Thursday, May 31, 2012

Christ in Dwaraka on Arjuna's Chariot

We were on our way back from Nagarahole through Wayanad. I returned through a different route that bypassed Kalpetta and reached Vythiri directly from Mananthavady. (After Mananthavady this route passes through  Dwaraka, Tharuvana, Padinjarethara, Pozhuthana and hits the Kozhikode- Mysore highway at Vythiri). It is a five kilometers shorter but takes a little longer to drive as it is more winding than the highway. If you want to go in the direction of Banasurasagar Dam this is the route to take.

After Vythiri the Downhill starts; some 10 kilometers of excellent ghat roads. Once you reach Adivaram, the first village below the ghats the rest of the drive is through roads winding through small towns with intervening stretches of mostly rubber estates.

Dwaraka, off the coast of Gujarat is Lord Krishna's mythical capital. It was apparently swallowed by the ocean six times and the present city is the seventh, probably waiting for it's turn to be swallowed by the ocean. The Dwaraka in Wayanad fears no such calamity as it is perched high above kissing the clouds. 

It would have been just another town and I'd have driven through it without a sideward glance if it had not been for this.

I actually drove past it before my brain whirred and clicked. I wasn't sure what I'd just seen so I turned around and came back to this unusual but beautiful sight. A neat church with an eye catching piece of sculpture at the gate. Jesus Christ on Arjuna's chariot.

Lord Krishna was Arjuna's charioteer in the battle at Kurukshetra. Before the battle begins Arjuna asks Krishna to take the chariot between the two opposing forces. The realization that he was to face his cousins, elders, teachers and friends makes Arjuna despondent and he lays down his arms and turns to Krishna for advice.

The conversation between them forms the escence of the Bhagavad Gita. The Pandavas won the war and eventually the Dvapara yuga reached its end with the passing of Krishna from his earthly avatar.

Now, the Kali yuga is a period where humans degenerate spritually and the earth will be strife ridden. Of the many attributes of the Kali yuga that the Mahabharata describes, the most ominous is about human relationships.

  • Avarice and wrath will be common. Humans will openly display animosity towards each other. Ignorance of dharma will occur.
  • People will have thoughts of murder with no justification and will see nothing wrong in that.
  • Lust will be viewed as socially acceptable and sexual intercourse will be seen as the central requirement of life.
  • Sin will increase exponentially, whilst virtue will fade and cease to flourish.
  • People will take vows and break them soon after.
  • People will become addicted to intoxicating drinks and drugs.
  • Gurus will no longer be respected and their students will attempt to injure them. Their teachings will be insulted, and followers of Kama will wrest control of the mind from all human beings.

  • I'm sure my reader, every sentence above is a familiar happening in this era.

    Perhaps, Jesus has a reason to be on the chariot. He needs to reach out not to a few million but billions of wayward humans.

    It is a sobering thought, that the Mahabharata described so precisely what we are faced with today. It will take the combined might of Allah, Jesus and Krishna to turn this world around.

    Sunday, May 20, 2012

    Conversation with a Clay elephant

    April 15th, 2012

    The first time I visited Punathoor kota I met the Clay Elephant. No. He is not a pachyderm made out of clay but one who looked like he was made out of it. There is an area in the sanctuary that appears to have been a coconut groove not so long ago but now only a sad reminder of the past. The trees were nothing other than long 'stumps' with no fronds on the top.

    In this rather pathetic setting were a few elephants standing forlornly waiting for respite from the sun. One of them stood out from the rest because of his unusual appearance. All brown and covered with dried vegetation.


    He didn't seem to be in 'musth'. I could not see that tell tale trickle from the temporal glands that usually is visible above and behind the eyes. Perhaps he was at the end of a cycle.

    However, his behaviour wasn't exactly encouraging enough for me too creep up close enough. He kept reaching out and picking up all the litter around him and covering himself with it. Maybe the heat was getting to him and being tied up under a tree that offered no shade was obviously making him think out of the box. I was afraid that if I went too close, he'd take a swipe at me, just for the heck of it!

    The afternoon sun was beating down mercilessly and I didn't want to risk a heat stroke. Not one to take undue risks, I let him continue with his preoccupation and went on my way. Of course, the clay elephant had to have the last word. He gave me a look that could only have meant, "Beat it, human. You annoy me".
    That image of an elephant stayed imprinted on my brain for a long time. Mostly because other elephants in musth were not looking so menacing like this brown brute. So when I revisited Punathoor kota I made it a point to visit my old friend, the Clay Elephant, again.

