The Elephant as a Part of Ritual Worship in Hindu Religion
The elephant has a close association with Hindu religious thought. It forms part of festival rituals in Hinduism
The Elephant as a part of Religion
The elephant is a mammal that has its natural habitat in South East Asia, more particularly in India. This animal which is the largest mammal has been put to various uses in the sub continent. Thus it was used as weapon of war by the Armies of this region, but it has a special place in Hindu religious thought and practice as well. Out of the pantheon of Hindu Gods there is one God that takes the garb of an elephant and has a trunk. He is ‘lord Ganesh’ one of the most lovable Gods in the Hindu religion. Also known as the ‘elephant god’, lord Ganesh is supposed to be the son of the Lord Shiva one of the foremost Gods in Hindu thought and worship.
The Elephant and Hindu Religion
The elephant is thus one of the ingredients of temple worship, more so in the Deep South where the maximum numbers of elephant herds thrive. As per latest estimates , there could be over 80,000 elephants roaming in wild herds in India.
Elephants at Ganesh Festival
The Hindu religion gives great importance to the elephants and also forms a part of temple worship and rituals. A lot many temples in South India make use of trained elephants for worship of the deities in the temples. The training of these elephants is of great importance and they are inducted into the temple rituals from a young age. As the elephant is a very intelligent animal, it picks up the nuances of temple worship very fast.
Elephants and Temple Worship
Some of the bigger temples have their own elephant farms and rear their own elephants.
The elephant farm at the Guruvayoor temple located at Madumalai close to Coimbatore in the State of Tamil Nadu has the largest farm of them all. Nearly 50 domesticated elephants are bred and kept in this farm. These elephants are looked after by specially trained Mahouts who teach the elephants the necessary rituals of temple worship.
The Ganesh festival during the month of Augest is a special occasion where great use is made of these elephants in temple rituals. The festival last 10 days and the elephants lead the prayers in the temple premises. A team of about 20 elephants are washed and got ready for the ritual complete with garlands and flowers. The decked elephants are then led to the temple in a procession. The elephants move in pairs and kneel before the Deity of lord Ganesh to the accompaniment of drum beats and blowing of conch shells. The elephants are also taught to shower flowers on the deity
The Elephant in Shiva Worship
One of the famous places is Dharmasthala a temple village on the banks of the Nethravathi River in the Belthangadi taluk of the Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka. The temple here is devoted to Shiva and the principal object of worship is the linga. The temple is unusual in that it is run by a Jain administration and pooja’s are conducted by Hindu priests of Madhva order. The elephants form part of the worship ritual.
After the celebration is over the elephants partake of the Prasad that is distributed to all. Seeing the elephants kneeling before the deity is a sight by itself and foreign tourists are in awe at this spectacle. It is certainly a sight that must be seen