20 January, 2021

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Cruelty To Elephants During ‘Peraharas’?

By A S Abeyratne –

The first Buddhist procession with sacred tooth relic commenced during the time of King Keerthi Sri Megavarna (301 – 238 BC). Then onwards the Dalada procession was held every year. But elephants were not participating in such ancient processions. Later many other temples in Sri Lanka copied this type of cultural ceremonies. Asian elephants presence are seen in many Asian religious traditions, ceremonies and mythologies. Perahara is a Buddhist related cultural ceremony. It should bring in peace and religious feelings to the people. Also such processions should never harm the people or animals.

Ancient perahara photo in Sri Lanka

There have been many views about elephants participating in peraharas. Firstly the elephants have to be brought to the temples from various distant places. Such long walks damage the pads of all elephants, which ultimately lead to foot wounds and ultimate deaths. Many elephants in Sri Lanka die due to foot wounds. Each perahara will have many splendor events; riot color, twinkling lights, burning torches, thunderous noise of drums, whip cracking, conch blowing, flash lights, massive human populations in dense crowds which causes much pain a and suffering to elephants. 

It is a pretty that these majestic animals are forced to participate in such ceremonies. It is not only the noise, crowds, and lights the worst is that much hurt is caused to all elephants when elephant health is considered. The worst thing that elephants have to face is difficulty in breathing and eliminating swat. Many do not know that elephants can perspire only through their ears. They shake their ears quickly to eliminate the swat that they collect due to walking. When ears and the entire body is covered by cloths elephants find it impossible to expire. Besides there are many lights that are tied to the covered cloths they are covered with, which make the expiration even impossible. Once the perahara is over and elephants are given freedom they rapidly run to the closest water facility and spend few minutes drinking and splashing water all over their bodies. How sad I was when I saw such events. There is another problem that most do not know. That is about elephant ‘musth’, which is a word that is used in India to describe the behaviour of elephant during sexual periods. Musth is a period of change of behavior of male elephants, which can last about a month or more. During this period the males get very aggressive and such elephants should not be used for ceremonies because it is most likely for them to attack.  There is also a big problem of feeding a large number of elephants brought for peraharas. Since the elephants need big amount of food, it is almost impossible to find such large amounts. Therefore, all elephants are underfed during their stay. This change is brought about due to the increase of testosterone hormone during musth. Don’t the Buddhists know the hardships that all elephants face when parading in paraharas? Is this the Buddhist philosophies that they practice?

Tikiri – 70-year-old elephant was suffering from a ‘digestive ailment’

If you can, imagine for a moment that you are one of the hundred elephants participating in this annual pageant, then imagine your most terrifying nightmare (the one that comes back to haunt you time after time). That nightmare is what you as a Perehera elephant will endure year after year, as you are forced to participate in such procession. As an elephant, you will have to suffer the weight and discomfort of the robes, capes, ornaments and battery powered electric lights covering your body and large ears that usually serve to ventilate. Your vision will be limited, you will hardly be able to see as you walk because the eye slits of your costume keep shifting and blocking your view.

Tikiri’s starved body and leg shackles are hidden by a colourful costume

As an elephant, the mahout will sit on your neck and spine, prodding and poking you as he usually does, or he will walk by your side pulling at your multiple chains and jabbing your sore, weary legs with his bull hook (ankus). You may have to carry up to three people on your back on this occasion. Even a horse only carries a single rider. As an elephant, the heat and the glowing, curling flames emanating from the flame torch carriers and the fire ball dancers will remind you of your beloved forests and jungles burnt black to make way for famers and their crops, villagers chasing you and your family away from your homeland, brandishing fire and insults in your face. As a privileged elephant, you will have the honour of carrying the sacred relic or some other artefacts. However no one will see the many straps, belts and buckles that constrain you and hamper your mobility, but which are needed to hold the structure in place. Besides, most elephant caregivers usually get drunk during the day time and treat elephants in an inhuman manner. 

I recommend that there should be a law to prevent using elephants in such inhuman and horrible events. Being Buddhist priests they should take the leadership in such situations to prevent cruelty to elephants. There are also many animal organizations like the Dept of Animal Production and Health, Preventing Cruelty to animals, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine etc, they should also take initiatives to prevent such cruelties to elephants. 

*Dr A S Abeyratne, Veterinarian/ Reproductive Specialist

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Latest comments

  • 8
    4

    Read Buddhist Philosophy – find opposite practiced in SriLanka. Inhumane cruel unlawful country. They apparently were born to animals. Legend has described – Meat eating Indians were pushed in to sea ended up in south coast of India.

