Doubts were raised way back in 2008 about Balarama’s ability to carry the 750 kg golden howdah, along with embellishments and the gaddi (cloth and pillow covering on which howdah is mounted), all of which amounts to over one tonne in weight.
This year around, though the decision is yet to be formally announced, Arjuna is preparing to receive required training to carry the howdah and walk amidst the crowds.
However, the concern here is that Arjuna, according to sources, used to be short tempered earlier and there have been instances when it has reacted in a rather brash manner in the past, resulting in the accidental death of a mahout of another elephant.
“But, with its continued participation since many years and with age, naturally, Arjuna has softened his behaviour. He is now safe enough to be a howdah elephant” said an official.
Speaking to Deccan Herald about the overall health of Balarama, Dr Nagaraj, Veterinarian, Palace Department said Balarama is due for retirement owing only to his age.
“He is 52 and for elephants that is ‘ripe’ enough age. But, he is in good health and weighs 4,550 kg right now. His weight is bound to increase during his stay here since the elephants are being fed with most nutritious food for the whole month they are here, as against what they consume in forests,” he added.
When asked about Balarama’s retirement plans, Dr Nagaraj said the same was suggested two years ago and it was time that Palace had a second line howdah elephant.
“We suggest it be done at a range of age groups starting from 25 to 40 years with oldest one carrying the howdah. They require time and training to develop patience, participate silently through rituals and walk even when people are swarming all around you,” he added.
Balarama’s got cataract
Meanwhile, the fact that Balarama has cataract has also come to light. The pachyderm’s right eye had apparently sustained a wound even when it was captured from Kodagu forests in 1987. The elephant has partial vision in right eye but eyesight in left one is good, so far -- according to the doctor. There are no facilities in the country to fix elephant’s cataract since it requires anaesthesia and it is now known what effect it will have on the jumbo.
As a result of this, Balarama often is teary eyed on the right side!