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The Rediff Special/George Iype
July 31, 2003
It is, quite literally, an elephantine problem -- and it costs the famous Sri Krishna temple in Guruvayoor, Kerala, a packet.
According to Hindu belief, all obstacles in one's life can be cleared by propitiating Lord Ganesha. The temple is thus home to a large captive herd of elephants, thanks to generous offerings by grateful politicians, businessmen, film stars and other devotees.
But these donations now pose a problem for the Guruvayoor temple administration.
Sixty-two elephants, some of them old and ailing, cost the temple around Rs 2.5 crores (Rs 25 million) each year for their upkeep.
Among the richest shrines in the country, the Guruvayoor temple administration is not happy about this. Its authorities have now issued guidelines on accepting pachyderms from devotees.
The Guruvayoor Devaswom Board has set up an Elephant Expert Committee which will physically examine each animal offered to ensure that the new entrants are no (pardon the phrase) white elephants. Only after the Committee issues a fitness certificate will the temple accept the gift.
Devaswom Administrator P S Mohan says the temple is not against looking after the elephants.
"[But] we do not want our population of elephants to go up," he says.
"We spend lot of money on maintaining the 62 elephants," he adds. "But we do not consider it a waste of money. We consider it the most essential part of the services rendered by the temple management because the devotees who donate the elephants do it with utmost religious fervour and spirituality."
The elephants are housed on a 12-acre plot, known as Ponnathur Kotta, two kilometres from the temple. Devaswom officials say they spend around Rs 200,000 for the upkeep of each elephant annually. Rs 20 lakhs (Rs 2 million) every year goes as insurance cover. The temple administration has employed 165 people to look after the elephants; then there are food, medical and other expenses, which all tots up to Rs 2.5 crores.
But the elephants also earn the Guruvayoor temple a hefty revenue. They are much sought after for religious rituals at other temples across the state. Last year, the 62 elephants are estimated to have earned Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million).
A senior temple official says the elephants can "never be a great drain on the temple's resources. Our temple is one of the richest in the country and we do not have monetary problems in maintaining the elephants."
"But," he adds, "we do not want to increase the livestock because it is not easy to look after a large herd of captive elephants."
New temple guidelines stipulate that any devotee wishing to donate an elephant should also pay Rs 400,000 towards its upkeep. Instead of donating an elephant, a devotee can also make a 'symbolic offer' by paying Rs 500,000 to the temple.
The latter provision, temple officials say, makes economic sense for the devotees because an elephant can cost anything between Rs 600,000 and Rs 800,000.
"If a devotees offers an elephant to the temple, it could cost him more than Rs 10 lakhs (Rs 1 million) including the maintenance charge of Rs 400,000 we now ask for," a temple official points out.
But the new rules have not deterred devotees. Temple officials reveal that eight applications to donate elephants are pending with the temple administration.
K P Krishnan, a frequent visitor to the Guruvayoor temple, says its elephants are the best looked-after pachyderms in the country.
"The Guruvayoor temple," he declares, "takes care of its elephants much better than the Indian government or Kerala government looks after its citizens."
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