People throng the temple to pay homage to the 63-year-old elephant; the animal was presented by the late Sivaji Ganesan in 1960

Sixty-three-year-old Vellaiyammal, the elephant of Big Temple, died here on Saturday. People turned up in large numbers to pay their last respect to the elephant. The dead animal was adorned with silk sari from Punnainallur Mariamman Temple and garlands, and wreaths were placed on it. It was a sorry sight to see the elephant that used to enthral children and bless devotees at the entrance to the temple every day, lying dead in the elephant shed.

The elephant was presented to Punnainallur Mariamman Temple, when it was 10 years old, by the late Sivaji Ganesan in 1960. As the film, Veerapandiya Kattabomman, was released at that time, the cow-elephant was named Vellaiyammal after a character in the film.

In 1980, it was brought to Big Temple, and since then, it had been the centre of attraction on most occasions. The gentle giant developed knee pain seven years ago. Though it had attended annual rejuvenation camp for elephants for two years, last year it could not make it due to illness. Kerala veterinary specialists attended to it and prescribed medicines and food. A team of veterinarians led by Lourdusamy treated the elephant.

Vellaiyammal used to sleep slanting on the wall of the shed without lying down for the past seven years. This morning, it was seen lying down on the floor. Mahouts Baskaran and Saravanan informed the veterinarians. Efforts to revive the elephant failed and it died at 9. a.m.

Those who paid homage to the elephant include K. Baskaran, Collector, Babaji Rajah Bhonsle, senior prince and hereditary trustee of Palace Devasthanam, Savithiri Gopal, chairperson of Thanjavur municipality, and Alamelu Ammal, wife of Shanmugham, brother of film actor Sivaji Ganesan.

Mr. Bhonsle said that the elephant was like a member of the royal family ever since it arrived in Thanjavur. “I feel like having lost a family member. It was friendly and social. It had never hurt anyone and was not like other elephants that get wild sometimes,” he added.

Ms. Alamelu Ammal said that late Sivaji Ganesan used to present elephants to temples.“He had presented elephants to Tirupati temple and Thiruvanaikaval temple, and also for children in America. He used to enquire about the health of Vellaiyammal whenever he visited Thanjavur,” she said.

Abishekams and aarthis were performed to the animal in the evening and later it was taken to a large pit dug for burying behind the elephant shed and buried.

Another calf elephant, Kundavai, presented by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa at the time of World Tamil Conference in 1995 to the Big Temple, died in 2003.