Mangaluru: Balarama, the celebrated tusker — which has carried the golden howdah 12 times in a row since 1999 — will now don the mantle as ‘Pattada Ane’ in this year’s procession. Balarama (57) was discharging the duty as ‘Nishane’ elephant in the Jamboo Savari after it was replaced by 55-year-old Arjuna to carry the 750-kg golden howdah in 2012.
As Gajendra had been dropped as ‘Pattada Ane’ from the Dasara squad as a precautionary measure after it gored another Dasara jumbo, Srirama, and a kavadi to death in a forest camp early this year, the Forest Department resolved to give the task to the most experienced one — Balarama.
According to Deputy Conservator of Forests (Wildife) K. Kamala, “It’s official that Gajendra has been replaced by Balarama as Pattada Ane. The tusker, which was the lead jumbo, will be in the front of the procession this year.”
Balarama was the lead elephant of the world famous Mysore Dasara procession and carried the statue of goddess Chamundeshwari on the fabled Golden Howdah for a record thirteen times till 2011. Balarama is a bull born about 1958 and is accompanied in the procession by other Dasara Elephants. Of the many (about 16) elephants participating, Balarama was one of the star attraction when he carried on his back the sacred idol of goddess Chamundeshwari in the 800 kilograms (1,800 lb) golden howdah on the auspicious 10th day of Dasara celebrations.
Balarama was caught in 1987 in the Kattepura forest near Somwarpet. Balarama has taken part in the Dasara procession since 1994, carrying the golden howdah . A very silent bull (against the norm for elephants), he is said to be an introvert, and has to have special training so he can withstand the firing of canons that occurs during the festival. He succeeded Elephant Drona as the carrier of the Golden Howdah.
He was not the first choice to carry the Howdah after Drona. Elephant Arjuna, a 44 year old bull weighing 5,600 kilograms (12,300 lb) was supposed to be the carrier of the howdah, but was sidelined for accidentally killing a Mahout. One day, Arjuna went to bathe in a river with elephant Bahadur and Bahadur’s trainer Annayya. While crossing a road, the elephants were startled by a vehicle and in the chaos that ensued, the rider Annayya fell down to the ground, only to be stamped on the head by Arjuna. He was crushed to death.
People opined that an elephant that had killed a man was unfit to carry the religious duties of Dasara. So Arjuna, while being as capable as Drona, was not given the honorable duty, though he did have the honour of carrying the Chinnada Ambari once before being replaced by Balarama.
Balarama who was been rested from the duty of carrying the Golden Howdah due to his reducing weight and has been succeeded by Elephant Arjuna, has been again brought in for the duty. Balarama’s Mahout Sannappa once refused to mount Balarama after his family were stopped by the police from watching him ride during Dasara.
Balarama refuses food given to him by anybody other than his Mahout. Balarama weighs about 4950 Kilograms and he conquers the hearts of human beings by his majestic looks and the silence that he possess. He is looked after at the Morkal Elephant camp at Nagarahole national park and his previous mahout Sannappa has retired and his new master Thimma has taken over. At 53 years he still looks strong though his weight has reduced over the years.