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Stop Parading Elephants in Kerala Temples and Save the Poor Animals

Major Hindu Temple festival season in Kerala begins by January mid-week and ends in April. And this is the cruelest and toughest period for the living representatives of Lord Ganesha, one of the most popular deities in Hindu pantheon. More than 400 captured elephants in Kerala that are trained to perform duties during temple festivities are paraded in the numerous temples in the scorching sun during this period. Interestingly, it is not written in Hindu scriptures that elephants should be part of temple festivals. In fact Ganesha symbolizes that man and animals (all animate and inanimate) are nothing but Brahman – the Supreme Being.

Caparisoned elephants are paraded to satisfy the egos of the temple committee members and to gain superiority over the temple in the next village or town. Thanks to the tourist promotion campaign ran by the Government of Kerala, caparisoned elephants are one of the biggest attractions in the state.

Elephants killing people during temple festivals is now a common phenomenon in Kerala and live footage of elephants crushing people and venting its fury is aired live by regional Malayalam channels and is soon watched by millions around the world on Youtube.

February to May is the hottest period in Kerala and it is the time when most of the temple festivals are held. The poor elephants are made to stand in scorching sun for hours with all the embellishments – for majority of the temples it is impossible to think about a temple festival without the caparisoned elephants.

Nearly 30 to 50% of a temple’s festival budget is spent on elephants. A recent study indicates that the temples in Kerala have to shell out Rs 25,000 to Rs 100,000 per day as fee for a single elephant. This when thousands of Hindus are homeless and jobless in the state. Hundreds of Hindus commit suicide in the state due to financial reasons. Such huge amount should be invested by temples in improving the welfare of poor Hindus.

The elephant owners make use of the festival season to make maximum gains by transporting elephants from one place to another without a break. Sometimes the poor elephants are made to walk on tarred roads for hours in the hot sun. The hot melting tar sticks to the feet of the poor elephants and if the poor animals stop or show dissent they are tortured by the mahouts.

The reasons for elephants going amok and killing people during festivals are:
  • The unbearable heat during the peak summer season in Kerala (February – May).
  • Most elephants are immobilized by chains which often create wounds on the legs of the elephants.
  • Standing from early morning to long after midnight with the idol of the presiding deity.
  • The sound, the heat and the humidity that the temple festival generates through the numerous rituals, fireworks and other activities.
  • Undisciplined crowd that the temple festival attracts.
  • The torture of animals by mahouts and owners.
  • Lack of rest and proper food.
  • Making the elephants walk for long hours in the hot sun creating blisters.
  • Walking through traffic, congested roads and trampling on sharp objects.
  • Lack of proper treatment.
There are written laws in Kerala against animal cruelty – one such law says it is mandatory for elephants to have at least 12 hours of rest after parading for five hours. They should be given five hours of rest after traveling.

But such laws are never followed in Kerala, which perhaps has the maximum number of elephant lovers in the world. There is also an Elephant Lovers’ Association in the state and there is an ever vigilant print and television media. But elephants continue to be tortured and killed. Elephants continue to run amok and crush poor devotees to death.

There are some positive movements against the cruelty like the Kanichukulangara Devi Temple in Alappuzha this year broke away from tradition and decided that the idol of the Goddess would not be mounted on the back of a poor elephant. Interestingly, here the Devaprashnam conducted to know the mind of the Goddess suggested that the Goddess was angry at torturing the poor elephants.

The solution perhaps to saving the poor giants is with Hindu devotees. Stop donating to temples that parade elephants. Once the cash flow stops, the parading of elephants will be the first item to be removed from the festival itinerary.