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Stop cruelty to elephants in the name of religion NOW !

April 7, 2013

I have always been awed by the Pooram festivals of Kerala, my neighbouring state. The most famous one that attracts hordes of both local and foreign tourists is the Thrissur Pooram Festival of Shri Vadakkunathan Temple in the town of Thrissur.  This mega temple festival which falls in this month end will star over a dozen elephants parading the Temple Deities in hot summer sun of India to the loudest blares of ‘Pancha Vaadhyam’ – five traditional/desi musical instruments including drums and trumpets.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuKddG5zqyM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1OX7_sV_Yc

A devout Hindu myself, i still cannot comprehend this cruelty to these most beautiful beasts on earth, in the name of religion.

Imagine what can happen to elephants in intense heat of over 40 degrees centigrade (over 100 deg F) parading barefoot before tens of thousands of loudest cheering crowds with firecrackers bursting nonstop through the celebrations?

Recently on my short trip to Kerala, i saw the Pooram festival of a very small and beautiful temple in Thrissur – at the Bhagwati temple of Cherukulangara.  (Guess i can’t upload the video here but i am attaching the photos).  Even in this small event, some 5 elephants partook in the celebrations.  It was March end and already the mercury was rising.

In the evening came the biggest shock – i was in the temple where in the back yards i saw the 5 elephants with feet chained loosely (the elephants i must admit looked healthy, well fed (which is a small consolation) and were not chained stiff; they could still amble about and i was relieved they did not look alarmed or disturbed.  While Shakthi and Shiva are who I look upon like my parents (really) I wonder whether the same Mother Goddess of mine and the Father would approve of such inhuman cruelty in the name of religious festivities in their abode.)  The elephants were quietly feeding on leaves and fruits and seemed relaxed that somewhat pacified me.  Given the beating of drums and playing of loudspeakers in the background, i was slightly agitated.  After all it was my first ever LIVE Pooram!   (In Bhagwati temples (Devi temples), Pooram is referred to as ‘Vela.’)

The time was around 7 pm in the evening and then started the fireworks.  My  heart missed a beat but maintaining a cautious distance from the elephants I still fixed my gaze on them to check if they were okay.  Thank God a million, the elephants seemed disinterested in the noise, the sound, the fanfare and continued feeding, unperturbed by the 500 wala and the 1000 wala crackers lighting up the skies for the next 1 hour or so.  I went back to my friend’s house in haste and even from the distance of 1 km could hear the bursting of the crackers.

That night my friend, a native of Thrissur, and I were talking of the fate of the elephants in the country for a long time.  Mad pachyderms going on rampage in our temple towns is a usual thing now.  Under-fed in many cases in unbearable heat conditions, with their ‘mast’ season ignored and mating denied, where and who else can these giants vent their ire on?

Very few countries in this world are blessed to have elephants as native beasts and India is one such a rare country.  I feel blessed for this reason that ours is this ‘Punya Bhoomi’ where the lions, tigers and elephants roam freely perhaps only next to Africa.  We are lucky in the sense that in spite of all the self-inflicting damages we do to ourselves, we have a few of them left alive in our motherland.  The Moghuls, the Maharajahas and the British occupiers have all had their share of trophies and the cheetah is long gone extinct since the British Raj days thanks to relentless hunting.  A few leopards are all we are left with in the extended cat family.  So its the first and foremost duty of every Indian citizen to ensure that these elephants, tigers and lions and  leopards are treated with utmost care lest they might go extinct right in front of our eyes.  And in the event of such a worst scenario becoming a reality,  we can not excuse ourselves ever for the deliberate lapses that we never try to correct…  I for one thing cannot imagine an India without elephants… its too much for me…  But the wild life population in India is dwindling at an alarming rate.   Often I wonder, why God did not create elephants in America and/or Europe where they might be loved and looked after the best?

Do we Indians realize what a bountiful gift God has bestowed upon us?  What an insensitive lot we are…

While i have been awed simultaneously by the Pooram festivals i have seen in television over years, somehow its always in the back of mind that this madness must stop sooner or later, at all costs.  Grateful to know, a lot of Keralites share my thought – except perhaps for the temple ‘Devaswoms’ of Kerala and a few oldies, i don’t believe anyone wants this ritual to continue with all their heart.

I have not been to the Mysore Dasara either which is held annually in the Mysore Palace Grounds on the final Vijayadhasami day of the 10 day Dasara Festival  (aka celebrated as Navrathri festival throught out India), one of our major national/religious festivals.

