Historic or hurtful? Robotic elephant looks set to pose difficult questions
Setting a model for festival organisers, Irinjadapilly temple, managed by the Irinjadapilly Mana, gave its nod for parading the robotic elephant.
THRISSUR: Coming on the heels of the central government amending the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, permitting the interstate transfer of captive elephants for religious purposes, a small village temple in Irinjalakkuda is set to parade a robotic pachyderm, sponsored by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), writing a new chapter in the festival culture of Kerala.
While the decision has been welcomed by animal-rights activists, it has created a furore among festival fans, with the season set to peak in the coming months with Uthralikkavu Pooram, Peruvanam Arattupuzha Pooram and Thrissur Pooram, where elephant parades are a major crowd-puller. The Irinjadapilly Sree Krishna temple will unveil the robotic elephant for the ceremony to be held on February 26 and the subsequent elephant parade, which will be accompanied by the percussion ensemble led by Peruvanam Satheesan Marar.
PETA has been raising its voice against the torture of captive elephants in the state in the name of festival parades and religious rituals. A blog post by PETA India said, “Elephants held captive in the temple are controlled with violence, fed unsuitable food, and denied veterinary care, which the animal rights organisations at the regional level also agree.”
Setting a model for festival organisers, Irinjadapilly temple, managed by the Irinjadapilly Mana, gave its nod for parading the robotic elephant. According to Rajkumar Namboothiri, who belong to the family, “The tantric texts don’t mention the use of captive elephants for carrying the idol of the deity. While other aspects, like use of ratham, have been mentioned, the argument for using live elephants is baseless. We wanted to initiate a dialogue by employing the robotic elephant.” He added that the temple management was ready to rent out the robotic elephant for festival parades for a nominal rate, after the offering ceremony.
The robotic elephant was developed by a group of youngsters — Prasanth, Santo, Jobin and Jinesh — of Chalakudy-based Four He-Art Creations. The temple authorities named the robotic elephant Irinjadapilly Raman. Standing 11ft high and working on electricity, Raman is a sight to behold. It can move its body parts including ears, tail, and head. The trunk can also be guided using a lever that is operated by a person.
Festival fans and elephant owners alleged that PETA and those who support them are trying to sabotage the rich heritage of Kerala. “The day may come when robots will replace the thantri of the temple if such steps are encouraged,” said Sasi Kumar of the Kerala Elephant Owners Federation.
“The Peruvanam-Arattupzha Pooram is about 1,400 years old and elephants have been paraded for the festival all these years. Such buffoon-like behaviour will only affect the festivals adversely,” said Nandhan Vakayil, patron of the Poora Premi Sangham. “Involvement of organisations like the PETA itself shows the motive behind the step. They have received foreign funds to destroy the rich festival culture of Kerala,” said G Rajesh, secretary of Paramekkavu Devaswom, one of the organisers of the Thrissur Pooram.
Animal rights activist M N Jayachandran pointed out that robotic elephants could be a perfect alternative for elephant parades in Kerala. “Those who oppose robotic elephants in the name of religious practices and beliefs are doing so to cover their commercial interests in parading captive elephants,” he added.
Heritage Animal Task Force chairman V K Venkitachalam, who was instrumental in coming up with the idea of elephant statues for parades, said that the latest development was a product of discussions since 2013. “Though PETA had supported the concept of finding an alternative for elephant parades at festivals, the concept of using elephant statues emerged in 2017,” he said.
Venkitachalam said his organisation, with the support of other NGOs, plans to make 50 such statues of elephants over the next 10 years and change the present festival scenario where captive elephants are being tortured in the name of beliefs and rituals.