Gajapayana – Elephant March During Dasara

    Categories: Mysore

Dasara celebration begins with the of the “Gajapayana” during the mid of August, is the ceremonial journey taken by the  elephants to take part in the Dasara procession. This tradition started in 1610 AD in Srirangapatna, elephants today have become an integral part of Dasara celebration in Mysuru. The elephants are specially trained at Veeranahosalli, a small village near the main entrance of the Nagarahole National reserve forest. The Veeranahosalli village is situated about 70 km from Mysuru.

Dasara procession dolls. Image courtesy W@yfarer’s Club

The pachyderms with their mahouts are traditionally decorated, offerings or puja are performed marking the launch of the Dasara festival and significance to have an auspicious start.

The procession begins with the tribal and folk dances by the local artists and Tibetans settlers (residing in the locality). Earlier, during the time of the Mysore Dasara, the Kings, accompanied by the “Pattada Aane” would visit the forest and perform pooja to all the pachyderms  that would participate in the celebrations. Then, the jumbos would walk to Mysore Palace.

En route, people would also give the elephants a lot of foodstuff, which would upset their health. The 3-4 days journey would also tire them.

Taking into account the health of the Dasara elephants and the safety of the general public, the forest department decided to transport the elephants in trucks, from Nagarhole to Mysore. A traditional welcome is given to the elephants once they arrive at the main entrance of Amba Vilas Palace in Mysore.

Approximately Rs 25 lakh is spent on food, clothing, accommodation and miscellaneous expenditure of elephants, their mahouts and families for 2 months. The Forest department takes an insurance policy worth Rs 89 lakhs – Rs 35 lakhs for elephants, Rs 30 lakhs for property damages and Rs 24 lakhs for mahouts.

A major challenge is familiarising the Dasara elephants to loud cannon shots and the 21-gun salute that are part of the Dasara celebrations.

Mysore Dasara Jamboo Savari

Dasara Elephants And Urdu

Urdu is the language used to communicate with the tuskers. An elephant takes 3 months to a year to pick up the language. Some terms used by handlers are,

  • Baait: Sit
  • Uut: Get up
  • Sirak: Get back
  • Dalai / Salam: Lift trunk in respect
  • Thoal: Lift front leg
  • Math: Move forward
  • La Math: Come near

Jumbos of the Dasara Jumbu Savari 2017

Dasara 2013: elephants  – Arjuna, Gajendra, Balarama, Abhimanyu, Varalakshmi and Sarala

  1. Arjuna: He has been in the Dasara for 7 years and has once shouldered the privilege of carrying the Golden Howdah, is from the Hebballa forest area of Kodagu in 1969.
  2. Balarama: The magnificent leader, he is the one carrying the Golden Howdah.  He has been leading for the past 9 years and has participated in the Dasara for 14 years. He was captured in 1987 in the Katti pura forest area,  now stays in Mathigodu elephant camp.
  3. Abhimanyu: The mascot who pulls the “Anegadi” the elephant cart, has been participation from the past 10 years. He is from the Hebballa forest, Kodagu district, now stays in Murkal elephant camp.
  4. Vijaya: She has been in Dasara for 5 years, was captured in 1963, from the Dubare forest area, Madikeri division.

Other elephants include:

  1. Vikrama
  2. Prashantha
  3. Gopalaswamy
  4. Harsha
  5. Gopi
  6. Kaveri
  7. Gajendra
  8. Varalakshmi
  9. Bheema
  10. Krishna
  11. Drona

Experience is the most important part when it comes to selecting the tuskers. Also they need to be healthy, have a calm mind, and cannot be older than 65. The final selection of elephants is done by a committee comprising directors of National Parks and regional senior forest officers.

The elephant brigade for Dasara 2016 is as follows,

Elephant's Name Age as of 2015 Weight in Kgs
Arjuna 57 5250
Balarama 59 4990
Abhimanyu 51 4870
Vikrama 44 3,820
Prashantha 61 4,329
Gopalaswamy 35 3,242
Harsha 50 3,290
Gopi 35 3,710
Kaveri 39 2820
Vijaya 60 2770
Gajendra 62 4600
Varalakshmi 61 4970
Bheema 17 3410
Krishna 56 ---
Drona 35 ---

A Day In The Life of Dasara Elephants

  • 6:30 am: Breakfast of special ration of boiled vegetables and cereals with dietary supplements.
  • 7:30 am: The 12 elephants are taken for a walk around a 5 km long route. All the elephants, including Arjuna, carry heavy weights on their backs.
  • 10:30 am: The tuskers are given a cold water bath before being served a meal of paddy-filled haystack balls and banyan leaves. They have a good sleep after this meal.
  • 4 pm: It’s snack time with paddy-filled haystack balls along with jaggery and coconut.
  • 6 pm: The procession leaves for their second route rehearsal.
  • 7 pm: Dinner is a meal comprising few kilos of special ration balls.

Mahouts and Kawadis

These are the real men behind the success of the pachyderm at the Dasara. The elephant trainer/Mahouts and his assistant/Kawadi train the animals since childhood, and handle them with ease.  They belong to the tribal Muslim community from Sakrebailu and Dubare forest areas.

One can say that the skill of taming and controlling them is in their genes. This hard working and risky job does not pay them much. Many of them are on daily wages, meagerly paid and no safe conditions. Handling  the big jumbos and training them to perform during the crowded Dasara is not easy, there is an acute shortage of the mahouts.

The  Forest Department plans to recruit more men and improve the situation. But there is not stopping the enthusiasm of this troop.

Government hikes pay for Mahouts and Kavadis from their existing pay now the Mahouts make Rs 5,000 and Kavadis make Rs 4,600 respectively.  This change was made in September 2008.

Three cheers to the Gajas (elephants) of the Dasara !

Also See

About Mysore Dasara and Mysore related articles

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