Last week on Friday, hundreds of devotees thronged to the Sree Durga Mahadevi temple at Kuppadi in Kerala to catch a glimpse of the deity mounted atop the temple elephant.
However, not many were aware that this was no ordinary elephant that carried the goddess. In fact, it was not even for real. It was Neelakandan, a 250-kilo life size model made with Plaster of Paris, bamboo, gunny bags and other everyday materials.
The 8-foot-tall pachyderm was fully caparisoned and fitted onto a board with wheels, to easily manoeuvre it through the crowds which were gathered to celebrate the temple’s annual festival – Sree Durga Bhagawathi Kshetram Maholsavam.
“We stopped using real elephants five years ago as it was turning out to be a hassle to get permits from the forest department and the collector, with all the animal rights issues. Apart from this, there was also the issue of safety of the devotees. For the last couple of years, we used temporary installations to carry the deity. However, the elephant is the highlight of any temple festival so we decided to build a life size model this year,” said Santosh Babu, a temple committee member.
Explaining that the idea was conceived only two months ago, Santosh said that the temple was able to pull this off only due to one man, Bhaskaran, who built the entire model from scratch.
“Bhaskaran runs a small shop in Kuppadi and opted to make the model. He single-handedly built the entire model including the finishing touches and took about one and a half months to do it. The model was then fitted with a steering to negotiate the turnings during the procession. Excluding Bhaskaran’s efforts, the whole thing came up to about Rs 30,000,” said Santosh.
The elephant is currently kept at the Durga Mahadevi Kshetram and the committee is even considering offering Neelakandan to neighbouring temples for their annual festivities.
“The Cheeral temple has approached us for the elephant and the committee has decided to offer it for their procession that’s happening on April 18,” he said.
The committee hopes to keep the elephant for at least three years and use it for processions.
“Since it is made of everyday materials, the model will crumble after three years. We hope to keep and use it and even offer it to the neighbourhood temples until then,” Santosh said.
When asked how devotees reacted to Neelakandan, Santosh said, “Some of us who live close to the temple already knew it. But a lot of devotees turned up from far away villages and were truly bewildered.”