Decked up in ceremonial finery matched by sparkling new trinkets, the caparisoned elephants stole the thunder at the Jamboo Savari marking the Vijayadashmi to bring the curtains down on the 10-day Dasara celebrations here on Monday.
An intrinsic part of Mysore Dasara, the elephants were at their majestic best and put up a splendid show to shore up the event with their regal sheen to the thunderous applause of a large crowd.
Marching from the Amba Vilas through the Balarama Gate to the Bannimantap Grounds with aplomb, the 12 elephants covered the 5-km route with élan in a continuation of a tradition whose origins are rooted in history.
While the star-attraction Arjuna at the rear of the procession carried the 750 kg golden howdah with the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari, Balarama, Gajendra, Srirama, Abhimanyu led from the front and were the Nishane and Naupat elephants whose march signalled the beginning of the famed Jamboo Savari.
Named after characters in mythology, they are legends in their own right akin to elephants of yesteryear who hogged the Dasara limelight. While Balarama — who was retired from the onerous task of carrying the howdah in 2012 — is a celebrity and continues draw large admirers.
But others like Gajendra, Srirama and Abhimanyu are no pushovers. For, their valour is well known and together command a formidable reputation as valiant warrior elephants who can subdue and capture wild tuskers on the rampage.
They forayed into Central India jungles along with other elephants like Vikrama in the early 1990s to capture and tame “rogue” elephants which had increased man-animal conflict in the undivided State of Madhya Pradesh. The sequence of events was filmed by documentary maker Mike Pandey and Last Migration: Elephants Of Sarguja – became the first Asian film to win the coveted Green Oscars.
These legendary elephants have a reputation to uphold. For, they are continuing a tradition of the illustrious and venerable Drona who died in the late 1990s — electrocuted while grazing in the forests. Balarama stepped in and carried forward the tradition of Drona and has the distinction of carrying the 750 kg golden howdah on 13 occasions before he stepped aside for the mighty Arjuna last year.
The favourite elephant of the last maharaja of Mysore was Biligiriranga who became the howdah elephant in the 1960s while other names that echo from the past include that of Motiprasad, Rajendra Prasad and Chamundi to name a few.
The Gajashala or elephant stable of the palace was looked after by a group of palace officials who would scout across the country and even go abroad for the elephant with the “right temperament and looks” to participate in the Dasara. The festivities apart, they were used for State protocols and birthday celebrations of the kings as also various car festivals.
Biligiri or Biligiriranga was 10 feet tall and was of calm temperament not easily perturbed by crowd or by drum beats as indicated in the letter by a palace “Game Preserver Officer” D.N. Neelakanta Rao in the early 1930s.
Before the entry of Biligiri into the scene, the officials had gone as far as Burma and Siam in search of an elephant while one Narayana Namboodri from the State of Cochin paraded before the palace officials elephants by the name of Ramachandran, Damodaran, Govindan and Kesavan. There are other names like Pattabhi Raman and Vijyadevendran which too basked in glory in their heydays.
The baton has now onto Arjuna, Balarama, Abhimanyu, Gajendra and company who have covered themselves with glory in recent years.