In the ‘Dubare’ elephant camp in the state of Karnataka, i was told the elephants in the camp would be partaking in the annual Mysore Dasara.   To be fair to our Forest Department, i concede, the elephants in this camp looked healthier too and well-fed, taking a daily dip in the river Kaveri that flows through these parts.

I have taken elephant rides in Thekkady and Munnar in Kerala, where domesticated elephants are used for elephant safaris and admit that I have enjoyed these rides.    I was told these are the elephants that strayed from the forest cover as young calves.  The ‘kumki’ or the trainer elephants are sometimes used to tame those wild rogue elephants that sometime stray into neighbouring/bordering villages destroying standing crops.

There is elephant safari even in Singapore Zoo.  In the zoos of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Doha, Qatar, i was pleased enormously in the first instance to see the Indian elephants enclosures, a natural reaction.  While in Malaysia, the elephants looked happy, in Qatar desert heat, the single lone Indian elephant seems to be reeling under the temperature…. it looked so bored that I wanted to touch it and make it feel better … The elephants were gifts from India by the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi on her diplomatic visits to these nations.  What a gruesome custom.   Are elephants private properties to be gifted or traded in?

In Mysore zoo, the elephants are faring better, thank god for small mercies.  Perhaps this is the only zoo in India where the elephants are treated best.  Climate seems to suit them and they are breeding well.   I have no complaints for a change on this zoo.

In Tamil Nadu, I am aware of some temples hiring elephants for festival season.   As an young girl, I have seen such elephants walking down our streets asking for hand-outs, led by their mahouts.  The unthinkable scene of an elephant walking a busy street can happen only in India, even as cars and scooters might ply by without stopping to take a second look…  I don’t know whether to be amused by that or feel sad….

Man-elephant conflict is forever on the rise because the elephant corridor in India is shrinking at an alarming rate and the water holes that are feeding and breeding spots for the elephants are fast drying up.  The  beasts therefore have no option than to walk into human habitat looking for food especially in scorching summer heat.

Its now a monthly news in our television that mahouts (the elephant trainers) are getting crushed under the feet of the very pets they are looking after.  Why is this happening at an increasing rate these days?  In today’s newspaper I read this interesting article on an elephant photographer:

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-sundaymagazine/elephant-man/article4590009.ece

I share very much the photographer’s sentiments – likefor  him, elephant is my most favourite animal on planet Earth.  I also worship (!) elephants hahaha because i am a Hindu and to us, all animals and plants and even inanimate objects that help in our lives are Gods, and elephant is our special god Ganesha himself and none other!!!  I honestly see such a divinity in cows and elephants – may be because i have been brought up with such beliefs and may be because their benign nature seems to affect me…

I can also understand fellow Indians’ emotional, spiritual attachment to elephants – most look at an elephant as a divine creature which could be our greatest probem!  And we are one of those families that still leave milk for snakes in Shakthi temples !  Our love and devotion and REVERENCE  for animals is so very complex, complicated that we are causing them more of  harm and making their existence miserable, a fact we are oblivious  to.  The monkey menace in New Delhi and other cities of ours and the wandering cows in all highways of India are glaring examples of what blind faith can do to a population.

My sincere wish is that, let the Pooram festivals of Kerala go on from millennium to millennium, but please play up the ‘pancha vaadhyam’  – the 5 musical instruments to the hilt and free the elephants into the wild where they belong !  This is what Lord Ganesha will want you to do, fellow Hindus, Kerala temple Dewaswoms, will you ever get it?

I wish law is enacted in this country forbidding training of elephants for religious purposes and processions however regal that could be and from being raised as pets in wealthier homes.

And remember elephants are NOT our toys to play with and use for our amusements.  I am guilty as anyone here for enjoying the song ‘Jiya Jale’ pictured with the elephants in the background… but i wish this madness stops forthwith… enough is enough…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwoSBP_GiuQ

And what is the need to get elephant calves from the wild to be trained by the ‘kumkis?’   Let every single elephant calf or rogue elephant that strays in human habitat in this country be sent right back into the wild.

Elephants belong in the wild, elephants are sensitive, sweet creatures… let them have their bit of private space on Planet Earth like you and me…  its their birth right.  Think of the world WITHOUT ELEPHANTS… can you?

