By S.N. Venkatnag Sobers and M.T. Yogesh Kumar
Mysuru will be celebrating the 408th edition of Dasara from Sept. 21 to 30 and the main attraction will be the Jumboo Savari on Vijayadashami Day during which the caparisoned elephant Arjuna will majestically walk on the Raja Marga carrying the 750-kg Golden Howdah with the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari even as people in the milling crowd will be straining their necks to catch a glimpse of the Ambari.
Special care is given to Arjuna since it will be carrying the Howdah. Though nothing special is fed to the elephant, depending on his physical fitness and strength extra food is given to keep him fit for the D-Day.
Speaking to Star of Mysore, Veterinarian Dr. D.N. Nagaraj, one of the caretakers of Dasara Jumbos, said that like other elephants, Arjuna is fed with boiled green gram, black gram, wheat, boiled rice, vegetables and butter, but in higher quantity.
The caretakers make sure that the elephants are fed only those vegetables where minimal fertilisers and pesticides are used for their cultivation. Apart from cucumber, root vegetables such as carrot, beetroot and radish are given preference.
Special care has to be given to Arjuna since he has the task of carrying the Golden Howdah for the sixth time this year. Similar care is also extended to other four male elephants, which arrived in the first batch, just to keep them Howdah-ready in case of emergency.
The Forest Officials have also been training Drona to keep him ready to carry the Golden Howdah in the next 5-6 years. He was made to carry the sand bags weighing around 400 kgs on Wednesday last. The officials were very happy with the results as Drona walked through the procession route with the same elegance as Arjuna.
Selecting an elephant to replace the Howdah elephant is not easy. The officials have certain criteria and only after it is fulfilled will they allow the elephant to carry the Howdah. The elephant must be 35 years and must weigh around 4,500 kg to be able to carry the Howdah. The Forest Officials believe that if the elephant is trained well and begins to carry the Golden Howdah at the age of 40, it can easily take part in the Jumboo Savari for the next 20 years as the main attraction. The reason why Arjuna, 57, was chosen as the Howdah elephant is because of its built, height, flat back and wide ears, fully grown tusk and the long trunk. One more feature of Arjuna is that it always walks with its head held high and does not drag its feet. The majestic style of Arjuna has made it a hot favourite.
Arjuna was captured in 1968 during the Khedda Operation from Kakanakote in the Western Ghats. After he was tamed, he was made a regular member of Dasara camps. After Drona, the then Howdah Elephant, fell ill prior to Dasara festivities, Arjuna was named the Howdah elephant during 2009 Dasara.
In 1996, when Arjuna and Bahadur, another Dasara elephant, were taken to Karanji Lake for bathing, Bahadur’s mahout Annaiah fell and was trampled upon. It was reported as an accident, but the blame fell on Arjuna, as he was known for his bad temper. He was immediately taken ‘off-duty’ and confined at Balle Elephant camp in Nagarahole National Park.
However, he was brought back to Dasara camp and made the Nishane elephant in 2001 to Balarama, till 2011.
Later, in 2012, Arjuna became the leading contender to carry the Howdah after he overtook Balarama in the Howdah rehearsals for 5 kms between Mysore Palace and Torch Light Parade Grounds by 45 minutes.