Elephant Sanctuary at Punnathur Kotta
The Devaswom maintains a unique elephant sanctuary, the only one of its kind in the World. It has 56 elephants now. These jumbos are the offerings of the devotees to the Lord. A large number of pilgrims and tourists visit this fascinating spot every day. In this vast compound, there are road facilities for pilgrims and tourists to go around.
The present elephant sanctuary is in Punnathur Kotta about 3 kms north of Guruvayur temple. Punnathur Kotta is the ancient palace of the Punnathur Rajas, now in the possession of the Devaswom. There is also an ancient temple where Lord Siva and Bhagavathy are worshipped.
It is a 10 acre compound which Devaswom purchased in 1975, which was under receiver rule of Trichur sub court. Till that time elephants were kept in this Kovilakam compound (present Sreevalsam) to the south of the temple
All the elephants were shifted to the Punnathur Kotta in a grant procession lead by Gajarajan Kesavan, all the elephants from the Kovilakam marched to Punnathur Kotta on 1975 June 25.
Many elephants of Guruvayur have become the part of history. The sweet memories of Gajarajan Kesavan – literally the king of all Elephants- still enthrall the hearts of the elephant lovers worldwide. The mammoth physique, his intelligence and devotion to the Lord were very famous.
Punnathurkotta was once the palace of a local ruler, but the palace grounds are now used to house the elephants belonging to the Guruvayoor temple, and has been renamed Anakkotta (meaning “Elephant Fort”). There were 86 elephants housed there, but currently there are about 56 elephants. The elephants are ritual offerings made by the devotees of Lord Guruvayurappa. This facility is also used to train the elephants to serve Lord Krishna as well as participate in many festivals that occur throughout the year. The oldest elephant is around 82 years of age and is called ‘Ramachandran’. The rituals of Gajapooja (Worshipping Elephants) and Anayoottu (Feeding Elephants) are observed here, as an offering to Lord Ganesha. The legendary elephant “Guruvayur Keshavan” was housed here. The compound also has a naalu kettu, a traditional rectangular home with a central courtyard, which belonged to the Punnathur Raja. It is poorly maintained and presently houses a training school for Papans (Mahout). This complex also contains a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Bhagavathy.
The visiting hours are 9.00AM to 5.00PM. The entry fees are Rs. 10/- per adult & Rs. 5/- for Children.
Famous elephants of Sree Guruvayurappan
The legend goes that this Namboodiri had no children and he was spending his tearful days lamenting over his sad plight. Then Kunjhikkavu Namboodiri, an ardent devotee of Lord Guruvayurappan, who was famous for his “Purana Parayanam”, advised Cherukunnath Namboodiri that Lord Guruvayurappan would bless him with children if offered Him with an elephant. Accordingly Cherukunnath Namboodiri came to Guruvayur, performed “Bhajan” and prayed to offer Him an elephant, if he was blessed with a child. Lord Guruvayurappan showered His blessings on Cherukunnath Namboodiri who offered Him elephant and called him Padmanabhan.
When Padmanabhan was brought to Guruvayur, there were only one or two elephants here. As Cherukunnath illam was swelled with more and more children with His blessings, the number of elephants in Guruvayur temple also increased one by one with the coming of Padmanabhan.
Padmanabhan grew, through years, to be the most important of all elephants in Kerala, and wherever he was taken for Utsava, he was to be given the most prominent place in the procession. In all utsavam, if he was present, it was his privilege to carry on his head the “Thidambu”. He never tolerated any other elephant enjoying this right. As soon as the “Thidambu” was placed on his head, he would stretch the whole of his body forward, and raise his head to the maximum, so that he would appear to be the highest in the whole array of elephants. This posture would continue till the “Thidampu” was taken down after the procession, and thus he was able to maintain his kingly posture everywhere. He had never caused any injury to anybody throughout his life-time. Impressed by him, the Maharaja of Ambalapuzha awarded him with the precious prize, “Veerashringala”
On his arrival, Kesavan was 10 years old and elephant Padmanabhan was the undisputed king. Young Kesavan acquired all the kingly gestures and nobleness of Padmanabhan and even excelled him. He would bend his front-legs only before those who holds Lord’s Thidambu to enable them to climb upon him, all others were to climb by his behind-legs. He never caused any bodily harm to anyone. He sometimes was called “Lunatic Kesavan”, but never spoiled any sanctity.
Even if he became wild outside Guruvayur, he would straightaway come to Guruvayur, go round the temple and stood where he used to be chained.
In 1973, first time in history, the Golden Jubilee of the services of an elephant to the temple was celebrated. Kesavan was conferred upon the honour of “GAJARAJAN” (king of elephants).
However, on famous Ekadasi day, 2nd December 1976, Kesavan fell ill while Thidambu was placed on his head. He couldn’t hold on his legs. The Thidambu was soon transferred to another elephant and Kesavan was brought to the Kovilakam compound. He died in front of the Lord with his trunk stretched in front. He was 72, 3.2metres tall, and participated in every ceremony at the temple. Kerala’s biggest and grandest elephant, Gajarajan Kesavan, served the Lord and people for the long 54 years. Who have seen him will never forget Kesavan. To commemorate him, a 12 feet high statue has been erected in front of Sreevalsam rest house.
The sensual advances made by her to the majestic Kesavan and their hidden love were well known. Lakshmi had the privilege many times to carry the Thidambu on her head. On the 4th March 1983, Lakshmi was presented the title of “GAJARANI” at an impressive function.
List of Elephants