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16 Comments
  1. Please consider signing and sharing our petition to the Vatican: Say NO to Ivory used in Religious Art http://www.change.org/petitions/say-no-to-using-ivory-in-religious-art

  2. I have just signed it, thank you.

  3. Please go through this speech by Joyce Poole (Elephant Voices, ATE)http://www.elephanttrust.org/node/376 about Captive Elephants, though spoken in the context of South Africa, all what she has said there is applicable to Kerala also. I do not want to criticize here, but it is beyond my understanding why any grown up wants to ride any animal even a horse for that matter. And do we need Elephants to enjoy our festivals?

    • A great fan of Wilbur Smith, i have done some good reading on elephant hunting in Africa (even though his works were mostly fictions), so that gives me an idea. I loved his ‘Elephant song’ so much and remember crying reading it. We don’t need elephants in our festivals in India and i don’t think there is any religious compulsion by way of scriptures or whatever on this ground. Its an entirely man-made custom for false prestige, nothing more.

  4. Request you to read the speech made by Joyce Poole (Elephant Voices, ATE) at South Africa which is equally applicable to the scenario in Kerala, the link is given here: http://www.elephanttrust.org/node/376 . Though not meaning to criticize, it is beyond my comprehension why any grown up want to ride any animal even a horse for that matter. And Do we need Elephants to enjoy our festivals?

    • Sure i will shortly. I am ashamed to say i have also done the elephant ride but swear will never do it in future. You have every reason to criticize. Its not just about Kerala elephants; temple elephants can be seen suffering even in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka states in India. In Thiruverkadu temple near Chennai, an elephant died a few years back because it was kept in confinement in granite floored enclosure which gave it pneumonia. Will also go through your blog, thanks for visiting. If its okay with you i can share your blog in FB with my friends.

  5. Sorry about the criticism, i did not know that my post got uploaded and had just now opened an FB a/c so that i could post in your blog and other people’s (an idea which i got after seeing your blog, afterall i’m a homemaker and have plenty of time) blog to discourage them from visiting any place where elephants are misused. i do not know any other way to make my word heard.Personally i felt a change can really happen in Kerala through media due to the high literacy rate there, but i understand Temple authorities and elephant owners are too powerful. I did try to contact most popular local newspaper but yet to get any response. You may share my blog, it is just a crude attempt to express my feelings after couple of incidents of elephants running amok during festivals in 2011, almost all information are what i picked from other sites.

    • Thanks a lot. I am also a homemaker blogging for pastime like you with plenty of time in my hands, so no worries 🙂 I am sharing your blog link in my FB profile; Nice to know you, you are one hundred percent right about the state of our poor elephants. You need not have to feel sorry for anything, we live in a free, democratic and secular country.

  6. Hi, located your FB a/c, thanx for the post, have started a community page by the same name STOP Elephant Abuse in Kerala, pls check on it when you get time and if really believe and liked it rqst you to spread it among whoever you may come across.i am hoping to reach out through fb to more people. The Temple mentioned there Vadakke Ezhippram Pallipram Temple – I could not locate it on google, but Wow! what a great thing if it is really true!

    • I have liked your page and I am thinking of messaging friends individually to like this page if that can help. You are doing an excellent work, keep it up! In whatever small way possible I shall do my bit to the cause.

  7. Hi, tried some 15 blogs on 1st day and got negative feedback from my son’s friend (whose blog i posted comment without him knowing who it was), forgot about the ‘EGO’ part. In your case i had commented to an article by you on elephants so it was ok. But people who have created blogs to show their skills does not really like it. Since then have been trying to comment in newspaper fb sites, and other elephant sites (which admire temple elephants and support use of them for festivals). Do not know whether it will have any better reach than the blog. Some friends of mine expressed fear in even liking, could not find fault with them, you don’t mess with anything to do with religion in India.

    • Yes i am surprised myself that none of my friends seems to ‘like’ the FB page of yours. But don’t lose heart, keep up your good work. I don’t think its provocative or demeaning in any manner so no worries. ‘You don’t mess with anything to do with religion in India?’ – how true. I posted a harmless comment on a report on a middle-eastern practice in the online edition of a leading Indian newspaper and the very next comment/reaction was very nasty and like a threat that came as a total shock.

  8. Hi Anila, i notice that your blog is missing and so is your Facebook page that is worrying me. Pl inbox me in Facebook what is the matter. There must be a strong reason for this.

  9. Bloody disgraceful

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Can we ever have a Green Hinduism (Eco-Friendly Hinduism)? | Curry Leaf
  2. An elephantine dream… | Curry Leaf

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