15 October 2007

My dear sad Rukku

A couple of days ago I went to the Big Temple (Arunachaleswarar Koil) for the first time in a while. As always when visiting, I wonder why its so long since the last visit. It’s that amazing! There are lots of Temples in South India, but there is everything extraordinary about this Temple and its miraculous backdrop of Arunachala – in fact it quite takes one breath away.

While at the Temple I walked through the gardens and reforested areas, and it was quite beautiful. Some ladies were picking flowers for Temple pujas (worship), a gent with his son where doing a very nice puja at a Ganesha shrine, kites (the bird variety) were gliding in the air currents swirling around in front of the gopurams and some noisy green parrots were fighting in one part of the garden; in fact other than the rowdy parrots, a serene, still and inspirational morning.

That is, until I arrived at the elephant house, which is the home of dear little Rukku. This is the place that she spends her evenings and nights when her other mind-numbing tedious work is over for the day. The pictures are truly heartbreaking and my happy mood evaporated in compassion for the dear elephant. You can see from the photographs that no effort has been made or money paid, to give her any quality of life, provide her with toys or implements to entertain or interest her, or even to give her a comfortable living situation – and considering all the work she does – that is something really rather shabby.

When Jayalalitha was the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister she implemented a programme to provide all (State) Temple Elephants with a month’s holiday in the forests. I heard that one Temple elephant in the first year of the programme, sulked and was moody when her keeper tried to get her into a conveyance to transport her to the Forests, but the next year, when it was time to go on her month’s vacation, apparently the same elephant literally ran into the transportation conveyance – she remembered the great holiday and was very eager to repeat the experience. About three years ago Jayalalitha was replaced as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and sadly since then all Temple Elephant vacations have been put on a permanent HALT.

So now that our dear little Rukku doesn’t have her annual holiday to look forward to, what kind of life can she expect? Well we have been told (by a reputable source) that the treatment of the elephant at this Temple is less barbaric than at other Temples – after all there is a reason why so many Keepers get killed by their own Elephants each year!) So maybe Rukku’s treatment is semi-barbaric, and maybe she gets a jab with an iron hook or other unpleasant implements just sometimes instead of often! Certainly the food is probably not very good, as most of the good stuff a person gives the elephant in the Temple, goes to the Keeper and his chums as does the money he collects through her trunk blessings.

On the floor of Rukku’s nasty elephant enclosure is a delightful choice of two different types of restrainers she will get tied to for the night where she can also enjoy standing in her own urine and feces.

So our dear sweet Rukku, who never gets to meet other elephants or go on proper walks, is manacled all night in a way she is barely able to move. So, after the undiluted misery of her night, there should be at least something to look forward to in her day? – but no, the day brings her 8 hours of mind numbing, painful, standing in one spot to beg on behalf of her Keeper and get coins from pilgrims for blessing them on the head with her trunk. How can it be a blessing for a pilgrim when the cost of it is the torture of the one giving the blessing?

Try standing for eight hours, not being able to move just hopping from foot to foot, and you will get an idea of the horror of dear Rukku’s day. I took the photograph of her to help me tell this story, but I felt so ashamed of her treatment that it was difficult to look at her and her sad, sad eyes.

A message to all visitors to India remember that by going to the Kerala processions (and similar functions), allowing elephants to bless you with their trunk, going on elephant rides or visiting Temple Elephants, Circuses, Processions or Elephant Sport Functions IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE EXPLOITATION AND (OFTEN) TORTURE OF THIS MAGNIFICENT, SOCIAL AND HIGHLY INTELLIGENT BEING. Please support the Elephant by not supporting its enslavement, abuse or torture.


For more information about stressed, mistreated elephants and also information about the death of trainers by their elephants (animal rights groups say the increasing number of mahouts being killed by elephants in Kerala indicates serious flaws in captive elephant management and maintenance), check out this previous posting.


arvind said...

Heartbreaking. What can be done. Can the mahout/handler be taught to be more sensitive to this being's needs? Perhaps the temple management should lay down strict rules on how to treat Rukku. And get some forest dept officials etc to come down and teach the mahout how to look after Rukku. And Who is the owner anyhow - the mahout or the temple ?

Arunachala Living said...

Yes, I agree Arvind its so very sad. But the thing is there are regulations governing Temple Elephants that are supposed to be enforced. Definitely am going to connect with others that have more information and try and get something moving regarding improving Rukku's life BIG TIME. Will keep you informed as to developments as they happen.

Divya said...

It is so heartbreaking! Hopefully efforts can be made to improve the situation.

Arunachala Living said...

Alot of folk think that Jayalalitha will return as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu next elections - for the elephant's sake this is VERY GOOD NEWS - as she tried to implement changes to bring about improvements in the Temple Elephants lives. However I belive that the best improvement would be to LET ELEPHANTS LIVE THEIR OWN LIFE IN THEIR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT.

Divya said...

Amen to that!