  • 14
    3

    Elephants for Pereharas should be banned. Instead parade our 70 + year old Politicians.

    • 6
      0

      That is true. They are well fed too.

    • 0
      3

      [Edited out]

    • 1
      0

      Steve thats a great idea! Just imagine 90 per cent of the cabinet on parade!

      They’ll have to parade in rickshaws!

  • 8
    1

    This is certainly an eye opener for many, particularly, animal lovers in SL. It is heart breaking to see starving animals used as tourist attractions.

    A few years ago, I accompanied a few British friends holidaying in SL to Gangarama Temple & was shocked at the inhuman treatment of an elephant at the temple. The poor animal was tethered by it’s ankle with a heavy chain, restricting it’s movements & looked half starved with apparently a few coconut palm leaves (‘pol athu’) to eat. There were many people at the temple, including foreigners, who were happily taking picture but none seemed to see the plight of the poor animal. I am still angry with myself for not making a formal complaint at the temple.

    Many years ago (in the mid 90s), I took my then 3 year old daughter to the Dehiwala zoo & was horrified to see ageing caged animals (most cages were empty, assuming the animals have died) who also looked half starved. Even the cages were not big enough for them to move about. The saddest was to see a polar bear, spread motionless on the cement floor, obviously, suffering from the heat. The air conditioner was not working & there was not even water in the pool. This was animal cruelty & it was then that I decided I will never set foot in a zoo where animals are caged for the pleasure of humans.

    I recall Premadasa jnr ran a charity by the name of ‘Elephant watch’ in the mid 90s. I wonder if this charity still functions. Knowing politicians in SL, it was probably a PR exercise & not a sincere effort to ensure the welfare of elephants, judging by the number of wild elephants killed by villagers & captured baby elephants, particularly, in temples.

    • 4
      15

      Hey moron . the animal you saw was an elephant . They need to be restrained when kept in a place where they can do damage, and How do you know if the animal is “half starved” ? do you speak elephant ?

      • 6
        1

        Abhaya

        If I am a moron, you are no better than a moron either. In the first place, why keep an animal in a place where they can do damage? That is the purpose of this article, which is mistreatment of animals in case you don’t understand. If you have eyes & a bit of intelligence, you can spot a starving animal without speaking to it. Maybe you do.

  • 4
    12

    this guy is an idiot. Tame animals need to have a purpose. what would happen to these elephants now that they no longer work? as they were tamed for this purpose. Elephants are not stupid like this man. They like all living beings enjoy the attention . and there is nothing inhumane in using them at a festival. And as Buddhists, we believe they are gathering merits for their future lives.

    • 5
      1

      Abhaya

      There are sanctuaries for animals where they need not to be caged or tethered but can roam freely. Did elephants tell you they enjoy the attention of people?

      You seem to have no understanding of Buddhism but take for granted what uneducated monks preach. In your misinformed thinking, maybe the animals gather merit by parading in a Buddhist festival but any merit for humans who mistreat the animals? You are a typical brainless SL Buddhist hypocrite who thinks that going to the temple on a poya day or giving ‘dana’ to equally hypocritical monks makes you a Buddhist. There is a lot more to Buddhism than the preaching of illiterate monks which you seem to have taken as the undisputed truth.

  • 7
    2

    Sickening!
    This is not just some random greedy person trying to get the elephant to do a lot of work to earn a living for himself. This is religion. The elephant carries the sacred tooth. My foot. It is supposed to be a holy event. My ass.
    But then, if you look at the way the army behaved when suppressing the JVP and Tamil rebellions, the way the JVP behaved, the murders and torture the Tamil rebels inflicted and the outrageous sadistic practice of ragging in our universities, we have to accept that our 2000 year old civilization has very little to be proud of.
    As a society we are sick. It sucks.

  • 3
    2

    People are worried about elephants. Sri lanka definitely can learn more lessons from Africa with respect to how they treat elephants who are very intelligent. Even YOutube shows, how friendly Mahouts are to Tamed – African elephants. In Africa, even wild Lions are docile to humans because Tribal people can be trusted there. Sri Lankan Mahouts can keep the spear as the last resort and they do not have to poke it every time they can keep just a stick for that.
    How ever the problem here is, the negative criticism by these people built on Sri lankan elephants in Buddhist Processions. If you people are really sympathetic to animals, first stop the ways of rearing and killing of FOOD animals in Sri lanka.. How many millions of chicken, Cattle, Pigs are killed in Sri lanka every year. I here, even the Yahapalana govt was involved in killing old elephants in the forest. It happened with the knowledge of the Buddha Sasana minister appointed by the govt and not the so many Buddha Sasana ministers who active these days because of the elections.
    The other thing with these is Fake animal right groups must understand is how many millions of animals are killed every year for food. What have you done ?
    See how India, not the modern India, had lived without killing Cattle for food. Itis only you Abrhamic religion people who want to eat every animal and kill animals for game and then talk animal rights. CRAP.

