Man’s Intimacy with Religion through Elephants in Kerala,India
One of the prime reasons for people coming to Kerala, India is to see domesticated Elephants in houses and temples. Elephant has been an integral part of Kerala’s cultural history and religious functions. Most of them can be seen at the central part of Kerala, a district called Thrissur. Almost all big temples of Kerala have elephants and are used for festivals and other rituals as a carrier of the deity.
One of the famous temple of Kerala, Guruvayoor Shri Krishna Temple has more than 50 elephants with the Devaswom (The Governing Body of the temple) and most of them can be seen at Ana Kotta, Guruvayoor.
In Kerala, Elephants are taken care by mahouts called “Aana Pappan” in local language. They take care of the entire needs of the animal. Pappan uses only a long stick to control the mighty animal. Since in Hinduism, Elephant is treated as the avatar of Lord Ganesha (A Hindu God), at most care is taken to protect them.
In earlier days, elephants were used to do heavy duty like moving wooden logs, building and construction and other works which require huge power. But now they are taken over my machines and elephants are now being used for temple purposes only. Some people own elephants and rent them for temple festivals and other rituals. The average incomes from such rentals are between Rs. 5,000 – Rs. 10,000 per day. But the temple festivals are seasonal in Kerala and hence the income is not constant for these owners. Apart from this, they also organize “Elephant ride” for people outside Kerala or India. The charge for one hour is again between the ranges of Rs. 8,000 – Rs. 15,000/ride.
It is believed that there are more nearly 1000 domesticated elephants available in India. Government has introduced registration of all the elephant with their personal details like height, length of their tail, diameter of their body etc. Even the government rationalized the salary of the mahouts and today they get around Rs. 5000 – Rs. 8,000 per month apart from their daily incentive. At the same time, mahouts are being monitored for alcohol consumption due to which they treat this poor animal very cruelly.
Moreover Government has laid regulation regarding the religious procession with elephants taking part in it. Elephants under such procession should not be made to stand under direct sunlight for more than 3 hours. Provision of clean drinking water and food is made compulsory. In fact there are guidelines for the diet for these elephants.
Today there are exclusive hospitals and ambulance for elephants and they are taken care of well. I happen to witness one such ambulance where medicines, dart injections and oxygen supply equipments were available.
Anayottam or Elephant racing is a very famous event at Guruvayoor temple of Kerala. The elephant who wins it will carry the idol of the God during the procession.
Another important event connected with Elephants is the Anayottu or the Feeding of Elephants. During this ritual, specially prepared big rice balls are fed to elephant. The rice ball consists of medicine, rice, jaggery etc.
Any article regarding Kerala elephants will not be complete without Thrissur Pooram. It is the biggest elephant festival of Kerala temples where more than 50 elephants take part. This year, the Thrissur Pooram is on 1st May 2012. The elephants are decorated in all possible ways and are taken in large procession with lots of instrumental music.