    May 6th, 2012
    My second visit, unlike my first was remarkable. There were more elephants this time. Most of the tuskers that had gone off for the temple festivals had returned and Punathoor kota was buzzing with activity.

    The paths between the trees and concrete pillars to which the elephants were tethered were almost buried under mounds of palm leaves, the favourite fodder of these pachyderms. Truck loads were coming in and the mahouts were busy gathering the quota allocated for their charges. I was curious to see how my friend, the Clay elephant was doing.

    It was nearly a month since I had seen him and I wasn't expecting him to be there in his place now. I was wrong. He was very much there, and very much the same brown colour as before. I was tempted to think that his mahout had give up on bathing him. Why else would he be covered in the same brown mud & dust almost three weeks later? He busy eating his breakfast when I dropped in to say hello.

    Only this time, he was far more calmer. He looked more healthier then before and less obsessed at taking a swipe at the people walking past, than the last time I saw him. Or was he? I had gone a little closer this time because he didn't look so agitated. He was ripping strips of the palm leaf and crunching on it like we crunch into a juicy sugarcane.

    Then my Clay elephant, noticed me and dropped the strip he was holding. Did he recognize me? I wondered. I know elephants have good memories so he probably recalled our last encounter. My thought was reinforced when he suddenly picked up a new palm leaf with a rather intimidating stalk. I thought he wanted to take a swipe at me but he looked at me calmly and asked, "Breakfast?"

    I wasn't sure how to answer but I finally blurted out, "Er. I've eaten already". He looked disappointed so I quickly added, "And, Oh! My teeth aren't designed to chew such heavy duty stuff."
    He rumbled, "That is not a problem. I'll show you", and proceeded to teach me how to eat pachyderm style. "First", he said, "hold it like this", and placed the thick stalk under his fore foot. "Then grab an edge like this", he continued as he twisted his trunk around a corner of the stalk.

    "Now, hold tight and pull up"

     "If you have any difficulty you can use your other foot like a pivot. Like this"

     "Then you can pull it up, as you push sideways with your foot. See. It's so easy"

    I was impressed. I've heard of ambidextrous people so what would you call this elephant?! I wasn't sure but he wasn't finished. "Once you have a long bit, twist it around your trunk and rip it off"

    For one fleeting moment my brain went into overdrive.I couldn't help imagining myself in the place of that palm leaf. Oooooh! How excruciating? Statistics have shown that the number of mahouts killed by elephants have nearly trebled since 1997. The pachyderms are not to blame, the owners are. The greed for more earnings from the beast puts more stress on them.

    My Clay elephant, looked anything but  threatening, if you discounted his appearance! He interrupted my reverie, "Hey! What are spacing out for? Do you want a bite of this juicy strip? Come on. I wont hurt you".

    I muttered something about my gut not made for tough stuff. He retorted, "Stupid humans. Fiber is good for the gut. It helps you clean your insides. Look behind me. You'll know what I mean"

    Then he closed his eye and started chewing contentedly on the strip. The only other noise was his insides rumbling. I didn't say goodbye. He was in a world of his own, where his kind were free to roam. I did not want to spoil his dream.

    For all those who still think elephants are for parading, go through this page.

    These disturbing stats appeared in the Times of India Sunday edition on March 15th, 2012. There are more thought provoking articles on that page.

    It's time we gave up our obsession with parading these gentle giants. 

    Wake up Malayalee. The God's aren't happy any more. They never asked you to torture elephants for their satisfaction!

    Thursday, May 10, 2012

    Of Piety & Pachyderms

    Summer in Palakkad can be frustrating. Soaring mercury, sweaty nights and parched throats. Add to this, the vision of dwindling water levels in the Malampuzha reservoir you have a sure recipe for a disastrous vacation.

    My two nieces were to land up for summer holiday and I was frantically searching for entertainment. Last year, when the God's weren't so upset with human kind the Malampuzha reservoir had been sufficiently full for them to have splashing picnic. The story was very different this year. I had to drive almost a couple of kilometers into the reservoir to see some water! This was the view from the most elevated sandbank.....
    ...180 degrees in front of me...

    ...& 180 degrees behind me... 

    Taking children to this desolation was immediately ruled out and I had to rack my grey cells to come up with another option. Then the little bulb flickered to life somewhere above my head, and it lit up an elephant!

