Andhra Pradesh

Pampered TTD jumbos get a royal treatment

Temple elephants dressed in colourful robes along with their handlers participating in a religious event in Tirupati. —Photo: K.V. POORNACHANDRA KUMAR

Temple elephants dressed in colourful robes along with their handlers participating in a religious event in Tirupati. —Photo: K.V. POORNACHANDRA KUMAR  

Two persons take care of each elephant with a variety of food items

Even before the morning Sun could illuminate the temple city’s skyline, a familiar clang echoes on the streets leading to Sri Govindaraja Swamy temple. A couple of minutes later, two large shadows emerge from the darkness and are led by a procession from the local Gandhi road, with mellifluous sounds of traditional instruments and priests carrying water from Narasimha Theertham tank, widely known as Manchineella Gunta , for rituals. As the day breaks, two elephants with the Vaishnavite insignia, Namam , are found retracing the path to their home alongside their chatty trainers after completing their daily chores. This is how the life of a temple elephant begins in Tirupati!

Playful duo

Though the sight of the playful elephant duo is quite common to locals, devotees visiting the city, particularly those who arrive in the morning, gaze at them in awe. Some of them even try to seek blessings from the elephants, for which the latter places its mighty trunk on their heads. Housed in the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) Sri Venkateswara Gosamrakshanashala, a group of five temple elephants take part in the rituals including the annual brahmotsavam in several TTD-run temples across the city. In addition to this, there are two elephants in Tirumala and one at Tiruchanur, taking the total to eight.

“Unless there are any events, temple elephants accompany the priests in carrying holy water for everyday rituals at Sri Govindraraja Swamy temple. Once they are back to the Goshala, we then follow our regular schedule of exercise, food, grooming and oil baths,” maintains senior handler (mahout) Subramanium, who has been in the profession for 35 years. All the elephants are female — Avanija, Vaishnavi, Revathi, Padma and Padmaja hailing from Assam and Karnataka. While some were gifted to the devasthanams, others had been rescued from the forests.

‘Gentle animals’

Reminiscing his initial days with the elephants, Mr. Subramanium, who is fondly called as Mani, termed the jumbos as gentle animals. “They are very sensitive and intelligent creatures. Cues from its behaviour can teach us a lot about their mode of communication. For example, the way it tosses the grass can show if it is playful or angry. It even remembers if you have turned the water hose forcefully during bathing,” chuckles Mani, tapping Revathi on its trunk.

Mani, along with others, was trained at the elephant training camp at Topslip, Pollachi, during which they were taught about the physical, physiological, behavioural and other traits of elephants. Regular workshops are also conducted at the Sri Venkateswara Employees Training Academy (SVETA) with practicals at the Goshala.

Specialised care

Speaking to The Hindu , S.V. Gosamrakshanashala Director K Haranath Reddy outlines the specialised care accorded to the elephants. “We have allotted two persons per elephant to look after various aspects of animal care. Besides, we ensure that the jumbos get adequate food i.e., more than 10 percent of its body weight and also variety in the menu. Sugarcane, Napier Grass, Ragi Balls and several other items make their way to feeding sessions to bring in some diversity,” he maintains. Veterinarians take care of the medical aspects such as vaccination and deworming and giving tips to the handlers like the need for foot massages to the animals with neem oil to prevent lesions.

The group of five jumbos takes turns, in a batch of two, to participate in the everyday religious events. On special occasions, i.e., major events such as brahmotsavams, they are adorned with special clothes, along with their trainers, adding to the grandeur of the occasion.

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 2:24:35 AM |

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