Why we shouldn't ban elephants in Kerala temples

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Our  focus should rather be on strengthening security measures to prevent  Kollam-like tragedies, says Sanjeev Nayyar.

After the  unfortunate incident at the Kollam temple on Sunday, in which 109  people lost their lives, the campaign to ban elephants and  firecrackers in temples may get a fillip. 

In 2014, I attended  one of India’s most spectacular festivals, the Thrissur Pooram.  This festival is all about elephants, their ornaments, percussion  rhythm, parasol (umbrellas of different designs and colors), friendly  contest between two temples and fireworks.

A couple of days  before the festival started, I saw numerous elephants going through  extensive medical check-up in the grounds of the Sree Vadukkunnathan  Temple. The findings were dutifully recorded. Surprised, I casually  asked one of the officers what was it all about. He said only the  elephants which were certified to be medically fit could take part in  the festival. Earlier in the day, I saw elephants being given a bath.

I was even more  taken aback to see an exhibition of elephants' ornaments. Heard of  ornaments for women, but elephants! A local told me that elephants  were loved, revered and cared here, so what was wrong in making them  wear ornaments.

Notable among the  ornaments were Aalavattam, a special decorative circular  shield or fan made of peacock feathers held atop the elephants; Venchamaram, white flowing tufts used to fan the Thidambu,  decorated image of the deity, atop the elephants in ceremonial  processions; and Nettipattam, golden colour face mask worn  by the elephants.

On the day of  Pooram, a procession of elephants is taken out and percussion  artistes walk in the procession from Thiruvambady Bagavathy  Temple, among others, to the Sree Vadukkunnathan Temple. All through  the journey, I saw locals bowing to the elephants, taking their  blessings and keeping lots of goodies for them to eat.

Hailing from North  India, I was unable to relate to so much affection for elephants. As  the festival progressed, I too started loving the elephants.  

During the festival,  I never saw elephants getting violent -- except when a tourist  pinched an elephant to provoke response.

On the day after  Pooram, I visited the Sree Bharatha Temple where percussion  artistes were playing. There, I saw a van on which ‘Elephant  Emergency and Critical Care Unit’ was written. Do we have such vans  for human beings outside political rallies or rock concerts? It  showed people’s concern for this loving creation of God.

I also saw elephants  in many temples of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Everywhere, their  blessings were sought by the devotees.

All this love for  elephants reminded me of the movie Jungle Book, in  which elephants are given maximum respect. Hope we do not  overreact to the use of elephants in temple festivals, lest we should  have to take a U-turn later when the West takes to elephants in a big  way, just like Indians started giving importance to yoga only after  it became popular in the West.  

Fireworks take place  in huge grounds of the Sree Vadukkunnathan Temple. During the fire  display, the organisers make strict arrangements -- everyone has to  stand at a good distance and they also monitor the event carefully.

However, there will  be mishaps due to negligence, for which the guilty should be punished  and preventive measures should be taken.

Indians did not stop  flying after the 1990 A320 crash in Bangalore or the bombing of an  Air India flight to Toronto in 1985 and travelling by train after  numerous rail accidents.

Likewise, we should  not take a decision to ban elephants in temple festivals in a haste.  Rather, the security arrangements should be made stronger to prevent  loss of lives.

Sanjeev  Nayyar is founder of www.esamskriti.com and a columnist.

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