Asia | India – My visit to an Elephant Santuary
I recently made a visit to an elephant sanctuary, perhaps the only one of its kind in the world, here in Kerala. It is located in Trissur district near the famous Vishnu temple in ‘Guruvayur’ and it houses nearly 63 elephants. The elephants of Kerala are an integral part of the daily life here. They are loved, revered, groomed and given a prestigious place in the state’s colorful culturespace. Unlike the elephants in the other parts of India and the rest of the world, here they are considered very beautiful and normally people buy these elephants looking at their ‘lakshanam’ (qualities to be considered as good elephant), for example a good elephant should have a long trunk which almost touches the ground, the ideal elephant should be very tall etc. The elephants are also referred to as the ‘Sons of Sahya (western ghats). Some of them are brought up as working elephants to lift or move big loads and also bring trees which are cut down in the forests. Its reported that Kerala alone has a population numbering nearly 700. Just to underline the importance given to these noble and intelligent animals here in Kerala, one only has to look at the various festivals of the state. Practically all of them will have at least one richly caparisoned elephant for the function. They are normally decorated with gold plated caparisons, colourful umbrellas, alavattom, venchamaram, necklaces etc during these festivals. Many Hindu temples here in Kerala have their own elephants. Most of them are donated by devotees. The famous temple in Guruvayur has more than 40 domesticated elephants and in order to look after them the governing body of the temple have constructed this elephant sanctuary in ‘Punnthur Kotta’, 3 kms away from the temple itself. Here altogether nearly 63 elephants are housed. Most of them belong to the temple, and some to wealthy individuals including film stars, sportsmen and politicians. Some elephants are lethargic, some seem to be dancing to an inner tune and some others just relaxing in the safe haven of the sanctuary.
Without doubt it is a remarkable sight to see all these elephants together being looked after very well. People are coming in great numbers to the sanctuary from various parts of India and countries abroad to spend a few days elephant watching. There are artists who are here to draw portraits of these magnificent animals, photographers to capture every movements of them. Each elephants have 3 mahouts called’ pappan’ in malayalam (Kerala’s language) to look after them. These animals are being looked after methodically in the sanctuary by these keepers – by bathing them, massaging them with small rocks or husk of coconuts and trimming their nails and polishing their tusks. These elephants at the sanctuary also systematically undergoes ayurvedic rejuvenation treatment by expert mahouts once every year and I was told that they (elephants) enjoy every second of it enormously. Without doubt any visitor to Kerala cannot afford to miss an opportunity like this to be in close proximity with one of the most intelligent and biggest mammals on land. The visiting time at the sanctuary is 8am – 5pm and the charge for visiting is just Rs 5 per adult.
I would like to conclude this report by paying tribute to the legendary ‘Guruvayur Kesavan’, the most famous and majestic elephant of Guruvayur temple who sadly passed away in the 1980’s. His story is on the lips of every keralite and has attained folklore status. He was gifted by the King of Nilambur to Lord Krishna, the deity at Guruvayur temple and was well known for his devotion to the Lord and was considered the ‘King of Elephants’. If any of you reading this report is interested to know more about these wonderful elephants and the sanctuary feel free to contact me at [email protected] I look forward to seeing you one day here at God’s Own Country.