Walking with Elephants – my temple experience

At Play. Scene from `Elephantom Origins’ (children’s book) (c) Mani Navasothy. 2012.

After writing my blog this morning on the birthday & mythology of  the Hindu (elephant headed) God Ganesh, I went to attend a training course – on interview techniques. Nothing I don’t know already (must write about that!) but this is one I had to attend. It was in Wimbledon.  So afterwards I tried going to the Ganesh temple. It was packed, and no parking space anywhere!

So I was driving back with disappointment, and memories of my own personal experiences came back to me – which I thought I’d share here, as part of the festive celebrations (in my own way). After all, a temple is where you make it, and Hindu Priests have been known in ancient times to build `inner temples’ meditatively – efforts that had taken them years. It is known that Hindu gods had favoured such inner temples. (another blog to write!)

Back to Elephants – one of the sacred animals in Hinduism – an eastern pagan religion.

The Ride on Elephant

My earliest memory of Elephants, like for most people, was at a Zoo, and it was back in Sri Lanka.  I do recall one occasion where my parents paid for me to go for a ride on a Zoo Elephant.  They are big creatures, and once you mount them, on one of those people-carrier basket things that can hold about 5-6 people at a time, it’s incredible – especially when the Elephant starts walking – away from any tall stands. It gentle wobbles of course and walks slowly. I don’t remember much more, but that is a precious experience to have had. These days people who visit 3rd world countries and nature reserves (africa?) can quite easily have one of these elephant rides. If you get a chance, do have a go. I mean, how often can one say he or she had a ride on the largest mammal on the planet? !

The Temple Elephant

My second Elephant experience was at a Temple – and it was with a Temple Elephant, back in Sri Lanka. It was a sacred special temple, one that my grandmother & family had to hire a coach and drive a day to get to – as part of a pilgrimage. I remember then getting to the booked accommodation (large room, where all of us slept ..with just sheets on the floor). The part that still stays in my mind is the bathing in the nearby river in the evening. It was expected, and there were no other facilities anyway. And straight afterwards, while still wet, we had to make our way up the mountain paths to the temple – for worship.

It was the temple in Kathirkama, where Priests do not speak. They have their mouths covered by a piece of cloth! There is a similar temple in Wales, UK that I have been to, where they do this.

Well, after the Pooja, I was guided to the area where the temple elephant resided. As was tradition,  I was `blessed by the Elephant’  (on the nudge of the Keeper, the Elephant places its  trunk in a blessing manner on my head!) I was a very young boy and what came next was even more previous now to remember. My relatives told me to circle around the Elephant and pray, and also walk under it. So I did – went in from one side, walked under the Elephant, came out the other side from it’s body!

I don’t think it ever occurred to me that if the beast had decided to move in haste or upset, or anything of the sort, I would have been splatted in a second! At the time, I was focused on it as a spiritual experience- and still do.

-Mani

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