    • 5
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      JD

      There are some religions which believe in an all mighty god who created the superior man & animals for his benefit. Indigenous people hunt animals for food & we can’t stop people farming animals for food & even among so called staunch Buddhist, there are carnivores & I have certainly seen non vegetarian Buddhist monks. In the UK, thanks to animal rights campaigners, animal farms are regulated (eg. caged hens require a specified space for each hen) & even slaughter houses are monitored by the RSPCA but, as a democracy, unable ban the ‘halal’ ritualistic practice. Nevertheless, UK has banned export of live animals to the middle East but Australia & New Zealand, as well as, some European countries are happy to supply the middle Eastern market. Hunting with hounds are banned & animals are no longer used in experiments, particularly, in the cosmetic industry but a total ban on animals used for experiments is not possible. Currently, there is talk of banning ‘grouse’ hunting as well which is a ‘sport’ enjoyed by the royalty in UK & is a possibility if a labour govt. is in power. However, ‘falconing’ & hunting with leopards is enjoyed by the Arabian sheiks but animal right campaigners out side the middle east are unable to do anything about it. Bull fighting is banned in some states but considered a national ‘sport’ in Spain. Culling of animals to control it’s population & licensed hunting is common in Africa, as well as, the US & Europe where hunting is considered a part of country life. Therefore, there is only so much animal right campaigners can do & there is no way the world can be made to be vegetarians.
      However, although SL has a majority Buddhist population, a ban on the slaughter of animals is not practical but, as Buddhists or not, we can stand up to animal cruelty. Rather than criticise animal rights groups, at least the Buddhists should take a good look at themselves because we can’t force others, only lead by example.

    • 0
      1

      India is the biggest exporter of beef!

  • 4
    3

    This is religious intolerance by Christian Groups. Particularly, a part of Social engineering going on in Asia to destroy Buddhism. the same game has started in India Against HINDUS but not Hinduism.

    • 2
      2

      Softy,

      These Pariah elephants are Kallathoni Demulus man. It is because of that the Christians West is flocking behind them. Don’t show mecredy. Keep up you Sinhala Buddhist. Buddha never said before all human are stomach full burping, Animal can start to smell the food.

      You have a super brain. As long as the Parai Demulus and neo-colonialist Christians are alive, nobody can blame you on anything. It is always their fault. When are the Sinhala Buddhist are staring Cannibalism?

  • 5
    2

    It is unfortunate that these silent giants are used in this way. I have seen them prodded by the mahouts with sharp objects, and they have to walk for miles wearing light bulbs that might be hot, and also irritating, and let’s not forget the heavy velvet dressings. No wonder they sometimes go berserk and attack those around them.
    They are also cruelly chained most of the time.
    This is all unnatural for the elephants. They should not be treated this way.

  • 2
    0

    The animal side of the story of the essay is very meaningful. But Perahera started not as described here. Perahera was started as Indira Vizha, in far North, at the seashore. It moved to Middle, there too as Indira Vizha without beach. Then it went to Kandy. Kandy Dalada Maligawa was only Krishnan temple. So there it became temple’s 10 days annual Poja -Chariot Festival. Indira Vizha and Temple festival had/has the last day of sea front Theertham. That is where the elephants are enjoying the water. Perahera ends with the bath taking like Theertham. But the temple festival starts with Kanni Kaal Nadukai. Kanni in Tamil means virgin. So it means planting a virgin pillar or leg. Unlike Palmyra Palm, all banana trees flowers with female flowers. So selecting a “Kanni (un-flowered female)” in Palm trees pauses a problem. One need to bother which tree is female, but before it flowers. But the problem with banana tree is one cannot find out if the tree has already started its flowering procedure. It is because its flower starts at the very bottom, unlike no other trees. So the flower bud could be in bottom, in the middle of the tree or might be about to appear at the top. To avoid having cut a wrong one and deliver to temple and earn sin, farmers cut reasonably young one. This is planted the day before the Perahera first day.

    Indra Vizha starts with King’s presiding. That is why Rajasingan got involved. He is the one mainly turned the pure Hindu Krishnan temple festival into current days’ pure Sinhala Buddhist Festival. He agreed with the Sinhala Adhiharis to make his Hindu Court giving more chances to Buddhism. He is the one started the Box parade on elephants. In the Box, he kept a feline (Wijeya’s) tooth. This is a practice of Hindu merchants and Kings, by faith for luck. Now Jim Softy is saying it is not Wijeya’s tooth, but Buddha’s tooth. Absolute Silly!

