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Friday, September 2, 2016

Dussera at Mysore ~ insurance for elephants

Elephants are very attractive – more so in the wild than in captivity .. sadly its population is plummeting in recent years. Organisations are crying hoarse that Africa is currently experiencing the highest rate of elephant mortality in history, driven largely by a multibillion-dollar illicit ivory trade. Experts have warned that African elephants could become extinct within 10 years. Several hundred are killed every week by well-armed poachers seeking ivory, meat and body parts. Ivory, the hard, white material derived from the tusks and teeth of animals, especially the mammoth elephant is very costly. Whether it is costly or useful ~ it looks good on an elephant and is its body part, not an ornamental piece meant for your display………….. 

For ages, temple elephants have been a vital part of temple ceremonies and festivals especially in South India. In Kerala, they have a pride of place – as evidenced by the Pooram festivals or the Punnathur kotta, the place for temple elephants at Guruvayoor. Residents of Triplicane will ever remember the great majestic beautiful tusker named  ‘Azhwan’ about whom I have posted in detail earlier. Azhwan fondly was one who probably never misbehaved. This gigantic one would be bathed, decorated with Thiruman on its forehead and would accompany perumal purappadu. At the end of the purappadu 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.

Other than Kerala, Karnataka, too is famous for elephants – specifically Mysore. Dussera at Mysore is one to be seen and experienced.  The Navarathri celebrations are held grandly at the Mysore palace, attracting huge crowds including foreigners.  The celebrations are now more than 410 years old.  Elephants are an integral part of the Mysore Dasara Festival. The elephants form the core of the Mysore Dasara procession on the Vijayadashami day. The lead elephant carries the Golden Howdah (Chinnada Ambari) with the Goddess Chamundeshwari in it.

Dasara celebration begins with the of the “Gajapayana” during the mid of August,  the ceremonial journey taken by the  elephants to take part in the Dasara procession. This tradition started in 1610 AD in Srirangapatna; the  elephants are specially trained at Veeranahosalli, a small village near the main entrance of the Nagarahole National reserve forest. The mammoth  pachyderms with their mahouts are traditionally decorated, offerings or puja are performed marking the launch of the Dasara festival and significance to have an auspicious start. The procession begins with the tribal and folk dances by the local artists and Tibetans settlers (residing in the locality). Earlier, during the time of the Mysore Dasara, the Kings, accompanied by the “Pattada Aane” would visit the forest and perform pooja to all the pachyderms  that would participate in the celebrations. Then, the jumbos would walk to Mysore Palace.

The Elephants start arriving to Mysore city in groups. They arrive to Mysore a month or so before the start of the actual festivities and they undergo practice for their march on the final day.  People  greet the sacred animals all along their designated trekking route.  Special care taken and elephants are given  'Ragi mudde', a mixture of ragi and horse gram and fodder branches; at Mysore they are treated  with ‘royal’ food till the grand Dasara finale - Jamboo Savari.

Over the years, tourism is given importance as the Govt tries to project the festival in having more foreigners visiting Mysore.  About 12 elephants are trained for the ‘Jamboo Savari’ that unfolds on Vijayadasami in Mysuru after a strict routine of daily practice. The forest department has been vested with the task of keeping the elephants healthy, in shape, and safe.

Elephants are susceptible to injuries during transportation, and they may cause harm to public or private property during their stay in Mysuru, till the festivities get over.  Therefore, as before, all 12 Dasara elephants have been insured this year as well. The Hindu reports that the  value of the insurance provided by United India Insurance is Rs. 32 lakh.  The mahouts and kavadis of the jumbos have been insured for a sum of Rs. 35 lakh. The tusks of male elephants have, however, been left out by the policy.  The insurance coverage commenced recently when the first batch of six elephants led by Arjuna, who carries the famous 750-kilo golden howdah on his back, arrived at the palace. The second batch of elephants is expected to arrive in Sept. The Dasara Festival Committee reportedly paid Rs. 41,000 as premium per elephant; this is calculated on the basis of the age and gender of the animals (the premium is higher for tuskers).

“Getting an insurance cover has been a routine exercise and we have insured them as a precautionary,” the Deputy Conservator of Forests Ganesh Bhat is quoted as telling the Hindu newspaper.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

2nd Sept. 2016

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