KOCHI: With the Supreme Court set to consider a petition against the ritualistic elephant race (Anayottam) at the Sri Krishna Temple in Guruvayur, the Forest Department has set stringent conditions for the conduct of the ritual to ensure that no elephant is subjected to cruelty in the name of the practice. The ritual is set to be conducted on February 17 and animal rights activists are up in arms demanding a ban on the ritual.
According to rights activists, making the elephant run under the sizzling sun will cause health problems to the animals. “The mahouts kick the elephants behind their ears to make them run and hit on their hind legs with sticks continuously to make them stop. This will panick the elephants as devotees will be running after them and screaming. There were instances in the past where the elephants ran amok, creating chaos,” said Heritage Animal Task Force Secretary V K Venkitachalam.
Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, a Bengaluru-based animal rights organisation had filed a petition in the Supreme Court in November 2018, seeking to ban the practice and the court may consider the petition on Friday. As per the custom, the elephants have to run a distance of 200m from Manjulal. The elephant that touches the gopuram of the temple first will de declared the winner.
A team of officers from the Forest Department had held talks with the Guruvayur Devaswom Board authorities on Tuesday urging to shift the programme to the evening as making them run during day time may bewilder the animals due to the hot climatic conditions. However, the Devaswom Board informed the timing of the ritual cannot be changed.
“The Forest Department requested to change the timing of the ritual. But it cannot be changed as it is an age-old practice. Though the rituals start at 3 pm, the elephant race will be held only at 3.45 pm. We have taken all precautionary measures to ensure that no cruelty is meted out to the elephants. Only five elephants will be participating in the ritual and they will be selected from a pool of 25 elephants adjudged healthy by a team of doctors,” said Devaswom Board Administrator S V Sesir.
“As it is an age-old practice, we do not want to stop it. However, the permission will be granted only under strict conditions. Forest Department officers will be present at the venue and ensure that no animal is subjected to cruelty. They have assured that the event will be held only at 4 pm,” said Thrissur ACF A Jayamadhavan.
Five elephants from the probables list - Achuthan, Gopikrishnan, Gopikannan, Kannan, Nandini, Devi, Chenthamarakshan, Vishnu, Nandan, Ravikrishnan - will be selected through draw of lots on Saturday after health check up by expert veterinarians.
Legend has it that elephants of Thrikanamathilakam temple, near Kodungallur, broke the chains and ran to Guruvayur to participate in the temple festival, when the ruler of the erstwhile state of Kochi refused to send elephants following an ego clash with the Zamorin.