Elephants are considered divine in Kerala

Kerala – the land famous for its heritage, greenery, culture and traditions; a state that has still not lost its ancient values of culture and spirituality! Centuries have passed, yet temple festivals have not changed much. Instead, more items are being added and modified positively each time. Also, the people who witness such temple celebrations have seen a steep rise every year. It was well confirmed when I visited Thrissur town to have a glance of Thrissur pooram for the first time in 2012. I was able to see the festival only from distant, due to the massive crowd in front of Vadakkunmantha temple.

Elephant and Mahout

An elephant with his mahout

No doubt, elephants are considered divine and they can never be separated from temple festivals of Kerala. They are also believed to be the incarnation of Lord Ganesa. Elephants also enjoy the status of ‘Official state animal of Kerala’. In Thrissur district, I have witnessed a few churches too, that use elephants and panchavadyam for their procession and celebrations. So, elephants have become a part of annual celebrations of Kerala, irrespective of religion and traditions followed. Needless to say, famous elephants have fan clubs too!

Elephants carry divine idols during temple festivals

Thechikott Ramachandran carrying thidamb in a local temple festival

How will it look like when captive elephants are given power to carry goddess on their head! That means elephants are divine. Not only that, when an inaugural function or cultural function is arranged in the state, very often decorated elephants are placed at main gate to welcome people. Onam celebration at the capital city is the best example. You may be surprised to know that there are fan clubs for elephants of Kerala. Padmanabhan that carries Paramekkavu thidamb during Thrissur Pooram and Thechikkott Ramachandran, Asia’s second highest elephant are among those prominent heroes who have fan clubs of their own, and they enjoy a prominent position in the cultural capital of Kerala.

Aana Chamayam during Thrissur Pooram

Chamaya Pradarshanam of Thiruvambady

Krishna’s Thidamb – The centre of attraction of Chamaya Pooram of Thiruvambadi temple

Long back in 2012, I went to Paramekkavu temple to see ‘Aana chamayam’ for the first time, the exhibition of elephant accessories used during Pooram. Surprisingly I saw another beautiful sight. All elephants belonging to Paramekkavu group were arranged in temple ground, served good food also. Doctors were busy in checking their medical fitness for Thrissur Pooram next day. Huge crowd with love in their eyes to see the elephants is the best example to prove that people of Kerala love elephants a lot. Yet I need to admit, elephants have to face cruelty from mahouts and very often they have restless nights during temple festivals that often results in their outbursts!

Let me add one interesting thing about elephants. It’s the price of elephants in Kerala. A male elephant costs 7-8 million Indian rupees, a few years back. Now its price might have shoot up more than that. So, it’s not at all easy to buy an elephant; insurance and tax add more to the total cost! Yet many rich people buy elephants solely because of their love and fondness to this animal.

Elephant festivals of Kerala are very famous

Kudamattam when extended to night

Festivals of South Kerala are known as ‘Utsavam’ while it’s known by the name ‘Pooram’ in the middle areas of Kerala, particularly Thrissur. Thrissur got fame through the world famous Thrissur Pooram, the event conducted in the heart of the main town in front of Vadakkumnatha Siva temple. Its name also derived from Thrissur Pooram. Actually Pooram is the name of the star, the day on which Thrissur Pooram is annually conducted. Yet, all elephant festivals of Thrissur district are named as Pooram. Thrissur is a district where you can find temples plenty, so are temple festivals. Since I have been residing in Thrissur for a few years, I got the opportunity to see many elephant poorams, known as ‘aana pooram’ in Malayalam language.

There are many desams (localities) around a temple, and an elephant will be arranged by each locality people for every temple festival. All the elephants will be caparisoned using golden colour ornaments, and they walk as a procession to temple, accompanied by chendamelan and musical band. Thus elephants coming from all directions around the temple will finally reach temple maidan where elephant pooram is conducted.

Captive elephants will be decorated using golden colour nettipattam accompanied by a few more accessories. Mahouts sit on its top carrying aalavattam and venchamaram. They carry colourful umbrellas also. Their edges will be decorated with golden bells. Elephants will be decorated by garlands around their necks as well as their legs. Elephants are well trained and they behave as well-disciplined students during the festival procession and pooram. They stand in one row, with elephant carrying the divine thidamb at the centre, and the spectators enjoy the wonderful visuals of elephants and accompanies. Elephant pooram may last for few hours, and usually conducted in the afternoons and night.

In addition to decorating elephants with beautiful and colourful accessories, the group will be accompanied with traditional music too. Chendamelam, Shankh and Komb will surely be present. When whole elephants get arranged in front of temple or at temple ground, you will get an opportunity to hear panchavadyam using 5 instruments and you can dance, shout and clap to its tunes in full enthusiasm. When movements are rigour, it fills the whole atmosphere with the cheer of festival occasions.

