Decking up jumbo for D-day

Decking up jumbo for D-day

Live art

And even when the 750-kg golden howdah is perched atop a majestically walking Balarama, eyes of onlookers  register the body painting too at the same time.

It is only a strange coincidence that being a Dharwadian by birth, a drawing teacher in Hunsur town, Nagalingappa R Badigera (31) has been playing a crucial role every Dasara, since the last five years. In the literal sense, he is he man who adds colour to the most famous ‘jamboo savari’, over a gruelling schedule of painting a dozen jumbos overnight.  

“I started painting the body of elephants when someone, who was doing this job previously quit all of a sudden. I gathered some information related to this task by observation, and then I have been on my own,” says Badigera.

An Ekalavya of sorts, Badigera had to master the art on his own. He referred to the old photographs and paintings at the palace, spoke to people who had seen how the elephants were painted and went about his job year after year, only perfecting it. He uses power colours soaked in natural gum extracted from plants and trees. His team usually comprises his close relatives who are also artisans by profession. “The work begins at about 9.30 pm on the eve of jamboo savari, and goes on till 7.30 am in the morning. The last one to be painted, always, is ‘Ambaari aane’ Balarama. After this, the animals are sent away for further ‘decking up’ with brass jewels and other caparisoning.”

Do the animals behave well with the painters? “The first year was a scary experience, since I did not have anyone to back me. But in the subsequent years, I just got used to it,” he says with a smile.

How did his family react when they got to know he would be painting elephants? “My parents were worried. They said it was not a joke, for I could be finished in my very first assignment. But I was excited, and took the risk,” Badiger adds. Now, he is so in love with the assignment that he even told his wife to be, when he met her, that he paints elephants and that she should have no objection to it!

Now, he almost knows the behaviour of elephants, their movements and the way they react when they feel ticklish etc. “The best thing about these animals is that they do not make quick, jerky movements. Hence, we just stop painting when they get restless,” he reveals. Besides, the presence of the respective mahout and kavadi is also a reassuring factor for the animal, hence they do not lose their cool. Except for one ocassion in 2007, when it rained heavily even as they were painting and they had to repaint after it stopped, it has always been ‘one shot’ go for Badigera.

Painting rules

* Designs that adorn the body of the elephants is not the choice of the artist. The face part of the animal must sport ‘Ganda Bherunda’, the royal emblem of Mysore Maharajas in yellow or golden colour

* A ‘Shankha’ and ‘Chakra’ are painted on ears are a must

* Prominence is attached to designs with a lot of curves. Tendrils, leaves, flowers, birds and wave-like lines make for the pattern

* Bright hues are used for painting. Colours like yellow, white, gold, pink, red, orange, green and lavender are used. Black and blue are completely kept bay, for, they don’t show on the dark-skinned animal’s body and besides, they are considered ‘inauspicious’ too

* Painting each elephant requires anywhere between 60 - 90 mins

* Face, trunk, legs, back and tail of the elephant are painted.