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Saturday, October 17, 2015

affable 'Azhwar' - the elephant of Sri Parthasarathi temple ~ b&w photo from The Hindu 1975

This photo in The Hindu – Melange [the Hindu Metroplus] – b&w photo published on June 25, 1975,  really made me  nostalgic…… the unwritten details could be :

·        the water crisis in mid 1970s
·        the affable ‘Alwar’ ~ the elephant of Sri Parthasarathi temple
·        the borewell pumps of those days in every Street – those which quenched the thirst of thousands
this was a photo taken in front of House no. 109, Thulasinga Perumal Kovil Street [TP Koil Street]

Water crisis is nothing new – Chennai with no good river often runs dry and Chennaites chase water – earlier there used to be bore pumps where people would stand in queues to get their turn, pumping it hard even in mid-night or early morning; chasing water tankers [those days remember a tractor with name Vikravandi used to come !] – either getting water direct from the vehicle tanks with eversilver and plastic pots, buckets and more. 

Cajoling the clouds, fiddling with the ocean or digging deep into the earth - any idea even remotely suggesting a solution to Chennai's water crisis has been eagerly lapped up by officials over the years. Vestiges from the past may be pulled down, but history often repeats itself -in Chennai, in the form of water scarcity .  Right from the earliest records of the erstwhile Presidency , paucity of water was a thorn in the side of the Raj. There have only been temporary measures -  tap water from Kosasthalaiyar;  then  Veeranam and so on.

The human-powered pump designed to lift water from a depth of fifty metres or less was a big hit of those days.  The pump was designed in the 1970s to serve village water needs in developing countries and rural areas. The pump  was installed on top of a drilled well or borehole and lifted water from the bottom of the well through repeatedly moving the pump handle up and down.

More than anything else – is of course ‘ Azhwar ‘ – the temple elephant.  I profess my love for elephants (more so for the affable Azhwar, which lived in Triplicane – 4 decades ago….there is none in Triplicane, the one who came after Azhwar, Mohan was a spoilt child… you find many of them in Kerala – mostly owned by temples and  few individuals. They are used for religious ceremonies in and around the temples, and a few elephants work at timber yards. 

In my young age, I was so fascinated by Alwar, the mighty yet very submissive Azhwar probably never misbehaved.  The gigantic one would be bathed, decorated with Thiruman on its forehead and would walk majestically in front in Perumal purappadu.  At the end of the purappadu  after Thiruvanthikappu, have seen Azhwar offering ‘saamaram’ to Perumal and would walk backwards. It used to carry sacred water (Thirumanjana kudam) from the temple tank, being taken in a procession every morning.

The feeding of the elephant was a much watched event. The mahout used to give it large round balls of rice cake with jaggery, made in the temple. When it came around in streets, people used to offer bananas, jaggery, and sugarcane – it would also eat branches of tree. There were other reports that it was tamed so much that it would happily drink coffee from nearby Vaitha hotel as also take things like kadalai urundai.

The passing away of affable Azhwar in 1977 (14th Feb 1977)  was indeed a very sad event. Many of us wept. The mortal remains were kept for public viewing and thousands came to pay floral homage to it. Thousands accompanied the funeral cart – when it was taken in a lorry and buried at NKT Girls High school. Some months later (21st June 1977), a small male calf  aged 3 at that time was presented to the temple – Mohan was a playful truant. All of us started enjoying its little pranks. As it grew up, it became violent and more than a couple of occasions, got wild, threw things on its way out violently and went running in narrow lanes of Triplicane, making people feel threatened.

Unfortunately, during that time there were more incidences of elephants turning violent and the then Govt. banned usage of elephants especially during the Iyappa processions and other public festivals. There were complaints from some quarters and the cumulative effect saw the sending away of Mohan to Guindy Park and then to Vandalur. Every time, I go to Vandalur and see a fully grown male elephant, I reminisce that it could be Mohan whom I saw as a small less than 3 ft child elephant.

Last time when I wrote about my fascination for Temple elephants, one of my regular readers – presented a different view on how the pachyderms suffer and sent me the book ‘ Elephant Doctor ‘ by Jeyamohan  - depicting the trouble of elephants in the forest due to misdeeds of drunken men and the life of  veterenarian    Dr. Krishnamurthy who dedicated his entire life to the wild

Yes temple elephants may not be enjoying their freedom, chained most of the time, beaten sometimes by the drunk mahouts and would end up doing sundry jobs for ekking out a living for the mahout – yet, without thinking of the rationale,  I would ever be happy to receive the blessing from the elephant and feel its breathe coming out from its trunk.

An Elephant lover – S. Sampathkumar
17th Oct 2015.

PS: Have so many photos of elephants – not putting any of them in this post, as I am cherishing this old photo of Azhwar at TP Koil Street

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