When Lakshmi, the elephant of Puducherry’s renowned Lord Ganesha temple -known popularly as Manakula Vinayagar Temple - returned to the temple premises yesterday (18 July), it marked the end of her ordeal that began a month-and-a-half ago.
Lakshmi was shifted to Puducherry’s Krishi Vigyan Kendra premises in Kurumambet after the Forest Department took charge of her upkeep following a complaint by animal activist leader Maneka Gandhi, also former Union Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament.
Lakshmi literally made a triumphant, trumpeting return with the Union Territory Chief Minister V Narayanaswamy welcoming her along with his Parliamentary Secretary K Lakshminarayan. A special Gajapooja was held to commemorate Lakshmi’s return.
Lakshmi, housed in the premises of Eswaran Koil temple (Lord Shiva Temple) until then, was evicted and put up in KVK Kurumambet premises on the orders of the Directorate of Forests and Wildlife on 4 June following concerns raised over her health.
The Directorate had acted on a complaint Maneka Gandhi filed with Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi. The Lok Sabha MP alleged that Lakshmi was being repeatedly abused and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, was being violated.
Besides, there have been other complaints of improper upkeep of the elephant, according to the Directorate.
In February 2017, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) asked the State government to send Lakshmi to an animal sanctuary as she suffered from foot rot disease and required immediate treatment besides rehabilitation.
PeTA made the plea based on a reported filed by the Animal Welfare Board of India, which raised concerns over Lakshmi’s health and safety.
The Directorate of Forest, while taking possession of the elephant issued a notice to the temple’s executive officer that the temple authorities had failed to comply with the ownership as per the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
It also charged the authorities with not furnishing any report of Lakshmi’s current situation or its health records on diseases it faces and treatment it is undergoing. Nor any vaccination record was provided.
While taking possession of Lakshmi, the Forest Department said a team of veterinary experts would treat it. They said as per the experts’ advice, Lakshmi would be made to walk on mud floors for 10 km daily.
The department said the primary reason for shifting Lakshmi to the KVK premises was to rejuvenate her.
When the Forest Department staff initially attempted to shift Lakshmi, BJP and Hindu Munnani workers staged a protest against the move. They were arrested before the elephant was shifted.
The absence of Lakshmi at her favourite spot in front of the temple left devotees disappointed and hurt. The elephant has been a feature of devotees worshipping at the temple for over 20 years when former chief minister R V Janakiraman donated it.
No worship at the Manakula Vinayagar Temple is complete for a devotee without getting Lakshmi's blessings.
The shifting also led to a controversy with many organisations petitioning Narayanasamy to ensure Lakshmi’s return to the temple. On 16 July, the Chief Minister said the elephant would return in a couple of days time after her rejuvenation.
Lakshmi’s housing in the KVK premises also led to allegations, especially by the Chief Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary that the elephant was unsafe there due to presence of snakes and other insects.
Narayanasamy said the temple authorities will now take proper care of Lakshmi and provide it with regular medical care.
She could now be housed at an open playground near the temple as suggested by the Directorate of Forests with a large shed being built for its shelter.
The elephant is now expected to grace the temple on auspicious days when it is brought in the mornings. Devotees who are regular at the temple in the evening can now expect to see Lakshmi daily at its favourite spot.
M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani
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