A TRIBUTE – From mighty power to grace: Arjuna’s legacy of grandeur
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A TRIBUTE – From mighty power to grace: Arjuna’s legacy of grandeur

December 5, 2023

By M.T. Yogesh Kumar 

Arjuna, the Golden Howdah Elephant from 2012 to 2015 and from 2017 to 2019, had a distinguished career before retiring at the age of 60. Captured in 1968 from the Kakanakote Forest in the Western Ghats, Arjuna was sheltered at Nagarahole National Park’s Balle Elephant Camp. 

For over 24 years, Arjuna played a prominent role in Mysuru’s renowned Dasara procession, serving as both the lead elephant and carrying the flag with royal insignia as the ‘Nishane’ elephant. He was among the last of a generation of giants captured during the 1968 Khedda operations. Arjuna remained the mightiest of all Dasara elephants for many years, weighing 5,850 kgs during  the 2023 Dasara.

Departing from the Balle camp on Nov. 23, Arjuna joined the elephant operation in Hassan. Renowned for his majesty and initial short temper, Arjuna developed a more composed temperament over time, contributing to his successful tenure as the lead elephant. He was eventually replaced by Abhimanyu due to regulations prohibiting the engagement of elephants older than 60 years in stressful and physically strenuous tasks.

Arjuna, akin to a beloved member of the Mysuru Dasara family, was seen as the embodiment of grace, courage and the spirit of the grand festival. Possessing ‘rough’ and ‘tough’ qualities, Arjuna had gradually transformed into a gentle and amiable personality.

Part of family 

Captured at the age of 15, Arjuna was feared by other elephants. Despite being chained, other elephants hesitated to approach Arjuna out of fear. The Forest Department assigned Mahout Koosa and later Dodda Masti to take care of Arjuna and for them, Arjuna was like a son. 

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From the beginning, Arjuna displayed traits similar to a younger sibling and mingled with Koosa and his playfulness made it challenging for him to be controlled. After Koosa’s retirement, Arjuna was assigned to Dodda Masti, who enjoys the credit of taming Arjuna further. Dodda Masti turned the rough and tough Arjuna into a gentle giant.  

Distinctive trait

Arjuna exhibited a distinctive trait. Each evening, he would be sent into the forest for the night, much like any other elephant. However, when the elephants returned to the camp the next morning, Arjuna would head straight to the house of Dodda Masti where he would be mandatorily fed with ragi balls and chapati. Even after Dodda Masti’s retirement, Arjuna continued his daily routine to eat from Dodda Masti’s home. His penchant for consuming these treats made him unique among the elephants and his affinity for Dodda Masti’s family was evident. At times, Arjuna hesitated to venture far from the camp. This reluctance was due to the fear of leaving the proximity of Dodda Masti’s family. 

A freak accident 

In 1996, in a freak incident involving Arjuna and another elephant named Bahadur, the latter’s mahout was inadvertently trampled at Karanji Lake and Arjuna was blamed for the incident resulting in his ban from Dasara for a few years. 

On the request of Dr. D.N. Nagaraju, a veterinary doctor, Arjuna was reintroduced to the Dasara procession from 2000. From 2012 to 2015, Dodda Masti guided him to carry the Golden Howdah. In 2016, just before the commencement of the Gajapayana, Dodda Masti passed away. 

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In this unfortunate circumstance, Arjuna’s handling was taken over by Dodda Masti’s son Kavadi Sannappa alias Mahesh in 2016. In the years 2017 to 2019, Mahout Vinu led the lead elephant Arjuna in the procession, to carry the Golden Howdah. In 2020, marking Arjuna’s completion of 60 years, he was officially retired from  carrying the Howdah. 

Other recent elephant deaths 

Nov. 23, 2022 :           Dasara elephant Gopalaswamy (39) was killed by wild elephant Aiyappa at Veeranahosahalli near Koluvige. 

April, 2023      :           Durgaparameshwari collapsed and died at Balle Elephant Camp.

May 7, 2023    :           13-time Howdah Elephant Balarama died at Anekadu camp after a man fired at him. 43 bullet splinters were recovered.

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