Indian(Asian) elephants, listed as endangered species, due to the considerable deduction in their numbers, are widely reared in the Indian state of Kerala. The emblem of the government of Kerala has two elephants in it as it’s the state animal. Survey says the state has around 3000 wild elephants which is the third highest in the country. Mostly used for timber trade and temple festivals, elephants are said to be brought to the state from Sonepur, Bihar. They are later tamed and trained, which some of the animal lovers cite to be very much cruel. Among those 3000, more than 700 are owned by temples and individuals. The elephants which are part of the temple festivals are adorned with gold plated caparisons, necklaces,umbrellas, alavattam and venchamaram.
Each elephant is taken care of exceptionally well by its owners or the temple trust. Three mahouts are in charge of an elephant if they are owned by the trust. Their duty is to bath-e and mass-age them usual-ly with the husk of the coconuts. During the monsoon season when there are no temple festivals, elephants usually have the best time of their life. They are given an Ayurvedic rejuvenation treatment. Elephants have high market value in the state, especially tuskers(a male elephant). “It’s said that elephants in Kerala, to be precise, in Central Kerala are like dogs in British Society. No other society is attached to elephants, probably anywhere in the world,” says NS Madhavan.
Each locality in Kerala had a prominent temple in the ancient times, patronised by the upper caste Hindus. The elephant was tethered in one of their homes. The malayali(one who speaks Malayalam)-elephant bond had found its reference in the literature too. ‘Aithihyamala-‘ a collection of tales which was compiled in the early 20th century had the biography of elephants of 18th and 19th century, in its last page. The people there, then and now looked at elephants and talked to them just as we speak to our beloved friends, an anthropomorphic view. I very well remember my father’s craze for elephants and the way each one in the state call out anybody else at the sight of an elephant and tell,” See, there goes an elephant!” with awe and excitement. Having an elephant at home was a question of prestige for the ancient rich Hindus.
Guruvayur temple which is one of the ancient most temple which is widely recognised as a tourist spot too, has an elephant sanctuary maintained exclusively by the temple board. They rear about 60 elephants. There are legendary tales about Guruvayur Keshavan, the most famous elephant in the state. For much authentic information, read out the next episode!