspicious day. He fasted for the entire day and dropped down facing the direction of the temple with his trunk raised as a mark of prostration. The anniversary of his death is still celebrated in Guruvayoor. Hundreds of elephants line up before the statue and the chief elephant garlands it. Kesavan was conferred the unique title "Gajarajan" (Elephant King), by the Guruvayoor Devaswom. Devotees never tire of praising the elephant's "majestic look, exceptional intelligence and amazing strength." Pic from Dr KES Kartha
There are so many elephant enthusiasts in
Those interested in reading all kinds of Indian elephant news can check this site.
Tail notes –
The word Elephant comes from the ancient word Elephas that Greeks used to describe the Indian pachyderm. It comes apparently from the Sanskrit word Ibha, meaning elephant.
The saying that elephants never forget has been backed by science. The elephant brain is denser than the human's, and the temporal lobes, associated to memory, are more developed than in humans. Elephant's lobes also have more folds, so that they can store more information. That's why elephants have excellent memory. See my earlier blog regarding the Malayali elephant Murugan in Amsterdam – you can now understand his sad but not fading memories of the Nilambur forests in Kerala while ensconced in the cold climes of Netherlands.
Elephants have a matriarchal society - Elephants often travel large distances in search of food. A typical group of elephants consists of a matriarch grandmother and a number of her daughters and granddaughters. Male elephants leave the family units at an early age and remain single or in small bachelor groups (Kerala used to be a Matriarchal society).
The usage ‘white elephant’ - Because the animals were considered sacred and laws protected them from labor, receiving a gift of a white elephant from a monarch was both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because the animal was sacred and a sign of the monarch's favor, and a curse because the animal had to be kept and could not be put to practical use to offset the cost of maintaining it.
Pictures from the web - thanks to every uploader/owner