Only one elephant is lucky to carry the idol of the goddess known as ‘Tidamb’ and of course, he will get much attention and care. He stands at centre with all other elephants arranged on his either side. Also, only male elephants are used for temple processions.

Anayoott – Feeding elephants special food and medicines

In the monsoon season of Kerala, Malayalam month Karkidakom, elephants are given special food and medicines in several temples. It’s called Anayoot, literally means ‘feeding elephants’. Elephant fans get opportunity to watch elephants close, and feed them banana, cucumber etc. Elephants are given complete rest this month, a month not associated with temple festivals, and given special treatment. If you are interested to read in detail, go through the article here.

Read a few more articles on elephants and elephant festivals, deeply linked with the daily life, culture and customs of Keralites. Click on the images in the gallery to read 

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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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4 Responses

  1. emily ann says:

    The captive elephants of Kerala are horrifically abused. 50% of them have been beaten blind.
    75% were found to live in conditions considered ‘extremely cruel’.
    Dozens of them have dropped dead during their long march during the festivals which require them to walk on hot asphault for hours and hours on end without any food or water. If this is how Indians treat their divine entities, I shudder to think what you do to your enemies. It’s disgusting and must STOP!

  2. Cherri.L says:

    Sandy please! Your story sounds more like an article from Kerala tourism! Kerala does not think ellephants are divine. They don’t even like them much. Do your research regarding their shocking treatment. The fans only care about illegal head lifting . People are so indifferent to their suffering and say nothing just watch as one is beaten which happens annually to every male at the end of musth. So that is what? How many are left in Kerala is how many beating that each male suffers inflicted by the twisted customs of the mahouts and that the owners who lease them out condone. These elephants are leased to dealers who rent them out for temple festivals. They don’t love these elephants. You are either blind or like the many people who just ignore it is happening or think such criminal activities torturing them is the norm you must be decieving yourself.
    Shocking cruelty in kerala. Have you not been watching the news. Ganeshan dead, unni krishnan dead. Kalidasan wounded n blinded, Pamady Ragan wounds on his body n they tried to sneak him out but ordered to return him. etc etc. There are more too. So please don’t try spinning that one about Kerala loves the elephant’ The only thing these ones love is the money they generate. When the money stops coming in they are as good as dead. The owners only buy elephants for making money. They don’t love them they condone the torture. others say the beatings are training. How twisted do they have to be to do this and say that. Disgusting and shameful. Shall I post some video’s or you look up Sri hari check all the video’s. This is not an isolated case either there is so many. So write truth . This elephant business is big business the owners do not care if they are murdered they cover with full insurance n pay for nicely written cause of death as normal and collect the payout which can be very high!.
    Don’t lie about what these poor elephants go thru. A festival elephant is a dead elephant. suffering and wickedly tortured starved …….your blog is so so ……

    • Sandy says:

      I am sure you are an animal lover, and the pain is well expressed through words. Yes, for many, these poor animals are only for business. When they buy a male elephant costing 80 lakh to 1 crore Indian rupees or more, and spend so much money on insurance, food and other other expenses, they may think so. But it’s not the cases of we common man, particularly in Thrissur district. We Hindus consider elephants as divine, however they are badly treated by their owners or mahouts. When an elephant passes through the road occasionally, people shower their love as bananas, fruits, coconut leaves etc. Children are also very excited to see them. We have many fan associations dedicated to some of the leading elephants of Kerala, perhaps not seen anywhere else in this world.

      Do you know, when Thiruvambady Sivasundar died early this year, the whole Thrissur district was in shock. Newspapers were filled with columns exclusively dedicated for this legendary elephant, and photos of fans crying over his demise. In my neighbourhood too, I could see boys of age of 25+ crying. In many Thrissur homes, people didn’t even light hearths or eat anything, and mourned for the death of an elephant so much dear to them. You can read about this elephant here.

      Guruvayur Kesavan which died in the 1970s also owned a huge fan following crowd, and he is still considered a divine elephant. What I want to say is…. two faces of same coin. Though cruelty is shown to these poor animals by a small group of people, they are loved by millions of people at the other side. It’s not the case of Hindus only, but other communities too, who form a part of such elephant clubs. Elephants are definitely considered divine in Hindu culture of Kerala, otherwise elephant festivals won’t have gained so much popularity among people here. If you want to sense it, just try to join a Thrissur Pooram season. How fondly common people are watching elephants!!! And how fondly they shower their love towards them!! In all discussion forums, elephants are the real stars.

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