Thirupathi, Sabarimala and Guruvayur are the three major temples in South India visited by crores of devotees, all through the year. If there is some attractive magnetic force which differentiates Guruvayur from other temples, it is the temple owned elephant home, popularly known as Aanathavalam or Punnathur Kota. As per records of Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, it is the only temple-owned domesticated elephant home in the whole world.
Kerala is a State where elephants are used for daily processions in the temple called Sheeveli and for the annual festivals called Ezhunallipu where elephants decorated with brass ornaments, coloured umbrellas carry idols of gods around the temple. There are almost 1,000 domesticated elephants in Kerala owned by temples and individuals. Guruvayur is the largest owner of elephants having 56 male and 6 female beauties in its stables.
None of these elephants are bought by the temple. They are all donated by devotees for fulfillment of their wishes. This function is called Nadairuthai.
Another unique event of Guruvayur is the elephant race which happens on the first day of the annual temple festival which comes in February. Here all the temple elephants take part in a race called Aanaottam and the elephant coming first carries the idol of Sri Guruvayurappan (Krishna) for the next ten days of the festival.
The elephant home at Punnathur Kota, an old palace of a local king, was started in 1976 with 16 elephants, since there was no space to keep them near the temple. Now the number has increased to 62 with 3 to 4 elephants joining every year.
Among the elephants of Guruvayur temple the most famous was the legendary Guruvayur Kesavan who celebrated his 60th birthday in 1973 and was then named Gajaraj. He was a darling of all devotees of Sri Guruvayurappan and was a majestic figure with height of 11.5 feet and long tusks. His death in 1976 was received in total sorrow by elephant lovers all over the world. His huge statue is erected in Guruvayur and every year all the temple elephants come in a procession and garland his statue.
Another elephant, the 10 feet high Guruvayur Padmanabhan is now the Gajaraj and is as loved by devotees and children as they loved Kesavan. Padmanabhan, now commands the highest price among Kerala elephants for participating in temple festivals. An amount of Rs 2.50 lakh per day is to be given for getting Padmanabhan for a day. Padmanabhan is the real VIP of Kerala with ministers, Chief Minister, Governor, stars, etc. waiting to have a glimpse of him.
All the Guruvayur elephants are very well looked after, and they undergo one month rejuvenation treatment in June-July months where they are given ayurvedic tonics, massages and baths. Normally, an elephant bath takes six hours.
Hence, children, a visit to Kerala?Gods own country is not complete without, seeing Guruvayur and Gods own elephants.