Elephants and Hindu temples,Kerala

caparisoned elephants,Thrissur Pooram, Kerala imgbuddy.com
Elephants chained at punnathor kotta. en.wikipedia.org/wik
In the important Hindu temples, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, South India  one can see  one or two majestic elephants standing at the entrance  blessing the people, especially the children by carefully and gently  putting the huge trunk on the head.  Mind you, the elephants are trained by the Mahouts to bless the people only on payment of a repee or more!! The money collected by the animal goes to the Mahout or elephant keeper as well as to the elephant.

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
As it has been a tradition for centuries, in many temples, the  elephants are ritual offerings made by the ardent devotees. Devotees, whose prayers are answered, come to  the temple on an  auspicious day with their  family members  and  conduct special poojas or prayers and  later offer the elephant to the custody of the temple authorities. This practice is quite common in temples of  Kerala. The famous Guruvayur Sri Krishna temple is known to own numerous elephants and all elephants are donated to the temple by the devotees. Elephants play a keen role as part the culture of Kerala, often referred to as the God's own country. There are more than 700 elephants in captivity mostly serving the Kerala temples. Numerous elephants are also being used in timber or lumber yards located in tough terrains. As the State Animal, the elephant is featured on the emblem of the Government of  Kerala state, taken from the Royal Arms of both Travancore and Cochin.

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.