Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Elephants in Kerala culture

The Elephants of Kerala are an integral part of the daily life in Kerala, South India. These Indian elephants are loved, revered, groomed and given a prestigious place in the state's culture. Elephants in Kerala are often referred to as the 'sons of the sahya.' The elephant is the state animal of Kerala and is featured on the emblem of the Government of Kerala.

1 Elephants in festivals
2 Elephants as Legends
3 Elephants in captivity
4 Caring for elephants
5 Ornaments used for elephants
6 Woman mahout in Kerala
7 Devices used to control elephants in Kerala
8 Auspicious and inauspicious signs to determine the quality of an elephant
9 Books to read
10 See also
11 External links
12 Notes

Elephants in festivals

Elephants standing during Thrissur pooram festival in Kerala state of south India.
Almost all of the festivals in Kerala include at least one richly caparisoned elephant. Elephants carry the deity during annual festival processions and ceremonial : circumambulations in the temples. The temple elephants are decorated with gold plated caparisons (nettipattom), bells, and necklaces. People mounted on the elephants hold tinselled silk parasols (muthukuda) up high, swaying white tufts (venchamaram) and peacock feather fans (aalavattom) to the rhythm of the orchestra.
Most of the Hindu temples in Kerala own elephants, most of which are donated by devotees. The most famous Guruvayur temple in Kerala has more than 60 domesticated elephants, thus the Presiding Deity, Guruvayurappan, is said to be the owner of the world's largest number of domesticated elephants. The world's only Elephant Palace is constructed in Punnathur Kotta, 3 km from the temple, to house the temple's elephants. A famous elephant, named Guruvayur Keshavan, was an elephant of this temple.
Seventeen elephants are engaged for the daily ceremonial rounds to the accomplishment of Panchari Melam in the Koodalmanikyam Temple. The headgear of seven elephants are made of pure gold and rest of pure silver, which is unique to this temple.
Some famous festivals in Kerala are:
Edakkunni Uthram Vilakku[1]
Arattupuzha Pooram
Chinakkathoor pooram
Nemmara Vallangi Vela
Thrissur Pooram
Uthralikavu Vela
Tripunithara Vrischikolsavam
Chettikulangara Bharani, Mavelikkara

Elephants as Legends

Caparisoned elephants during Sree Poornathrayesa temple festival. Mahout with his thotti (hook).
Many elephants are featured in the legends of the land. Aithihyamala (or a garland of historical anecdotes) by Kottarathil Sankunni has a few stories about elephants and their legends.
Aranmula Valiya Balakrishnan
Guruvayur Keshavan
Paramelkavu Parameshwaran
Thiruvambadi Chandrashekharan
Edakkunni Arjunan

Elephants in captivity
Kerala has more than 700 elephants in captivity. Most of them are owned by temples and individuals.[citation needed]
They are used for religious ceremonies in and around the temples. A few elephants work at timber yards.

Caring for elephants

An Elephant sanctuary at Punnathur kotta, Kerala.
Each elephant has three mahouts, called pappan in the Malayalam language. The most important duty of the mahouts is to bathe and massage the elephant with small rocks, and husk of coconuts.
In the monsoon, the elephants undergo Ayurvedic rejuvenation treatments which include decoctions with herbs, etc. It is called Sukha Chikitsa in the Malayalam language.
Mahouts may be classified into three types, called in the Sanskrit language:
Reghawan: Those who use love to control their elephants.
Yukthiman: Those who use ingenuity to outsmart them.
Balwan: Those who control elephants with cruelty.

Ornaments used for elephants

Caparisoned elephants during Sree Poornathrayesa temple festival, Thrippunithura.
One of the famous families in Trichur district of Kerala, the Venkitadri family, has made ornaments for three generations, especially for the famous Thrissur pooram or festival. They make gold plated caparisons, umbrellas, alavattam , venchamaram, and necklaces. They decorate 150 elephants with ornaments for temple festivals.

Woman mahout in Kerala

Elephants in Kerala are trained not to move when Valiya kol (long pole) is kept on him.
Nibha Namboodiri is the first woman mahout in India. She is a zoologist from Kerala state. Now she is moving into the field of elephant welfare.[citation needed]

Devices used to control elephants in Kerala
In India, and especially in Kerala, mahout use three types of device to control elephants. Thotti (hook) which is 3.5 feet in length and 3 inches thick, Valiya kol (long pole) which is 10.5 feet in length and 5.5 inches in thickness and cheru kol (short pole).

