Temple elephants have always been a major part of festival celebrations and various rituals in the State of Tamil Nadu; but temples in the city see no more of them after being directed against it by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Board (HR&CE).
The State has several temples that use elephants on a regular basis to bless pilgrims or for ritual purposes, but the Kapaleeshwara and Parthasarthy temple in Chennai have stopped using elephants after the board found conditions were unsuitable for the animal.
A spokesperson from the HR & CE board said, “I am not aware since when, but no temple in Chennai now uses elephants for any kind of celebration or ritual. The city is not apt for their travel and there is no ample space in temples here for elephants.”
Though the move was celebrated by animal right activists and several pilgrims alike; some are strongly against it, “Elephants should be there in every temple, they are sacred for Hindus,” said the priest of the Shiv temple in Kapaleeshwara responding to the discontinued practise of using elephants in temple processions.
Officials of the Kapaleeshwara Temple said that elephants had not been used for the past 15 years due to lack of funds as the cost is high due to difficulties in transporting elephants from the outskirts to the busy streets of the city.
However, several pilgrims said they have seen elephants in the Kapaleeshwara temple complex only last year during festivals. Gandhimati, a resident of Anna Salai said, “Kapaleeshwara temple brings elephants only during major festivals; that is the only time I’ve seen one.”
In response to the conflicting answers on elephants being used in temples here, the Assistant Secretary of Animal Welfare Board of India, S Vinod Kumar, did not enclose the report of the last inspection in January at the Kapaleeshwara and Parthasarthy Temple but added, ” If elephants are being used for personal use or by the temples for rituals within the ambit of the guidelines issued by the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 then there is no question of barring them.”
In 2011, amendments were brought in the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 by adding the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance ) rules that included provisions on the care, housing and feeding of the elephants apart from guidelines for Mahouts.
But some animal right activists still voice concerns over using animals for temple processions, Dawn Williams, General Manager of Blue Cross of India (BCI) in Chennai said, “Temples become amusement parks once they bring in animals and train them to perform for devotees. No Shastra says that animals should be brought in temples, this is just an ideology of a particular sect.”