Role of the elephant in the society

The role the elephant in the society

The elephant is captured and tamed to use for various activities in the island of Sri Lanka. The history of taming wild elephants is going back to more than two thousand years. They were used for transporting heavy items and as a weapon in the war. Mahawamsa, one of the earliest chronicles of Sri Lanka, is dramatically elaborate a brave act of Elephant Kandula, the most loved elephant of King Dutugemunu (2nd Century BC). Kandula had destroyed the huge wall of King Elara’s fortification allowing the soldiers to enter the fort.

Every tamed elephant is accompanied by a companion known as Mahout. Therefore, the art of taming elephants is a lesson need to be learned by every mahout. The knowledge of elephant is handed down from generation to generation for the last several centuries, today it is known as Hasti Silpa and Hasti Shastraya (“knowledge of handling elephant”). Hasti Silpa can be described as a type of caste, according to which the animals are categorized.  Narrow eyes, light coloured hair on the head, narrow face and black tongue are some of the prominent characters of low caste elephants.  The upper cast elephant is known as ‘Brahmana caste’, show completely different signs compared to the low caste elephants. They have a light complexion, bright red coloured mouth and tongue, wide and well-built forehead, rectangular earlaps, big trunk with small patches of rose coloured at the low end and friendly eyes. In Buddhism elephant is given a prominent place. On the other hand, people have tamed them and trained the elephants to do various tedious tasks after realizing their highly developed brain.

Depending on the availability of tusks elephants are categorized into two categories. In Sri Lanka, only about 7% of wild elephants carry the tusks. Those are called ‘Tuskers’ are males with one distinct hormone, which generates the tusks. The elephants had been an important income generator for the rulers of the country for many centuries, especially during the Dutch and British colonial era. According to the historical information wild elephants in great numbers were exported by Dutch and British rulers from then called Ceylon.

Today tamed elephants are mainly used for activities with the religious background.  A temple procession without an elephant is very rare in the country. The most famous temple procession that takes place annually in Kandy (Dalada Perehera) is participated by more than 100 elephants. An elephant is entrusted to carry the most sacred element of Buddhists in the island (left eye tooth of Buddha), around the city. According to Mahawamsa, the ancient chronicle, this event started in the 2nd century BC and elephants are participating in the event from the very beginning of the event. At present, the total number of tamed elephants in the country estimated to be around 150. Taming of elephants is sharply reduced during the last several centuries, due to the usage of heavy machinery and protection given under the fauna flora act. The elephant is declared as a protected animal in Sri Lanka, therefore capturing elephant can be very costly for the people who involved in the act. Today Sri Lanka boasts to be the country with most number of wild elephants in the region (5800) and it continues to grow.

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Sanjeewa Padmal (Seerendipity tours)

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