Auspicious and inauspicious signs to determine the quality of an elephant
In Kerala, as in other states, the presence or absence of certain physical characters determine the quality of an elephant ie its temperament and disposition. Based on these traits, it is also judged if the elephant is auspicious enough to be owned or purchased. Listed below are a few of them [1]

a) Portion on the face between the eyes and the tusk (cheela), b) leg and nails, c) tail and d) tusk and trunk.

a) Ear, b) eyes and temporal region (kannakuzhi), c) twin domes on the head (thalakunni), d) forehead bump (vayukumbham) and e) tusk.
A dignified look with a raised head and low back.
The fore and the hind feet should be placed straight and firm on the ground. The legs must be straight without deformity.
The twin domes on the head (thalakunni), should be big, raised and evenly separated. They must not be close to each other
The forehead bump (vayukumbham) must be broad and projecting forwards.
The portion on the face, between the eyes and the tusk (cheela) must be compact. This portion must be long and broad. In cow-elephants this region is less pronounced.
The eyes must appear clear, with the colour of honey and should be moist. The pupils must be dilated. Red eyes in elephants indicate an aggressive and angry temperament. This is also observed during musth. Eyes may turn red due to injuries. One must be wary of elephants that have a fixed gaze.
The ears must be large. While being fanned, they must strike with a loud flapping sound, in the front. Small ears are not desirable in elephants.
The tusks are decisive in judging an elephant 's appeal. They may be formed in several ways such as, converging in the front, diverging, or curved upwards, etc. The ideal is that, the tusks should grow downwards, rise up, and then be evenly separated. The colour must be that of butter or sandalwood.
The trunk should be fleshy, broad , long and trailing on the ground. The tip of the trunk (thunikkai), must be long, triangular and strong. Injuries to the trunk, especially the thunikkai may disfigure the elephant.
The temporal region, (kannakuzhi), must be swollen and fleshy. If this region appears depressed due to loss of fat or flesh, it can be assumed that the elephant is tired or weak.
The back must slope downwards. The bones of the back must be pronounced and the area where the mahout sits (irikkasthanam), must be broad and fleshy ; otherwise it will not be a comfortable ride. This seat of the mahout, is above the forelegs or the scapular bone.
The body must be long and the stomach must always be full and big.
The tail must be long and end broadly into a fleshy region (vaal kudam). There should be ample hair on the tail. The tail must be long enough to touch the ankle, but not too long to trail on the ground, and should be devoid of twists or turns.
Elephant usually have 18 nails; five each on the forelegs and four each on the hind legs. Rarely some have 20 nails, which is considered very auspicious. Indian mythology claims that Airavat, the elephant of Lord Indra, possessed 20 nails. Elephants that posses 16 nails are considered inauspicious for individuals to own, but institutions like temples could keep them. The nails must be clear and smooth without cracks and must appear pronounced like the shell of a tortoise. Elephants used for labour and physical activity may have broken nails.
The skin must be jet black in colour ( like black teak or a group of rocks). In Malayalam elephants are called kariveeran, meaning the ‘black hero’. The skin must be resilient. Lack of resilience is an indication of dehydration.
When multiple hairs arise from a single root, it is considered an indicator of long life, and is a good sign. These occur usually below the eye or between the eye and the trunk, or on the sides of their chin.
If the insides of the mouth or the upper surface of the tongue is black , the elephant’s character is considered unpredictable.
It is inauspicious to have black markings on the penis.
The elephant makes a gurgling sound, from the throat, on seeing its favorite mahout or owner. Similarly it may excrete dung or urinate, to express its happiness. All these are considered as good signs. If the elephant remains motionless (without fanning its ears), when approached, then one must be wary of it.

Books to read
Hasthyaayurvedam [2] (Encyclopaedia of elephants and their treatment).
This book is an encyclopaedia of elephants and their treatment. The original book is in Sanskrit but Vaidyamadham Cheriya Narayanan Namboodiri has translated Paalakaapyam (Hasthyaayurveda) from Sanskrit to Malayalam.

See this:
Thrissur Pooram
Guruvayur Keshavan
Punnathurkotta (elephant sanctuary in Kerala).
Temple elephants

External links
Hasthyaayurvedam (Encyclopaedia of elephants and their treatment)
Association of elephant lovers to protect elephants.

1 comment:

രാജന്‍ വെങ്ങര said...

പ്രിയ ഷാജഹാന്‍, ഞാന്‍ ഇന്നാണു താങ്കളുടെ ബ്ലോഗില്‍ എത്തിയതു.വളരെ വൈകി ഇവിടെ എത്താന്‍.ഇപ്പോഴും ഞാന്‍ ഒരു ഓട്ടപ്രഥക്ഷിണം മാത്രമേ നടത്തിയുള്ളൂ..അതില്‍ നിന്നും തന്നെ മനസ്സിലായി ഇതു വളരെ വളരെ ഇന്‍ഫര്‍മറ്റീവു ആയിട്ടുള്ള സംരഭമാണു എന്നു. കേരളത്തെ സംബന്ധിച്ച സമഗ്രമായ വിവരങ്ങള്‍ ശേഖരിച്ച് അവ അത്രയും മനോഹരമാക്കി അടുക്കി വായനക്കാരിലേക്കു എത്തിക്കുവാനായി എടുക്കുന്ന ഈ പരിശ്രമത്തെ എത്ര തന്നെ അനുമോദിച്ചാലും അധികമാവില്ല.എല്ലവിധ ഭാവുകങ്ങളും നേരുന്നു..സ്നേഹപൂര്‍വ്വം...