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Monday, August 12, 2019

World Elephant Day - remembering Gajarajan Guruvayur Kesavan

In my recent visit to Guruvayur, after darshan at the Temple, was happy to visit this place in West Nada ~ memory of that majestic tusker ! – Guruvayur Kesavan.

Elephants have always attracted me.  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. Elephants have been the central theme of many films : Yanai Pagan, Yanai valartha Vanampadi, Nalla Neram, Ram Lakshman, Annai Oru Alayam, Kumki; more beautifully portrayed in some Malayalam movies like -  Aanachandam, Gajaraja Manthram  and the ultimate  Guruvayur Kesavan … the love of the film industry dates back to 1937 movie ‘Elephant boy’ made   at the London Films studios at Denham, and in Mysore.

Today, August 12 is World Elephant Day.  In  2012, it  was launched to bring attention to the urgent plight of Asian and African elephants. The elephant is loved, revered and respected by people and cultures around the world, yet we balance on the brink of seeing the last of this magnificent creature. Ironically, it is from humans that pachyderms face the gravest threat as they jostle with us for space and resources. This is no post on how they are killed in other parts of the World for ivory and in some cases killed in ‘game hunting !’

In India, Kerala, Karnataka and Assam  have huge elephant populace.  Strangely read elsewhere that there is a big illusion in Assam where people, in general, believe that the elephant population is increasing because of which these conflicts take place. But that is not true. If we observe the data the  forest space has continuously shrunk thus giving the illusion that there are more elephants. "

This post is on a positive note – how much people love elephants and how much one special elephant has impacted us all ~ it was no ordinary elephant though – the mighty devout Gajarajan Guruvayur Kesavan.   The mighty yet most gentle pachyderm served the lord of Guruvayur in all its sincerity and uniqueness.

Valiya Raja of Nilambur once prayed to the Lord to save his family and property from the enemies attack. He promised to offer one of his many elephants if his wish is fulfilled. His wish was fulfilled and he offered an elephant which later became the famous Guruvayur Kesavan.  On his arrival, Kesavan was 10 years old and elephant Padmanabhan was the undisputed king. Young Kesavan acquired all the kingly gestures and nobleness of Padmanabhan and even excelled him. He would bend his front-legs only before those who holds Lord's Thidambu to enable them to climb upon him, all others were to climb by his behind-legs. He never caused any bodily harm to anyone.

In 1973, first time in history, the Golden Jubilee of the services of an elephant to the temple was celebrated. Kesavan was conferred upon the honour of "Gajarajan" (king of elephants ).  A film titled ‘guruvayur Kesavan’ and later a TV serial were taken on him.  On famous Ekadasi day, 2nd December 1976, Kesavan fell ill while Thidambu was placed on his head. He couldn't hold on his legs. The Thidambu was soon transferred to another elephant and Kesavan was brought to the Kovilakam compound. He died in front of the Lord with his trunk stretched in front. He was 72, 3.2 metres tall, and participated in every ceremony at the temple. Kerala's biggest and grandest elephant, Gajarajan Kesavan, served the Lord and people for the long 54 years.

He was such a darling to all devotees of Guruvayur and those who  have seen him will never forget Kesavan. To commemorate him, a 12 feet high statue stands  erected in front of Sreevalsam rest house, in West Nada near Guruvayur temple.  This memorial attracts people   in front of the Panchajanyam Rest House – a fitting memorial indeed for a unique devotee.  When pilgrims arrive at Guruvayur, they are reminded of Keshavan by his tusks and portrait displayed above the main entrance to the Deity chamber. And throughout the city many shops sell colorful paintings of Keshavan.

Celebrate ‘World Elephant Day’ ~ remember devout Guruvayur Kesavan, tusker.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
12th Aug 2019.

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