|caparisoned elephants,Thrissur Pooram, Kerala imgbuddy.com|
|Elephants chained at punnathor kotta. en.wikipedia.org/wik|
In famous temples, elephants are used as part of temple rituals as well as many festivals. Srirangam temple, Uppiliyappan temple, near Kumbakonam, Madurai Meenashi temple and Thruvannamalai temple of Tamil Nadu are a few examples. In Kerala numerous temples have elephants and well trained Mahouts.When there is a procession of Gods and goddesses in the streets around the temple, the decorated elephant and the mahout will be walking in front of the crowd, drawing the attention of the people. The chiming of bell hung below the neck of the elephant will definitely make the people turn around. In local festivals in Kerala, participation of a richly caparisoned elephant is a must. Elephants also carry the deity during the annual festivals. At some temples the gold plated caparisons ("nettipattam"), bells, and necklaces are quite common. At Kudalmanikyam temple, Kerala 17 elephants are engaged in the daily ceremony to the accomplishment of Pancari Melam(drum). Surprisingly the head gear of many elephants is made of pure gold and rest of pure silver.
|15 elephants line up in front of the Jericho Wall band at the Thrissur Pooram, Kerala.baliluwih.blogspot.com|
The Guruvayoor temple elephants are being maintained at a camp called Punnathurkotta, 3 km from Guruvayoor in Thrissur District of Kerala. Punnathurkotta was once the palace of a local ruler, but the palace grounds are now used to nurse the temple elephants. In local parlance Malayalam, it is called ''Anakkotta'' meaning elephant fort. It is a major tourist attraction. Once this place had 86 elephants and the number has come down to 59. This camp sight is famous for the largest number of elephants. But the land is not big enough for the pachyderms as the total land area is roughly 11.5 acres. Government Regulations require 1.25 acres of land as holding area for one elephant in captivity. Here all the elephants are 'offerings' that are made (donated) by the devotees to the temple and none was bought by the temple.
The elephants are trained to serve the Sri Krishna temple and to participate in many festivals and major processions that occur throughout the year. Important ritual such as Gajapooja (Worshiping Elephants) and ''Anayoottu'' (Feeding Elephants) are conducted with devotion here, as an offering to Lord Ganesa.
As for the health of these huge animals, there are well trained Vets stationed at the camp dedicated to the welfare of the animals and they check out the elephants throughly year around. Aggressive males with musth ( a state of increased testosterone and aggression), are separated from the group and well taken care of during the entire phase. There is also a training center for Mahout (Paapans in Malayalam and in Tamil ''Aanai Paagan''). The Mahots undergo rigorous training in various aspects of handling the animals such as Psychology of the animals, their health problems such as musth, dietary habits, obeying commands, controlling aggressive behavior, etc. The most important duty of the mahouts is to give a good bath and massage the elephant with small rocks, and the husk of coconuts. In the monsoon season, the elephants undergo, what is called Ayurvedic rejuvenation treatments, which include decoctions with herbs, etc. It is known as Sukha Chikitsa in the Malayalam language.
There are three types of Mahouts, known in the Sanskrit language as:
Reghawan: Those who use love to control their elephants.
Yukthiman: Those who use ingenuity to outsmart them.
Balwan: Those who control elephants with cruelty.
Elephants are trained to endure noisy parades and crowds, loud firecrackers or fireworks, may need to stand near flames, travel long distances in open shabby vehicles and walk on tarred roads under the scorching sun for hours, some times without food, water and sleep.
However, there have been many instances of elephants running amok on account of cruel treatment by the Mahouts such as excessive beating, causing grievous injuries, continuous chaining, etc. They are, some times, abused by by drunk and brutal mahouts. Thanks to the interference of local media and the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), the instances have come down considerably.
"BBC South Asia: India's overworked elephants". BBC. Retrieved 2012-08-11.
"Cruelty against elephants". The Hindu. Retrieved 2012-08-11.