    A week before my drive into the 'desert' I had been to a wedding in Guruvayur. After the usual plantain leaf lunch I had time to kill so I had driven to the Punathur Aanakota, the elephant sanctuary for the temple elephants of Guruvayurappan. I'm yet to come across a child who has not been excited at the sight of an elephant. 

    Problem solved.  I only had to bundle the gang into a car and drive off to meet the Lord's Tuskers

    Punathur kotta is a dilapidated royal residence of some local ruler, now converted into a hostel for the elephants of  Lord Guruvayurappan and their mahouts. Located three kilometers away from the temple town off (or on) the Kunnamkulam road, (depending on which direction you come from), it is home to some 50 or more elephants mostly majestic tuskers with a few cows. The Lord didn't pay money to buy them obviously. They were donated by devotees with deep pockets who probably wanted to drain the Lord off his treasures. (Thankfully, Padmanabhaswamy in Trivandrun escaped this fate!!). 

    The poor Lord is a mute spectator as someone finds that bringing up a large pachyderm at home is a really unenviable task. Elephant calves are cute but once they grow to about 10 feet high at the shoulders you'll suddenly find yourself cramped for space. Besides, an elephant has a voracious appetite. Feeding an elephant therefore needs a steady flow of hard earned cash and in these days of spiraling prices the cash in hand is usually just about enough to pay the monthly home budget. Just imagine, how much you need to pay for electricity, rents, provisions, school expenses, mobile phone bills, fuel bills, beauty parlour visits, fairness cream & fat reducing oils and so many more indispensable things? Amongst these absolutely necessary expenses where will you find the money to feed your elephant?!

    So the best solution is to donate it to the Lord of Guruvayur. After all, devotees leave his coffers overflowing everyday. That money has to be spent on useful things and elephants are useful! The Guruvayur Devaswom purchased a 10 acre plot with a palace and temples in 1975 and shifted its elephants there. It has since been home to the temple elephants of Guruvayur.

     The palace, if it can be called that, itself is uninteresting. The tiles are falling off and shows the need for some urgent maintainance. Inside the building there is a central courtyard with a large concrete "charakku", the traditional brass vessel used mainly for making "payasam" and more than enhancing it actually spoils the aesthetic value of  the building. The building serves as a place for visitors to rest and vandals to disfigure walls!

    The Guruvayur Devaswom has in it's custody the single largest collection of elephants outside of the wildlife reserves. As a matter of fact, there are few herds that are 50 strong in our forests and even fewer herds with more than a couple of immature tuskers. If you want to see tuskers in all their majesty, Guruvayur is the place to see them.  

    The first elephants that greet you are tethered near the parking lot. A few of them have a blue board next to them warning you that the bull is in a state of 'musth'. The mahouts keep spraying them with water to cool them off, though I don't see the logic in tethering the beast under a hot sun, and then trying to cool it off! Wouldn't it be better to tie them under one of the large trees instead?

    On my first visit the number of elephants were half their strength, mostly the old bulls in the twilight of their lives, some in 'musth' and an odd cow elephant. 


    The others were either in the temple at Guruvayur or in surrounding places. It was the season for 'velas', the local temple festivals. Even small temples now line up capraisoned elephants to show of their 'capacity'. It's no wonder that the newspapers are full of stories of elephants running amok all through summer.

    The elephants in 'musth' are usually isolated because of their unpredicatble behaviour. Some stand docilely chewing on the palm leaves in front of their chained legs.

     Other are more expressive of their displeasure at not being able to vent their anger at their mahouts or anyone who get in their way!

    Walking around the 'aanathavalam' as it is called in local parlance I was not sure how to react. This was a sanctuary for elephants but the gentle giants spend most of their time tethered by their feet in uncomfortable positions. Food was in plenty but the sight of the the palm leaves mixed with the mud, urine and dung is not for people with queasy tummies!

    I've lived a major part of my life in hostels, from kindergarten to undergraduate days. I've seen many types of hostels but this is unique. One part of me feels happy for the old pachyderms that are being cared for. The are fed and looked after well, and will be till the last day of their lives. 

    At the same time I feel a twinge of pity for these majestic creatures; tied down among mounds of dung and sometimes in the sweltering heat. I guess if taking care of one elephant is difficult it will be difficult to care for more than 50 of them. The Devaswom is doing a commendable job but I wish it could be improved.

    Watch this space. There is more on this elephantine tale.........