When the jumbo came calling

Aarattu means holy bath. The two aarattus that occur twice a year at Thiruvananthapuram are a divine experience for the devotees. On the Aarattu day, there are elephants, police, cavalry, palanquins carrying many deities, all in a procession, and people, young and old, chanting and walking all the way from the temple’s West Gate to the Shanghumugham beach, where the Lord’s idol is dipped in the sea.

People throng the roads on both sides, waiting patiently to have a darshan of their favourite ‘Pappanavan’ on His journey to and fro. I have a friend who lives on the same road, with their family-run medical shop forming one part of their house. Hers is an ancestral property, what is known as ‘Amma Veedu’, with a huge sprawling compound that lies sandwiched between two roads. The house has a buttress-like compound wall which people cannot easily scale.

I had never had an opportunity to watch the aarattu from her house since my parental house is very close to the temple from where it all starts. This time we were there for the onward procession. There were the usual sights and the sounds with one exception: more than the horses, it was the elephants that were acting funny, especially one who was vigorously shaking his head. But the procession passed by, without any mishap.

But suddenly, there was a commotion and we could see people running back, all bhajans forgotten. “One elephant has run amok! He has entered the next road!” Shouts and cries followed. We also ran home. The full story was revealed unravelled only the next day. An elephant had run amok. But his visit had not been to the next road but to my friend’s shop-cum-house.

Nobody knows why he chose her place. Eyewitnesses say he passed her house, suddenly stopped, made a U-turn, and walked determinedly towards the house. He pushed the gate open to walk straight across but there was a hitch: it was too small a gate for him. He kept pushing against the wall till it gave in, coolly walked out of the compound, reached the main road and walked some distance to the same house where he had spent the afternoon. After that he was calm personified, oblivious to the plight of his two passenger priests, still sitting on his back, clutching at a deity and an ornamental umbrella.

He had left chaos on Aarattu Road. Those who were caught in the elephant’s path, continued to be in shock. My friend and her family didn’t quite understand what had happened. Her son had the presence of mind to set free their dog which fled the scene. In the melee, some had climbed the wall in their desperation to escape from the elephant.

After the elephant had left, this terrified lot realised they could only climb up the wall but not down. My friend says they had a tough time bringing them down. Even step ladders were no good; in the frenzy that followed, the climbers had forgotten the art of climbing down!

Which goes on to prove that not only death, even the mere fear of death can take you up.

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When the jumbo came calling

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