NEW DELHI: The motif of the elephant has been a recurring one in Indian culture, and there is a good reason for that. Mythology, literature, art, and religion—the animal has always received a prominent mention. It is we who have glorified the animal, and it is us who have completely disregarded their needs. In the 21st century, elephants have lost their right to roam.
Conservation efforts have received a great deal of apathy, and issues of poaching and habitat destruction continue to jolt precious the elephant population. The terms of coexistence have been transgressed once again. But it still doesn’t mean we stop trying. The efforts must go on, the dialogue must be powered, and deliberations must bare fruit. One such step is being taken by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in their Gaj Mahotsav, an initiative to talk about the elephant in an open, creative, and hopefully constructive way.
Elephants species were said to have taken birth from celestial waters and could only have survived if their habitat—forests—flourished abundantly. That, unfortunately, has been under grave threat, and the development of the 21st century, keeps pouring in the unpleasant news. They simply don’t have enough room to roam.
Their habitats are being reclaimed for building roadways, dams, farms and ranches, causing a major assault to, not just elephants but also the fragile biodiversity reserves. The debate over the fragmentation within elephant corridors have resulted in their loosing their fundamental right to passage. “There has been a spate of violent incidents involving the animals over the past years, take for instance, the elephants that were run over by a train recently, or the time when they were maimed and killed by electrocution,” says Ina Puri, the curator of the art exhibition within the festival.
In association with the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the festival comes in partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and United Nations Environment. Gaj Mahotsav is an interactive forum where one engages through the medium of the arts. It’s purpose remains to be a catalyst for immediate action.
There will be dance and music performances by artists such as Mallika Sarabhai and Astad Deboo, films and talks by filmmakers Mike Pandey and Krishnendu Bose, and an exhibition of art based on the elephants. Workshops for children such as storytelling and painting, shadow puppetry and cartooning are on the cards. “The elephant inhabited our Puranas and Panchatantrs. Our bountiful goddess of fortune, Lakshmi’s vahana is the white elephant. Our miniature paintings from Mughal times have images of the elephants leading royal armies to war. In tribal and contemporary art, the elephant appears in diverse avatars. Even in textiles, they appear making a statement. Shall I say more about their relevance,” she says.
There will also be a massive art piece with 101 life-sized elephants representing the 101 elephant corridors of India—all in a bid to raise awareness pertaining to this national heritage animal. “We had to begin somewhere and no place better than now and here,” says Puri.
Good to know: August 12-15, at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Arts, Mansingh Road.