The Visitors …

July 5, 2009

Back home in Cochin, when the much awaited visitors arrive, our town awoke from the mundanities of everyday life and bustle with excitement and trepidation. What is the occasion? Why, didn’t you hear? The Gods are coming home! What?

OK, let me explain. The Gods in Kerala love to visit the homes of the devotees. So during the temple festivals, the temple authorities gingerly carry the temple deity atop a sturdy elephant’s back and He would be taken to visit all His devotees. Brightly coloured parasol shaded the God. Besides the God, the elephant also carried couple of attendants – one to hold the Lord steady and the other to wave peacock-quilled fans. A mahout and a bunch of temple authorities walk alongside, guiding the elephant to all the houses.

The households would be well prepared to welcome the God. A mat. diyas, incense sticks, matchboxes, flowers for the God and  couple of coconuts, plantains and jaggery for God’s mount. 🙂 Kids from every house waiting at the gate, looking out for the mighty elephant were a common sight. They would peer into the distance and stare and stare and stare. As if their eyes could bring the elephant on faster. 😀 When they spot him, a collectibe shout would be heard on the street “Phaaaro aylo!!” ( Translates to the God’s procession has come in Konkani. )  The elephant reaching the lane doesn’t mean our turn is pretty soon – a wait of another 30 minutes is for sure. It’s not everyday that God visits and so each devotee dilly dallies as much as possible until the worn out temple authorities snaps at them. (They know every trick in the book by now!) Pinky and I watch from our gate, mouth agape, taking in the splendour of the mighty elephant. We were too young to be awed by God’s presence and so it is the mighty jumbo that got our attention. 🙂

caparisoned_elephant

[Image courtesy the Internet.]

He is a novelty for us everytime. Graceful despite his bulkiness, he was our proverbial tall, dark and handsome hero. He waits patiently, looking on, as people worship the God on his back. At times he gently stomps the grounds with one of his rear legs to chase a bothersome fly. Othertimes he stretches his legs. At no time ever, does he lose his VIP look. Arrogant yet wise at the same time.  When I think of it now, he seemed to know he was part of a sacred team. After a long wait, the beloved Pachy finally started trudging towards our home. With every little cloud of dust kicked up by his heavy feet, our heart beats faster and faster. There he is, right at our gate, watching over us. Up close he looked as if he filled the whole of our little world.  Quickly helping our mother with some of the rituals, a hurried prayer to the God to bless everyone we love and then we get back to staring. 🙂 We just couldn’t peel our eyes away from  him.  We offer the treats for our friend through the mahout who  encourages us to feed him ourselves. Hearts in our mouth, we extend our hands filled with treats. He makes a little huffing noise and then the jumbo gently flicks it up with his trunk. He senses our awe cum fear. As softly as possible he bestows a little pat/blessing on our heads.  With that, the procession moves on. We stare till they are out of sight.

Then life becomes calm and quiet again.

PS : Here’s a Wiki page that I came across depicting Elephants in Kerala’s culture. It is an interesting read.

*Update*As part of prevention of cruelty to animals, this ritual has been discontinued from this year. Taking into considerations how poorly the elephants are looked after in some temples, it is big relief for the gentle giants. On the other hand, I mourn the death of an age old ritual.

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14 Responses to “The Visitors …”

  1. Ramesh said

    Oh yes – a feature of our childhood, nicely captured here. In my parts, for some reason, the God used to come visiting in the middle of the night, so the excitement of jumping out of bed and running was something. Traditions such as these are a nice anchor in an ever changing world

  2. thethoughtfultrain said

    Wow … A comment already! 🙂 Yeah, traditions like these are so beautiful .. 🙂

  3. manchitra said

    For a moment felt I was in kerala. Really miss those festivals ,what we call as arattu and thalapoli

  4. Great read Ash ….. amazing details …. the elephant from the internet ..priceless!!

  5. ajcl said

    it used to be called Teru and like ramesh says used to happen in night.. took me back to childhood.. very nice read 🙂

    • thethoughtfultrain said

      Appu, we call it Teru when God is taken around in a chariot. That happens at midnight. The God visiting home is a different ritual altogether but as part of Teru. 🙂

  6. narayan nayak said

    It is really anice experience for peple of all age gender and caste. But this tradition will become a rarity soon as gradually many temples are restricting it a smaller and smaller area, due to pressure from civic authorities and animal right organistions. There certainly is a point there after all they are also living creatures and parading through the hot tarmac in hot and humid atmosphere for long durations is certainly cruel to them. I also heard that elephants very littl esweat glands and hence it is difficult fr them to keep their body cool.
    Any way it certainly a very enjoyable scene for all of us

  7. Solilo said

    I have seen this twice. Though I love most of Kerala rituals and customs, I still don’t agree with the torture Elephants go through esp. during Utsavam. I have never liked utsavam time in temples.

    • thethoughtfultrain said

      Yes, when I look back on it I feel some of the elephants were subjected to cruelty. But most temples treated them well. Anyways, this practice has seen the last of it!

  8. Sachin said

    This post brings back a lot of memories. I likely !

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