With death of Drona (junior) and Gopalaswamy, the mantle falls on Dhananjaya, Gopi, Mahendra, Bhima
By M.T. Yogesh Kumar
As the highly-anticipated Dasara festival draws near, extensive preparations are underway to ensure the success of the event.
However, the Forest Department is facing a significant challenge in identifying and training a new batch of tamed elephants to be the centre of attention during the festival. This responsibility has been thrust upon the senior and junior officers of the Department, as well as the Mahouts and Kavadis, who are tasked with selecting a suitable Howdah Elephant after the retirement of Captain Abhimanyu.
To address this challenge, the Department has initiated a plan to train new elephants from the second line to participate in the procession. Captain Abhimanyu, who currently carries the 750-kg Golden Howdah, has two to three more years before his well-deserved retirement.
Last year, Abhimanyu, at 57 years old, became a hat-trick hero after successfully completing his third Jumboo Savari. However, with Abhimanyu nearing the retirement age, finding a worthy successor has become a topic of discussion, with Dhananjaya, Gopi, Mahendra, and Bhima being considered as potential candidates.
Responsibility passed on from Arjuna
Abhimanyu took over the mantle from Arjuna after the latter’s retirement and has been accomplishing his weighty role with ease and majesty. Arjuna retired after he turned 60. As per the Supreme Court directions and Union Government’s guidelines, no elephant aged above 60 years is supposed to be tasked with heavy and stressful duty.
Identifying the replacement for the Golden Howdah-carrying elephants is a key concern for the Forest Department. They are focused on selecting lead elephants from both the first and second lines, who will be capable of carrying the Howdah effortlessly for eight to ten years.
The presence of Jumboo Savari in Dasara is an integral tradition that cannot be given amiss, making it imperative for the Department to identify and train elephants years in advance for their future assignments, including the Howdah-carrying duty.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 Dasara festivities were limited to the Mysore Palace premises. Even the training of new elephants for the procession had been limited to the Palace premises instead of the full-fledged training till Bannimantap, amidst the busy traffic and honking vehicles.
However, with the situation improving, the Forest Department is now dedicating more attention to the training of the new batch. Dhananjaya, Mahendra, and Bhima — all touted to be future Howdah elephants — are being considered as part of the first batch to join Captain Abhimanyu in the procession.
Two tragic deaths
Tragically, the death of elephant Drona (junior), once tipped as the next-in-line Howdah Elephant, following a heart attack in 2019 and the demise of Gopalaswamy, who died of injuries in a fight with a wild elephant in 2022, have added to the Department’s concerns.
Additionally, officials are contemplating the inclusion of elephants like Lakshmi (Doddaharave) and Kaveri or Vijaya in the future. Furthermore, Gopi, Sugreeva and Srirama elephants, who participated in the last procession, are expected to return this time. Bhima, Srikanta, and Sriranga are under the radar of the selection team and likely to secure their positions for the grand event.
The Dasara festival commences with the Gajapayana and its grandeur is fully realised only when the elephants arrive at the Mysore Palace in a disciplined and majestic manner. This captivating procession attracts thousands of people and symbolises the true spirit of Dasara.
Gajapayana last week of August
The much-awaited Gajapayana (elephant march from the forest to Mysuru city) is scheduled to commence in the last week of August. The first batch of elephants will make their way to Mysuru in that Gajapayana.
The festival this year is set to be celebrated from Oct. 15 to Oct. 24, with the grand finale of Vijayadashami taking place on Oct. 24. The elephants are expected to reach Mysuru 55 to 60 days ahead of Vijayadashami.
Forest officials met the member of the erstwhile Mysore royal family Pramoda Devi Wadiyar on June 22 to discuss the Dasara festivities, Jumboo Savari, the elephant team, and the Gajapayana. Chief Conservator of Forests, Mysuru Circle Dr. Malathi Priya, Deputy Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Saurabh Kumar, Range Forest Officer Santosh Hugar, and Veterinarian Dr. Mujeeb participated in the meeting.
After the meeting, they inspected suitable areas within the Mysore Palace for setting up enclosures to build sheds for the families of Mahouts and Kavadis and the location where the elephants would be tied.
Arjuna doubtful as Nishane Elephant
Amidst the preparations for Dasara festival, there have been reports concerning the participation of Arjuna, a prominent and experienced elephant, who has served as the Nishane elephant for several years.
Arjuna’s age has raised concerns, casting uncertainty on his involvement in this year’s festivities. Despite his advanced years, officials are carefully considering the possibility of including Arjuna as the Nishane elephant, taking into account his wealth of experience, alertness and exceptional command-obeying capabilities.
Officers assured that Arjuna will be closely monitored leading up to the date of Gajapayana. Any signs of behavioural changes attributed to age will be attentively observed. If even slight indications of age-related challenges arise, Arjuna will be promptly replaced with a reliable back-up elephant as the Nishane elephant.
Emphasising their commitment to the well-being and success of the festival, officials highlighted that they are closely monitoring all elephants, ensuring a proactive approach to address any potential issues. The Department has a dedicated back-up elephant team in place to handle any unforeseen circumstances and to maintain the continuity and splendour of Dasara.