It is mid-February now. Another couple of months to down curtains for temple festivals in Kerala- Gods own Country!!
The festival season of Kerala temples start in January, to coincide with “Uttarayanam" and goes on till April. “Uttarayanam"- is the auspicious upward transit movement of sun from southern to norther hemisphere. The main feature during these festivals, besides religious customs are the presence of gracious elephants, where the idols of deities are carried on elephant’s head with colorful umbrellas and other decorative accessories, held by couple of men sitting on the shoulder of the elephant. Though there are no record since when these animals were introduced for festivals, it is clear they exist from at least for the past 150 years.
Kerala has about 750 captive elephants, where aprox. 120-150 nos. are owned by temples. Other elephants are owned privately by timber yards owners where they employ elephants to lug timber in their factory, some at elephant training centers, politicians etc. An elephant earns about Rs.13000/- to Rs 18000/- per day and for some tall and strong muscular elephants the amount can reach up to Rs, 3,50,000/- per day. Average earnings brought in by an average elephant can be estimated as Rs. 50,000/- to Rs. 1,50,000/- per season. And such elephants cost about Rs. 20 lakh to Rs. 25 lakh. So, on a higher note, an average elephant if kept busy throughout the season can earn about- 4 months x 30 days x Rs.15000/day, which equal to whopping Rs.18,00,000/- per season.
For the past two decades, the remittance from western countries to southern state of India and the current e-comms has boosted the cash reserves of temple and has fueled the temple committee to spend more on festivals. As a result, minor temples too started appointing elephants for their temple festivals.
The haphazard appointment of elephants for festivals and the greed for money has affected physical and mental health of elephants. They are made to stand on blazing sun for hours, sometimes 10.00 am to 8.00 pm in one stretch, then made to walk kilometers in blazing peak of summer, to next temple or transported uncomfortably on trucks, without proper rest, water and food. And on festival ground they are further traumatized by very loud sound, crackers and shouting by spectators. Additionally, the mahout- the care taker who is also part in the above actions- drunk most of the time, generally not trained well in the job, pocks the animals with sharp bull hook. Due to such insensitive treatment by us towards these mighty but still gentle, gracious and adorable, intelligent and sensitive animal loses its ground on such occasions and tries to communicate with us in a violent manner as we failed or rather refused to understand their language. For elephants, the well laid out rules and regulations towards treatment has kept in the dark, due to the socio-cultural reasons fueled by greed for money, public demand and political reasons.
Once the elephant’s senses flip to other side, they demonstrate their anger & frustrations through very unpredictable violent behavior fueled by their brute force. And most of the time the mahout will be first one to get attacked and killed. Once the mahout is killed, he is free and on rampage. One can simply imagine the extent of damage such violent behavior can cause on temple’s festive ground with a great crowd all around the elephant.
Then a chaotic scene sets in where crowd running halter shelter, with mothers with children and infants running for safe spots, stampede, announcement over public addressing system, police force trying to control the situation, arrival of elephant squad and their action etc.
This problem of unpredictable violent behavior of elephants triggered a thought process for a method to arrest and contain such situation “immediately”, and that lead to stating few design criteria for a product.
Product that could be worn on hind legs of elephant, when activated slowly, but quickly enough, pulls/ties both hind legs together to arrest the movement of elephant.
- The method should not be intrusive for elephants
- It should not be burdened to carry in addition to heavy metal chains.
- Can the product replace the heavy chains?
- The product should not in any way hurt the elephant’s body parts such as tail, legs, trunk and pennies.
- The product should not harm the elephant in any manner.
- It should not create and add any trauma to elephant or to the situation.
- The product should not hurt other elephants, if they try to tamper the product with their trunk.
- Should be rust proof
- Water proof- at least till five meters depth.
- Light weight
- Easy removal fixing to elephants
- Urine and dung proof
- Must be remote operated.
- Must be battery operated and rechargeable
- Dust proof
- Should not be removable by elephant
- No leather parts
- Ease in serviceability
- Ease of operation
- Performance tested certificate
- Reflection tape for visibility at night.
- Identification number on each product
- Should have hanging or proper storage facility.
- Battery level indication
- Should function under water.
- Soft material for Straps that does not hurt elephant’s legs.