Posted in Mylapore Musings

Stone Elephant Ride To Elephant Safari

‘When the Elephants go extinct, they will take away the Trees with them….’

One of my best childhood memories is that of walking to Kapali temple every evening with my father until I was 8 or 10 and thereafter with my friends.

Never close to my father, partially because of the vacuum left by the early demise of my mother on which he withdrew into a cocoon severing communications with the outer world, the few happy times I spent with my father seem precious now.

My obsession with the Indian elephants probably started in those early years. Every single day, I had to go to Kabaleeshwara temple and sit on all the four stone elephants carved out there in the mandapam. Actually 8. The temple used to be almost haunted in those days except for during festive occasions. Even the evenings were breezy and uncrowded. I remember playing with my friends in the temple sands. Yes, where we have a roofed hall today, we used to have initially sands with pebbles that could burn your feet in hot sun. Later they cemented this part which itself did not go down well with me.

I and my sis and my neighbourhood girls even used to vie for our favourite elephant of all the four front ones!! Mine was the outermost to the right. We spent hours riding the elephants or simply running around playing there. A middle aged man who was deaf and dumb used to stand exactly where Golu mandapam is today and from there with his eyes closed, would be singing devotionals for Karpagambal. Or sometimes chanting some slokas. I used to watch him in amazement from my stone elephant throne. Yes, i felt like a queen whenever I would be lucky enough to latch on to the back of my No.1 elephant.

Fondest memory of my father is his patience in lifting me out of one elephant and depositing me on another one as and when I commanded. Since I was short and compact, it took me years to gain mastery over the act of climbing over the stone elephants on my own without a help. Throwing the legs over the sides of the elephant was another challenge!

Even today whenever I visit the Kapali temple I secretly long for climbing atop the stone elephants. How I wish the temple is empty so my dream comes true some day!

The very first picture I watched with friends was also ‘The king elephant’ screened in the auditorium of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, my primary school. I have been ever since searching the world wide web for this classic ancient flick without success. How old were I then. May be between second and fourth standard…

Wilbur Smith is my favourite author and I cried a river reading his ‘Elephant song.’ Even if fictional, his works based in Africa always moved me. My initial interest in Africa was roused by a school friend who introduced me to James Hadley Chase for totally a different reason. She said the author wrote ‘scenes (!)’ and in my 12th or 13th year in the 1980s, it was a big, big matter! My first book was ‘Vulture is a patient bird’ that introduced to me a totally different geographical landscape called Africa and to the tribals such as the Zulus and Bantus. My fascination for exotic species was stoked with this book. Wild Africa was a one book subject for Chase, but for me it became a life interest.

Not that i have not come across my share of temple elephants forced into begging during the Panguni festival of Kapali temple in the streets of Mylapore.

Much later when we lived in Malaysia, we happened to witness elephant mating in KL zoo. The trumpeting of the male tusker was unbelievable as it virtually demanded a companion which the zoo officials finally obliged with. Otherwise there could have been a rampage. At one point we even contemplated exiting the zoo for our own safety. Once the female consort entered the pen, the male elephant quietened down as if by magic. Until then I believed, domesticated elephants hardly mated and never ever did they in public. Imagine the horrible musth condition of the Indian elephant (a gift from India of course) that it wasn’t bothered about the hundred plus spectators hanging over the fence. I felt guilty watching this glorious union of two mammoths in front of my eyes, but it is something that will never leave me. At the same time, i felt such an anguish that this must happen to the mightiest beast to walk planet Earth today. Who says wildlife have no dignity. I have a couple of pictures dt. 1998.

A soft corner for the jumbos that was already there magnified within me in many proportions. I still had not ridden over a pachyderm, being principally against the concept of animal safaris, animal art everything that may indirectly harm the wildlife. But i did want to touch the elephant once at least and make contact. Somehow it seemed very important to me because I thought so much about elephants, read so much on them and watched elephant pictures. Took a ride finally in Munnar and then in Thekkady just for this purpose in the Elephant Park. The elephant hide was rough. The hair was thick and strong and long. Plucking it must be very painful so I wondered how the safari management so easily traded in elephant hair for ornamental purposes. My Munnar elephant was an old and serviced matron. I didn’t know whether she understood when I apologized to her ear that I was riding her and told her I loved her and she was very magnificent and beautiful. During the ride, I was constantly patting her as much as I could. The Thekkady one was a young male who was the verge of musth, with signs very much visible. It was very troubling to me.

I have done posts of Elephants earlier that I would link here. My love for Indian Elephant is sky high. I want our elephants to roam freely through our mountains and passes and valleys and plains UNCHAINED UNTAMED. Elephant deaths caused by train accidents, poaching etc., are very hurting to elephant lovers like me. I have made special requests to our PM Modi to safeguard the interests of Indian elephants so that they don’t go extinct in our very lifetime.

Domesticating wild elephants for religious, social, economic purposes is a heartless crime that has to be stopped with immediately by legal or whatever means.

https://vijiravindran.com/2017/02/12/stop-cruelty-to-elephants-in-the-name-of-religion-now/

https://vijiravindran.com/2019/09/02/say-a-big-no-to-family-planning-for-elephants/

https://vijiravindran.com/2020/01/02/elephants-at-crossroads/

Join me in condemning Temple Elephant customs and liberating the Indian elephants into the wild where they rightfully belong. Never miss a forum voicing your opinion because our wildlife cannot argue their own cases. They need us to defend them on their behalf. This is where animal lovers step in. I am much passionate about the Indian Elephant, more specifically over entire wild life. Not for NGOs but I wish there is a direct channel to fund elephant care/research. Many thanks to our late CM Jayalalitha Jayaram for the way she took care of the temple pachyderms declaring a month long rejuvenation vacation for them with free food and stay in Mudumalai wildlife camp. What a sensitivity in this iron lady!

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