Kerala in southern India is described as ‘God’s own country’ in tourism brochures.
A 54-year-old tusker proved on Sunday that Kerala can also be called ‘elephants’ own country’.
Thechikottukavu Ramachandran, above, fondly called Raman, drew more than 10,000 fans during his brief appearance in front of a temple gate to mark the formal opening of the festival of festivals, Thrissur Pooram.
The 38-hour celebration was to start only on Monday but the massive crowd assembled during its symbolic opening a day earlier was unprecedented in the history of Thrissur Pooram.
It was almost one-fourth of the usual crowd who come a day later to watch the grand display of parasols of myriad designs and hues mounted atop caparisoned elephants amid the setting sun.
What drew thousands of fans to the southern gate of the Vadakkunnathan temple on Sunday was the painful realisation that they will only get a fleeting glimpse of the rogue animal who faces curbs by the district administration in taking part in the festival.
The half-blind celebrity elephant had killed 13 people in the past. However, he had been performing the opening ritual since 2014. While public safety was the state government’s top priority, it also came under pressure to please the elephant’s fans.
The proposed ban on Raman angered majority Hindus who felt the left front government was trying to hurt their sentiments again after the Sabarimala crackdown a few months ago.
There was high drama and suspense over Raman’s participation at the symbolic ceremony. Permission for his brief appearance between 9.30 am and 10.30 am on Sunday was given with certain conditions late on Saturday after the district collector got an ‘all-clear’ medical report from a team of veterinarians who examined the tusker.
On Sunday, Raman’s fans started arriving from 7am at the Thekkinkadu ground circumscribing the Siva temple sitting atop a hillock.
But police, who arrived before them, had already set up a 10-metre barricade as per the district administration’s orders at the southern entrance to the temple.
Raman’s fans had to stand at a distance and patiently await for his arrival at the gate.
When the elephant, following the tradition, pushed open the temple gate and came out to salute all by raising his trunk, the crowd erupted into cheers, chanted ‘Raman’ ‘Raman’, and took his photos on their cell phones.
They were still hoping their beloved elephant would be allowed to spend some more time at the gate. But another elephant soon came to take his place and Raman was ferried back in an open truck to Neithalakkavu Bhagavathy (goddess) temple.
This is just one example of people’s love for elephants that are linked to temples, festivals and many tales woven around them.
Yes, Kerala can also be called ‘elephants’ own country’.