THRISSUR: Though Kerala is known for its temple festivals and elephant parades, here is something that reaffirms the deep-rooted relationship of Keralites with captive elephants. Tusker lovers in central Kerala have now started performing rituals to appease the souls of dead elephants. The rituals range from the immersion of elephant's mortal remains in holy places to pula adiyanthiram (rituals performed by relatives after one's death) and bali tharpanam.
One such event will be held this Friday when the authorities of Kuttankulangara Devaswom will perform bali tharpanam and immerse the mortal remains of Kuttankulangara 'Gajashreshtan' Ramdas 'in honour of the elephant's valuable service to temple and society'. Ramdas died on April 3.
"The mortal remains of Ramdas will be immersed at the Navamukunda temple at Tirunavaya in Malappuram on Friday at 6 am. Bali tharpanam, aanayoottu (feeding of elephants) and a community feast - in which over 3,000 people are expected to take part - are also being planned," said C Vijayan, president of the devaswom.
Vijayan went onto explain why such a step is necessary. "Ramdas was loved for his gentleness he demonstrated throughout his life. It was at the age of 26 that the devaswom bought Ramdas from the forest department. Since then, Ramdas has become a part and parcel of our life," he said. Likewise, the mortal remains of elephant Thayankavu Manikandan was immersed two weeks ago. The mortal remains of the Thiruvambady Chandrasekharan too was immersed a decade ago.
Meanwhile, senior priests, who perform bali tharpanam at Thirunavaya, said that by performing the ritual for an elephant, tusker lovers are actually mocking Hindu rites and rituals. "It's something we never heard before. Bali tharpanam is performed by the immediate relatives of the deceased. For carrying out pujas, we need the names of the dead, his/her parents, etc. Elephant lovers should not mock our rituals and valuable tradition," said a senior priest, on condition of anonymity.
Even devaswom authorities said that there was pressure from the fans, especially youngsters, to perform these rituals that are performed to appease the souls of human beings. "Sometimes, it is difficult to turn down the request of the young generation," said a devaswom member.
When contacted, president of the Thiruvambady Devaswom Prof Madhavankutty defended the act saying that by performing these rites, they are underlining the deep attachment to the animal. At the same time, VK Venkitachalam, secretary of the Heritage Animal Task Force (HATF), said that the new trends are mere publicity gimmicks by elephant lovers. "All captive elephants are heavily harassed by owners for money and pride. Now, it seems they are not sparing its mortal remains," he said.