In Karnataka's Hassan district, thousands of people gathered to bid adieu to Arjuna — the famed tusker who lost his life battling an elephant in the wild.
The last rites were performed in Sakaleshpura's Dabbalikatte on 5 December.
The state's Forest Department had deployed Arjuna to take on wild elephants in the region a day prior.
According to news reports, the tusker died of injuries after a wild elephant's tusk pierced Arjuna's stomach, resulting in a serious injury.
While the mahouts — those who look after the elephants — ran away in fear for their lives, so did the elephants who were a part of the team that was supposed to tackle the wild tuskers.
One of the mahouts had earlier claimed that Arjuna succumbed to a bullet wound, causing a controversy.
Interestingly, tamed elephants like Arjuna are considered gods, and worshipped by the locals.
Who Was Arjuna?
Captured young in the late 1960s, Arjuna was tamed and included in the regular Dasara procession in the 1990s.
He carried the howdah once when Drona fell ill. In that sense, Arjuna, who had taken the baton from Balarama in 2012, had carried the howdah even before Balarama.
But Arjuna was said to have become jittery and charged at the crowd before the procession began, as the helicopter that was to shower flowers on the deity flew too low for Arjuna’s comfort.
His unruly reaction made him lose his shot at continuing as the "ambari aane," even though he was said to have calmed down and completed the procession.
He was instead made the nishani aane for Drona, while Drona continued to carry the ambari, a privilege he held for 19 years.
But when Drona died, Balarama took over. For an incident involving the death of a mahout in 1996, for which he was allegedly held responsible, Arjuna was barred from even participating in the Dasara proceedings.
This was until, in 2012, Dr D N Nagaraj decided to let Balarama rest and give Arjuna another chance.
After an exile of 16 years, Arjuna wore the royal howdah once again.
Well Looked After
While in the forest, the tuskers mainly feed on what is naturally available; Dasara, however, calls for a special diet.
The special elephants are fed a high-nutrition diet for the period of preparations for Dasara.
A special combination of boiled black gram, green gram, boiled rice, and wheat with onion and salt is fed to the elephants as per their weight every morning before they head for the practice session and then after their return.
Upon return, they chomp on some paddy straw balls infused with coconut, jaggery, and oil cake, and then in the evening before practice.
Most of the elephants end up putting on at least 400-500 kilograms (kg) by the time they leave the palace premises. Even on the day of the parade, bags of ‘refreshments’ are placed at regular distances for feeding the elephants.
Arjuna, as the ambari elephant, was fed a special nutrition ball made of beaten rice, cane and jaggery, glucose powder, wrapped in Dhruva grass and placed all along the way.
Arjuna's Return As The Hero Of Dasara
After the fall of the mighty Vijayanagara Empire and the rise of the Mysore Wadiyar kingdom, Dasara festivities moved to Srirangapatna first and then to Mysuru.
While all that is left of the royal Dasara in Hampi are the imprints of the past, Mysuru makes up for it in all the ways possible.
The entire city turns into a royal amphitheatre showcasing everything that celebrates the culture of the land — from food to fabric, music to muscle might, dance to decor, fine art to farming.
But the magnum opus is the jumbo savari or the Dasara parade on Vijayadashami, the tenth day.
The celebration of Chamundeshwari's victory over the demon Mahishasura, from where the city gets its name, culminates on the day of Vijayadashami with the jumbo savari.
The goddess seated inside a golden howdah or mantapa on a royally decorated elephant is taken in a procession by a set of elephants accompanied by dancers, musical troupes, and tableaus, much to the awe of the thousands of people gathered at this cultural carnival.
Weighing 5,800 kg, the mighty tusker Arjuna was entrusted with the task of carrying the golden howdah that weighs around 750 kg, with the idol of the devi inside it, and making the ceremonial journey from the palace to the Banni Mantapa and back.
Arjuna Shot At?
H Ramesh, a veterinarian engaged in the fateful elephant capture operation in the Yeslur forest range, has dispelled rumours of Arjuna's death being caused by bullet injuries.
According to Dr Ramesh, he, along with mahout Vinu and others, was seated on Arjuna during the operation. They were targeting a tusker named Vikranth for capture but encountered another problematic tusker nearby.
Dr Ramesh had prepared separate tranquillizer doses for each elephant based on their weight. While attempting to tranquillize the targeted tusker, an unexpected charge caused a disturbance.
In the commotion, the dart was accidentally fired into Prashantha, another tusker involved in the operation. Arjuna meanwhile successfully repelled the wild tusker.
Upon realising the mistake, Dr Ramesh rushed to Prashantha to administer emergency medicine to counteract the tranquillizer. Prashantha quickly recovered.
However, by that time, the wild tusker returned for another confrontation with Arjuna. Dr Ramesh attempted to sedate the wild tusker with another dart, but was unsuccessful, leading to Arjuna's demise in the ensuing fight.
Dr Ramesh emphasised that no bullets were fired at Arjuna during the operation. The team only carried guns with pellets that are not lethal to the elephants.
He expressed deep sorrow over Arjuna's death, highlighting his extensive experience in capturing and darting various wildlife species.
Furthermore, Karnataka's Minister for Forests, Eshwar Khandre, has said that a team of retired officials will investigate the matter further.
He, too, has expressed concern over the death of Arjuna and said that the Government of Karnataka will consider banning elephants over the age of 60 from any future operations.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!