Kandy, Sri Lanka’s tourist town is famous for the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and its annual festival called Esala Perahera (the Tooth Festival) which is marked by ten days of evening parades of “decorated” elephants and cultural dances. The Perahera route is lit by hot and heavy kerosene torches which are carried by barefoot and bareback men who walk on the sides along with the dance troupes and elephant crews. Speaking about being barefoot, all the artistes and other participants in the parade are barefoot. It struck me as a tough job but then those men knew what they were doing. Keeping a tradition like the Perahera alive in today’s age would require many more hardships apart from walking and dancing barefoot. One such hardship is to arrange for as many elephants for the parade as possible. I am writing this article because I saw an elephant in the Perahera parade whose front feet had been tied to his rear feet with iron chains. The chains were too short, thus restraining the animal’s limbs from stretching as much as would be required for it to walk comrftably. Every time the elephant tried to take a step forward, its whole body seemed to curve into a ball sort of shape. The poor elephant was carrying heavy decorative paraphernalia and three fully grown men. Elephants are one of the prime attractions of the parade, yet this elephant’s plight was barely noticeable amid the dazzle of fires, the dancers and the crowd of spectators. Later during the parade I saw pregnant elephants too carrying 3-4 men each. I do not know whether the organizers include pregnant elephants in the parade on purpose or it was due to shortage of elephants. Were the metal chains used to restrain the feet of the “ball” elephant too short on purpose or longer chains were just not available? The Perahera parade once used to feature a few hundred elephants but in recent years, their number has dwindled to less than a hundred. Due to shortage of tame elephants and the greed of men who own them, kandy’s elephants are being subjected to shameful cruelty.
An Angry Elephant in Kandy’s Tooth Temple
1. No Food
Elephants are not given any food during the day because if they eat during the day, they may defecate on the streets during Perahera. Hungry elephants, thus, get very angry and need to be restrained with heavy iron chains before and during Perahera to prevent them from running amok. See the picture of the elephant below whose three of the four limbs are tied with chains and is given tree bark to munch on while it awaits its Perahera duty.
2. Elephants shipped from one temple to another
Elephants are shipped from other locations to Perahera venue in trucks, restrained by heavy chains. During such shipments, the animals are not given food or water and miss their sleep too.
3. Heavy loads
During Perahera, elephants not only carry men but also the relics in a heavy ransivige, decorative attire containing electrical lights, and the batteries to power the lights.
4. Sick elephants not spared
The number of elephants that “participate” in the Perahera is a matter
of pride for the organizers. In order to get as many elephants out as possible, the
organizers do not spare even sick or injured elephants. The elephant in the picture below has a wound on its body and the metal chain is scraping the skin off its limbs. Ready for Perahera duty.
5. Heavy labour when there is no Perahera
When there is no Perahera, the elephants are used as beasts of burden, like low paid labourers who have no labour laws to protect them.
6. Elephant orphangae supplies elephants for Perahera?
I read somewhere that Kandy’s famous Elephant Orphanage supplies elephants for Perahera. If that is true, is that an orphanage or a farm to produce elephants for labour? I saw this young elephant being poked with a spear sort of weapon repeatedly by the keeper forcing it to scream in pain and finally made to bow before Lord Buddha’s Tooth Temple. Also see the several metal chains around this young elephant’s neck. Already working as a labourer.
Should this kind of cruelty be allowed in the name of religion or culture? Does anyone care??
Read More on Elephant Abuse in Kandy and Other Parts of Sri Lanka:
Boycott Kandy’s Perahera in Sri Lanka