One of the most popular elephants of the Guruvayur temple in Kerala’s Thrissur district, ‘Gajaratnam’ Guruvayur Padmanabhan, died on Wednesday. The tusker, who had been carrying the Guruvayur Sri Krishna idol for festivals, was 84 years old.
According to the authorities of the Guruvayur Devaswom Board, which oversees the administration of the temple, the tusker had been unwell for over a month and was being treated for the last two weeks after he developed swelling in his body. Post 9 am on Wednesday, his condition worsened and was declared dead at 2 pm at the Punathoorkotta, a training centre for captive elephants near the Guruvayur Sri Krishna temple.
At the time of his death, all doctors of the Guruvayur Devaswom were present near the tusker, monitoring his health condition.
One of the most sought after elephants of the Guruvayur temple, Padmanabhan was offered to the temple by a member of the EP Brothers from Palakkad’s Ottappalam in 1954.
Since then, the tusker has had the special distinction of carrying the Sri Krishna Thidambu or miniature idol of the presiding deity for the last 66 years. With his long tusks, majestic and composed demeanour, Padmanabhan earned him the title of ‘Gajaratnam’. He also had a massive fan-following in the state and was much in demand during the Thrissur Pooram.
In 2004, the tusker set the record for the maximum fee charged (called ekkam), at Rs 2.25 lakh a day, for the procession at the Nenmara-Vallanki Vela. According to a report by Mathrubhumi in 2017, the rent for hiring Padmanabhan for temple festivals was Rs 55,000, and Rs 82,500 for special occasions.
In December 2019, the Forest Department had imposed restrictions on Padmanabhan and Guruvayur Valiya Keshavan from being paraded at processions, citing age and health-related issues. However, due to the high demand of the elephant, the Forest Department formed an expert committee to monitor the health condition of the elephant and later lifted the ban on Padmanabhan on February 3 last year, according to a Times of India report. However, the tusker developed diarrhoea and other health ailments a week later.
With Padmanabhan’s passing away, the number of elephants under Guruvayur Devaswom’s ownership stands at 47.
Scores of devotees of the temple thronged Padmanabhan’s funeral, chanting ‘Narayana Nayarayana’, to pay their last respects to the elephant. Many devotees believed Padmanabhan was an avatar of Guruvayur Kesavan, one of the most celebrated pachyderms owned by Guruvayur Devaswom. Guruvayur Kesavan died in December 1976.
The deceased tusker will be buried on Thursday. The temple has been closed for two days.
Many took to Facebook to condole the death of the pachyderm.