    • 3
      2

      Mallaiyuran,
      As usual a very good attempt to distort the history of Sinhale. The project started by Para Kallathoni Demala Chelvanayakam is still going on.

      • 2
        3

        He is not lying it started as a Hindu pageant and later converted to a predominantly Buddhist pageant but the Hindu gods/deities are still taken out in procession. Giving Buddhist twists and converting ancient Hindu places of worship to Buddhist is very common in the island. Look what has happened to pre historic Hindu Kathirkammam venerating Tamil god Lord Murugan now has been converted to Buddhist Kataragama after independence. Now trying to convert many ancient Saivite Hindu sites in the NE to Buddhist with fake history. Latest in Vedduku Nari Mallai in the Vanni and the Kinniya hot wells. Only thing fake is you . This story and picture about this elephant went wild in Australia and other places in the west and many people were shocked at the cruel inhuman treatment given to these majestic endangered animals in the name of religion. Especially in the name of Buddhism , that preached non violence and was against cruelty to any living creature and this includes elephants, Tamils and Sri Lankan Muslims. Oh I forgot you do not practice Buddhism but Sinhalese Buddhist Fascism and call it Buddhism. Lord Budda will weep at all these ancient Hindu festivals and temples being converted to Buddhist festivals and temples in his name and all these cruelty on animals done in his name. Lord Budda’s tooth my foot. We are Hindus and we respect Lord Budda who was one of us but not all this cruelty done in his name.

  • 4
    3

    Animal cruelty in Buddhism is engrained . You see animals killed in devalas,elephants chained and abused in temples, monks abusing children as animals. Chaining of children in temples etc..
    tourist should stop going to these barbaric rituals.

    • 1
      0

      Jehan

      You clearly have an abundance of hatred and anger against the majority community of this country and as such , should be considered a serious threat to society.

  • 3
    0

    During my younger days I remember counting elephants in “Kandy Perahera ” .. there was a year 198 elephants participated… Due this Buddhist pagent..elephants carrying the casket of tooth relic ..and other Devales ..the majestic animals were held in high esteem then ..

    Today it is pathetic to see how these once majestic animals eat garbage.. encroach cultivated lands for food.. The have become worse than Dogs today….

    What values our society have nurtured over the last 20 years… MR has ruined the Country…

    • 2
      1

      Lion,
      Dumbo, don’t you know that MR saved this country from ‘Para Demala Terrorists.

  • 3
    4

    Paid by Evangelical Church putting money to discredit Sinhala Buddhists and to ruin Sinhala Buddhist traditions, culture and heritage. These guys who have a history of 200 years want to destroy Asian societies with thousands of years old history with rich cultures, traditions and heritage.

    • 2
      3

      This is why you are married to a hated Demala woman and thanks to her Demala relatives , are living the good life in a western Christian land and enjoying an age pension , that is largely being paid by these horrible western Christians. Most of the present day Sinhalese, especially the ones from the western and southern coasts and Kandyan areas , largely the upper castes, were also Demala a few generations ago and many Demala, like the Colombo Chetties , Bharatha and the Colombo 7 types are still converting to Sinhalese Christian and Buddhist Fascists. Soon they also like you and many other converted Demalas will start cursing the remaining Demalas and call them cursed outsiders. Do you also curse your Demala wife and your Demala children too.

  • 3
    2

    [As usual a very good attempt to distort the history of Sinhale. The project started by Para Kallathoni Demala Chelvanayakam is still going on.]

    Instead of that poor old elephant why not make Blind Eagle and HLD to carry the relics being well fed on foreign tax payers’ money. Thousands of years old culture of lies, distortion, fabrication, violence and what not? Rich culture where even the elephants are starving while many poor committing suicide out of hunger. Blind Moron why dont you look around? Even grass is not cut on poya day. Even unfertilised egg is not broken on a poya day. But kassippu galore. Moda Blind if not for the non sinhala buddhists where will you turn to have an excuse? Only way to parade Blind Eagle and co in their amudeys and spare the poor elephants that are precious to Hindus as Lord Ganesha. No wonder why all the evils in Lanka.

