Temple elephants: follow court ruling

People use their mobile phones to take pictures of decorated elephants as they attend Thrissur Pooram festival at a temple in Thrissur on April 25, 2018. REUTERS

Owners of elephants that participate in temple rituals in Kerala are on a warpath. They have threatened to not provide elephants for any temple festivals henceforth if the government bars the participation of 65-year-old Thechikottukavu Ramachandran, a one-eyed tusker with an array of age-related ailments, in the Thrissur Pooram festival on May 13.  Elephants are an integral part of temple rituals in southern India, especially in Kerala, where the jumbos are paraded in an estimated 10,000 religious and public events annually. The Pooram festival at the Vadakkunnathan Temple in Thrissur alone sees the participation of some 100 elephants in the procession. Undoubtedly, these events are awe-inspiring spectacles. Watching elephants march in a procession and bowing, even prostrating before the deity is a spiritual experience for many worshippers. They see a divine connection between the elephants and the presiding deities and want to be part of that connection.

Thechikottukavu Ramachandran’s participation in the upcoming Thrissur Pooram festival has become controversial. The courts have prohibited his use in the festival as he has gone berserk several times and is estimated to have killed 13 people and three elephants. Given his advanced age and illnesses, he is irritable and has become a threat to the public. The court’s order was thus a step in the right direction, made in the cause of public safety. But Thechikottukavu Ramachandran’s owners are insisting on his participation. He is a celebrity of sorts and a key attraction of the Thrissur Pooram festival. He thus commands a high price for participation and his owners are eyeing the profits.

Elephants which are used in temple rituals and processions undergo rigorous training. Their ‘discipline’ and ‘taming’ notwithstanding, elephants are essentially wild animals which are easily irritated when surrounded by noisy crowds. It is estimated that elephants have run amok in over 300 instances, even killing eight people during the current festival season (November to May) in Kerala. Shackling these giants with iron chains and expecting them to march in processions amidst noisy crowds is cruel. Subjecting Thechikottukavu Ramachandran to such cruelty is untenable. We claim to love elephants and even worship them. Yet turn a blind eye to their systematic torture. Rules relating to the treatment and training of elephants and their use in public events are routinely flouted; elephants are made to walk for several kilometres on tarred roads in very hot weather. The Kerala government must enforce the court order. Allowing the elephant to participate in the festival is a violation of that order. Kerala must not succumb to the elephants owners’ threats. Thechikottukavu Ramachandran has served Kerala’s temples for decades. He deserves a dignified retirement.

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