The word ‘India’ conjures up vivid images of a colorful mystical country of snake charmers and of course- The Elephant.
An Iconic symbol of India, the Indian elephant is a part of every day lives in the country. The Indian Elephant goes back to the mythologies. It is believed that the Gods ‘Deva’ and the demons ‘Asura’ churned the oceans during ‘sagar manthan’ for the elixir of life – that would make them immortal and thus surfaced the ‘navratnas’ (nine jewels). One of these jewels was the elephant. The elephant is, therefore, considered absolutely precious to be preserved and protected like the way jewels are in India.
The Hindu God Ganesha widely worshiped across the country also displays the importance of Elephants in Indian culture.
Here’s a closer look at the Great Indian Elephant:
About the Indian Elephant
One of four subspecies of the Asian Elephant, the Indian Elephant is found countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Nepal, Thailand etc, but the largest population is found in India itself.
Elephants in general are the largest existing land mammals and they have the biggest brains in the animal kingdom (weighing 5 kg or 11 lbs).The Indian Elephant is up to 6.4 metres (21 ft) long; it is taller and thinner than the Asian elephant found in Thailand. The largest Indian Elephant was 26ft (7.88m) long, stood 11 ft (3.4 m), 9in (3.61m) at the arch of the back, and weighed 8 tons (17935 lbs). While Indian elephants look similar to African elephants, they have distinctly smaller ears and shorter tusks and are more purplish in color.
India’s elephant population is estimated between 10,000 and 15,000, the largest in Asia. About half of these are found in the northeastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya located in far northeastern India.
Working Elephants and Mahouts:
Elephants have been domesticated in the N.E. India since time immemorial and both the elephant and the mahout have become a part of the folklore and the folksongs. Stories of brave and expert phandis (noosers) and mahouts are passed on from generation to generation. In the rural Assam mahouts are looked upon with awe and admiration.
Once a captive elephant is weaned at the about the age of three, it begins life as a domesticated elephant under the care of its keeper or mahout. Other than its mother, the mahout is the next most important influence in the elephant’s life.
Elephants are very loyal to their mahouts and they are often associated with supernatural powers because they control such a big animal. Just as children are born into a family, so too are elephants. A young boy will grow up with a baby elephant and together they will develop a lifetime bond based on trust and affection.
Elephants in Kerala
Indian elephants are loved, revered, groomed and given a prestigious place in the Kerala’s culture. Elephants in Kerala are often referred to as the ‘sons of the sahya.’ The elephant is the state animal of Kerala and is featured on the emblem of the Government of Kerala.
Almost all of the festivals in Kerala include at least one richly caparisoned elephant. Elephants carry the deity during annual festival processions and ceremonial circumambulations in the temples. Most of the Hindu temples in Kerala own elephants, most of which are donated by devotees. The famous Guruvayur temple in Kerala has more than 60 domesticated elephants, thus the presiding deity, Guruvayurappan, is said to be the owner of the world’s largest number of domesticated elephants.
Kerala has more than 700 elephants in captivity. Most of them are owned by temples and individuals. They are mainly used for religious ceremonies in and around the temples. A few elephants work at timber yards.