  • 3
    1

    JD, it is not about killing animals but about cruelty to animals. In developed countries the animals are killed by stun guns that make them unconscious immediately. But for Muslims according to halal it is torture by slowly bleeding the animals. During ancient times Brahmins were great beef eaters. Buddha stopped killing of cattle owing to its need for daily life of the people. Soon after Brahmins said no killing at all and became vegetarians just to score over Buddha. In fact one view is that Buddha died of pork allergy or poisoning. India talk so much about holy cow yet the biggest exporter of beef. So the issue here is torturing the animals. Making a 70-year-old emaciated she elephant to go on the perahera is inhumane. It is not about the tradition but about cruelty.

  • 1
    1

    Well said Sharma. Our mutual friend’s Thamil wife apparently ill treats him and hence his hatred for Thamilism. It is pure emotional traumatic manifestation. Surely how do you expect her to accept him. Pandaram, Nayakkan, Vaduva (Vadugey, Manavadu), Muthali, veerapuli, somasundra, vanasundera, well it is a Thamil Land with Thamil heritage. Now mixed with Malayalam perehera and kathakali dance and imported Buddhism and Pali trying to make a history.

    • 1
      0

      What is called Malayalam it self is actually the ancient Chera Tamil culture. It is laughable when many Malayali , especially the anti Tamil variety , speak of their ancient glorious culture , dances and martial arts , trade etc, they do not realise , all this happened and originated when Keralam or Cheralam was Tamil and this is all Chera Tamil culture and not Malayali or Malayalam culture , that only came into existence a few centuries ago and then has not produced anything great or of significance. It may have been their ancestors who created and produced all these but these ancestors were Tamil and not Malayali. This is like some one stating the ancient pyramids and other wonders of ancient Egypt were produced by the present Egyptian Muslim Arabs. It may have been their ancestors but they were not Arabs. Similarly all these so called ancient culture wonders , dance forms, martial art forms and even poetry , St . Thomas the apostle arriving 2000 years ago , Athi Shankaran being born and travelling up to Kashmir to spread and strengthen Saivaism , Arabs and others trading and some of the best Tamil poetry like Chilapathikaram being written , all happened in Tamil Chera Nadu and not in modern Malayalam Kerala that occurred and came into existence only a few centuries ago and the British were largely instrumental in this by banning the local Tamil dialect, Malayalama that was the local Tamil dialect and the language of more than 85% of Kerala in 1820 and making the highly Sanskritised Grantha language of Namboothiris the official language of Kerala and cunningly called it Malayalam and as a sop introduced many native Tamil words. The Tamil Chera kings of Kerala worshiped Tamil and gave respect to Tamil poets.

      • 1
        1

        Are you aware that when the Malayli were demanding classical language status for Malayalam , as evidence they produced the famous Tamil epic Chilpathikram , written by Ilankovadikal in then Tamil Chera Nadu , as proof of antiquity of the Malayalam language. What a joke. Even when the Portuguese arrived they classified the language of Kerala ( Malabar) Lingua Malabar Tamul and published the book Thampiran Vannakam (also known as Doctrina Christam en Lingua Malabar Tamul in Portuguese; Tamil: தம்பிரான் வணக்கம்) is a Roman Catholic catechism translated by Henrique Henriques and published on 20 October 1578 at Quilon, Venad. It is the first printed work in an Indian language and script. As the language of Kerala was still Tamil. This is why when they arrived in North Sri Lanka they called the Jaffna Tamils as Malabars , as it was the same people , same religion , culture, speaking different dialects of the same language. Thampiran means lord in ancient Chera Tamil, now also used in Malyalam . Shortened versions of this title is still found as family names amongst Jaffna Tamils, EG: Thambar, Thampu , Thampi all derived from Thampiran

    • 1
      1

      https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/Tamil-saw-its-first-book-in-1578/article15685475.ece
      Proof that Kerala was still largely speaking Tamil even when the Portuguese arrived

  • 0
    2

    Thank you Sharma for that. In deed I am aware of Chera Nadu is part of Dravidian Thamil speaking region. Because of their living in malai Nadu it became Malai- Alum and thus to Malayalam. The so-called Malayalam as a language is under 500 years by part Sanskrit influence. No doubt Malayalam had heavy influence in Lanka both north and south. Insouth India, SL Tamils are invariably confused with Malayalees. This elephant parading is seen in Kerala but for Hindu kovils. Eating raw arecanut is Sinhala habit. Appam more in Sinhala. Mal Vattiya to temples taking lotus flowers same except the religion. Cloth and jacket same as seen among sinhalas. Dance forms, dresses and face masks are all from Kerala to Sinhala. It is extremely funny for our Sinhala brothers like HLD and Ever Blind to say that they are a uniquely and exclusively evolved race in Lanka. It is nothing but ignorance.

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