The Temple Elephant

Photography, Travel

At the entrance of the Virupaksha temple is this gentle mammal who will bless anyone who bows downs their head in reverence. It reflects the humility in the animal to satisfy a man-made need to feel safe, secure and blessed. The elephant in the wild is left alone, but at a temple, one can approach it knowing no harm will come of it. A quick prayer, some coconuts offerings, and a blessing by the elephant’s trunk are like a salve to our burdened mind.

I was exploring this temple with a naturalist who worked locally and he encouraged me to approach the mammal. As you can see from the various angles of the photos below, I got up close and personal which I wouldn’t dare to have done on my own.
I observed how the elephant interacted with people seeking his blessings. He patiently waited for them to finish praying, and when the bowed their head, he raised his trunk and placed it ever so gently on their head. If they offered a banana, he would  pick it up with a feather’s touch. The mahouts were not instructing; they were busy chatting about the local gossip.

The practice of engaging an elephant in the temple is being questioned by wildlife advocates due to reports of abuse. I have read one or two news stories where they are considering to introduce laws to ban this practice. It is ironic that the ritualistic practice that is considered to be a relief to a man’s mind and soul is such a burden to the animal’s body.

Virupaksha, Hampi (India) | July 2012.
Virupaksha Temple is located in Hampi in the state of Karnataka (Southern India). It is part of the Group of Monuments at Hampi that is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Introducing from my archives series:

I started “photo chronicling” around 2005. I have so many adventures and experiences all captured in visuals but I never did put words to them. I felt like the stories behind these wonderful photographs have to be narrated. Hence, I am starting the “from my archives series.” Through 2016, you can expect one photo story a week. I do hope you enjoy them.





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