Elephants have been an integral part of cultural Kerala from time immemorial.
These huge mammals have always been loved, revered, groomed and given a
prestigious place in the state's culturescape.
Most joint families in the past owned elephants and their increasing number
was considered a symbol of the family's status. But today only a handful of
families own an elephant. The rest have entrusted these treasured possessions to
the Devaswoms or temple managements owing to the degeneration of the joint
family system and the rising cost of maintaining elephants.
Punnathoorkotta, the elephant camp of the Guruvayoor temple, has the maximum
number of domesticated elephants in the State. Offering elephants to the deity
was also a common practice. Today as part of the conservation programme elephant
capturing is banned in the state.
Guruvayoor Kesavan is perhaps the most popular of the temple's pachyderms.
Kesavan was donated to the Guruvayoor temple by the royal family of Nilambur in
1916 when he was five years old. There are many stories about this elephant
which have become part of the legends of the land. In its natural habitat (the
jungles), man and tigers are the enemies of wild elephant herds, but once they
are captured and tamed, they become the gentle friends of their human owners.
Their attitude, life and habits change. Elephants are at first slow in grasping
the commands taught to them but once they do, they remember it for decades.
Hindus worship an elephant headed god - Ganapathy (the son of Lord Siva),
hence elephants are also revered and considered a good omen by Keralites. These
gentle beasts have the privilege of carrying the idols of gods during the temple
festivals and processions. So during the festival season in Kerala (January -
May) elephants can be frequently sighted with their mahouts on the highways.
Earlier they were transported in lorries to distant temples, but this practice
was banned a couple of years ago considering the comfort and safety of the
beasts. Kodanad and Konni are the two places where elephants are trained and
The forests of Kerala are the natural habitats of the Asian elephant. (Maximus
indus). Elephants are of two types - the Asian and the African. Interestingly
the pachyderm is not found in Australia. Some 300 species of mammals, the
forerunners of the elephant are believed to have become extinct in the course of