Protesting against the state forest department’s continued ban on the tusker named ‘Thechikottukavu Ramachandran’ followed by the forest minister’s ‘insinuations’ through a Facebook post, the Kerala Elephant Owners Federation announced that it would not make any elephant available for temple festivities starting May 11. The federation’s decision is likely to affect the parading of elephants for the annual Thrissur Pooram, Kerala’s largest temple festival scheduled on May 13.
A ban on Ramachandran, a partially-blind 54-year-old tusker, was placed by the Chief Wildlife Warden after he killed two people at a housewarming ceremony in Guruvayur in February this year. Unofficial records state as many as 13 people have died at the feet of the elephant so far. Ramachandran, regardless of his violent side, is the state’s tallest elephant and considered extremely popular among delirious pachyderm fans in the state.
P Sasikumar, president of the federation, alleged Forest Minister K Raju, through his Facebook post, had gone back on his word on suspending the present ban on Ramachandran. The owners collective wanted Ramachandran to make his presence felt at a ritual on the eve of the Pooram in which he bursts through the southern door of the Vadakumnathan Temple to signal the start of Pooram festivities. For several years, Ramachandran has been participating in the ritual.
“In a meeting on April 10, the forest minister had promised that the elephant would be allowed to parade with reasonable restrictions by accepting the recommendations of the high-level committee (tasked with deciding on parading the elephant). He has now gone back on his word. Also, he says that the owners are part of a mafia who use elephants to earn crores of rupees,” said Sasikumar.
“So we’ve decided that we would not allow any of our member elephants for public parading. The devaswoms (temple committees) of Paramekkavu and Thiruvambady can parade their elephants because they have to participate in the Pooram. We cannot ask them not to parade even though their elephants are part of our federation,” he added.
The federation’s decision is likely to be a big body-blow for the Pooram organisers as it involves nearly 30 elephants for the main rituals. Several major temples in Kerala, which use elephants for their annual festivals, are also likely to be affected by the decision. At the same time, many say the federation’s move is targeted at arm-twisting the government and the forest department to break the ban on Ramachandran. The final authority on relaxing the ban rests with the Thrissur district collector.
A meeting chaired by temple administration minister Kadakampally Surendran in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday will decide the future course of action. “If they call us for the meeting, we are ready to go and discuss,” said Sasikumar.