Nearly three kilo metres away from the temple of Guruvayur, there situated is an elephant sanctuary which has been developed into one of the largest elephant sanctuaries of India. Maintained by the temple board for taming and training the elephants for the requirements of the temple , Punnathoorkotta, is a sanctuary exclusively for elephants, though hygiene wise it can still go further long.
Once the palace of a local ruler, it’s now a palace for elephants. All the elephants housed here are the ritual offerings made by the devotees of Lord Krishna. The elephants are made to serve Him and are trained to take part in temple processions and temple festivals. Prominent rituals of the palace are ‘Aanayoottu’ (feeding elephants) and ‘Gajapooja'(worshipping elephants). These are performed grandly once in a year as an offering to Lord Ganesha, who is elephant faced. The palace is a traditional ‘Naalukettu’ building, rectangular shaped, with a central courtyard at the centre of the house. It’s now used for housing the mahouts. The maintenance of the palace is poorly carried out. The fort has two temples, though not big, one of Lord Shiva and another of Goddess.
One can watch the happy, sad, angry, playful elephants , especially elephant calves playing around, spraying water and dust, rolling in mud and happily running about. To watch them together gives you a lot of entertainment and enjoyment.
There’s a statue of the mighty, much talked about once and forever, an eternal name in the minds of the people of the state, Gajaraja(king of elephants) Guruvayur Keshavan(1904-1976) here. He was trained and housed here. Keshavan was known for his devout behaviour. His tusks along with an enormously huge portrait of him welcome the visitors at the entrance of the temple. Donated to the temple when he was a calf, Keshavan was 3.5 meters tall, yes, mighty tall. It’s said that when he died, at the age of 72, after a long day of fasting, by evening he himself went to the temple to offer his final prayers, by raising his trunk finally saluted his Lord and died right in front of Lord Guruvayurappan(1976).
There are a lot of stories showing Keshavan’s devotion to Lord Krishna and Krishna devotees. A malayalam movie, Guruvayur Keshavan, released after a year of his death(1977), will bring you a lot more of such stories. His death anniversary is still celebrated in the temple, the elephant chief will garland Keshavan’s statue and the other elephants would line up behind him as a mark of reverence.