Monday 29 October 2012

New silver elephant for Guru Raghavendra at Mantralaya

There is disturbing news for devotees of the Raghavendra Swamy Matha in Mantralaya.
The Matha is likely to discontinue the practice of  using elephants for the Gaja Vahanotsava Seve  that is held in the matha premises. This decision follows a notification by the Andhra Pradesh (Mantralaya) to ban the use of elephants by temples for religious processions and other rituals in mathas and religious places.
This Seve implies that the idol of Rayaru is carried around the temple on an elephant since this ritual is held within the temple.
The notification bans the use of elephants for being used in religious rituals, rites and events within a religious place and this also implies a Matha.
The Raghavendra Swamy Matha, however, seems to be well prepared to face this ban. A magnificent silver elephant decorated with frescos and flowers and placed on a platform which can be pulled by devotes is ready.
The platform and the silver elephant weigh 300 kgs and cost Rs. 2 crores. There is a Karnataka connection to this beautiful addition to the Raghavendra Swamy Matha. More than 50 artistes from Udupi worked for several days to build this silver elephant.
This silver elephant will replace the wooden elephant that was being used till last year. The present pontiff of the Raghavendra Swamy Matha, Suyatheendra Theertha, will dedicate the silver elephant to Rayaru on November 1, this year.
Though this notification is restricted to Andhra Pradesh, it may not be far off when other states, including Karnataka,  too follow suit.
The use of elephants by and in temples and for religious and entertainment purposes goes back to thousands of years.
Man domesticated the elephant as it was the most intelligent of all the animals. It also came to be used in wars. The Mughal Emperor, Jahangir,  is believed to have more than a lakh captive elephants.
Historical records and contemporary texts say that he had 1,13,000 elephants in his kingdom.
Unfortunately, India today has less number of elephant than what Jahangir had. India had about 1,00,000 wild elephants at the turn of the century. Today, it is just 80,000 and another  1,000 domesticated elephants.         
The Indian elephant is also known as the Asian elephant and it is much different from the African elephant. India is home to about 60 per cent of wild Asian elephants and 20 per cent of  domesticated elephants.
In India, elephants have been used for religious events and  processions. The famous Dasara procession in Mysore and the elephant festival at Thrissur in Kerala are some examples of this. Temples in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhar Pradesh have a tradition of  keeping elephants and using them for every day events.
Apart from temples, private organizations and even some individuals have kept elephants. Studies indicate that around  3,000 elephants are privately owned.  
Concerned over the rapid destruction of the elephant habitat and killing of elephants, the Central Government formulated Project Elephant in 1992. Elephant reserves have also been set up.
Even the Karnataka High Court has taken the issue of elephant conservation very seriously. When P.D. Dinakar was the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, he had taken up a suo moto petition on elephant deaths due to electrocution. The High Court has been hearing this petition at regular intervals and made valuable suggestions to the State Government for implementing steps to save the elephant from extinction.   

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