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Portrait of an elephant as a scene-stealer

Portrait of an elephant as a scene-stealer

Photo for representational purpose only. - File photo

Shankar Gopalkrishnan

ELEPHANTS are among the most lovable creatures, provided they are not provoked. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. The elephant at the main temple stole my heart. Unlike other temple elephants, this one was not chained. Imagine an untethered elephant, standing tall and free!

Elephants are like magnets. They capture your attention, so much so that you can scarcely take your eyes away. This one stood on the pathway leading to the main shrine, on a little perch filled with fine sand. What was distinctive about it was the brown hair on its head. A few long, auburn strands hung elegantly from the sides of the head. In its youth, it must have had a full crop of hair, the kind we find in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

There was a white design painted between the eyes. It was not too large to disfigure the face, but just enough to make it look adorable. Elephants’ eyes are tiny but expressive. As it greeted each visitor, you could see the mouth crease into a smile with a peculiar glint in the eyes. The ears flapped, the tail waved and the trunk was ever-animated.

Just beside the elephant, a mega dance programme was in progress. Rows upon rows of chairs were filled with people. At the far end was a stage; a troupe of classical dancers regaled the audience. A silhouette of the gopuram, lit with a row of lights, was showcased against the night sky. Music blared from the speakers. The elephant seemed to enjoy the music and was an equal participant in the dance. It crossed one front foot over the other in a steady rhythm, doing its little jig, even as the event reached a crescendo.

Visitors were irresistibly drawn to it. The elephant followed a particular drill to the letter. It picked the rupee note from the visitor’s hand, deftly handed it over to the mahout who sat beside it and placed the trunk on the visitor’s head in a mark of affection and benediction.

If it was a mother-child duo, the animal was very careful and placed its trunk ever so gently on the kid’s head. There were bold children, and there were those who panicked and froze, refusing to get close. The elephant waited patiently till the child overcame his fear and gained an element of composure. All along, its movements were fluid and languid, as it visibly enjoyed the entire setting.

It was 9 pm. The temple was to close for the night. The mahout made a little gesture. On its own, the elephant got down from the sand perch and walked towards the shrine. It swayed from side to side, its majestic gait a sight for sore eyes. Its gigantic frame was strikingly conspicuous as it passed the temple’s doorway and towered over everything in its wake.

I learnt that the elephant’s name was Mangalam. Apparently, it was the recipient of the best-behaved elephant award.

#Tamil Nadu

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