14 August, 2020

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The Perahera Elephant: Torture, Pain & Suffering Behind The Glitz

By Ajita Kadirgamar

Ajita Kadirgamar

Ajita Kadirgamar

Are you planning to view the Kandy Esala Perehera which takes place August 8-18th?

If it’s your first time you will no doubt be awed by the splendour of the event; the riot of colour, the twinkling lights and burning torches, the thunderous noise of drums, whip cracking and conch blowing, the massive crowds, flashlights popping, dancers and acrobats cavorting in the streets, hopeful devotees in fulfilment of vows with hooks piercing their skin, and most of all the elephants. Those majestic beasts, caparisoned and adorned, stately and dignified, yet forever held captive for the enjoyment of their human masters.

If you can, imagine for a moment being 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 this procession.

As an elephant, you will have walked many kilometres to get to Kandy, on searing tar roads in the blazing heat or if among the ‘fortunate’, you may have got a ride in the back of a truck, also in the scorching sun, manacled and chained, with crazed motorists coming at you left, right and centre, horns blasting furiously. Elephants are known to travel vast distances in the jungle, at their own pace and with their own agenda. They walk under trees and constantly cover their bodies with soft earth to protect their sensitive skin from the sun, and as an insect repellent. Their natural environment does not include tarred road surfaces or four wheel motion. elephants in Sri Lanka

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.

As an elephant, your so-called ‘carer’, 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 artefact. 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.

As an elephant, your sensitive ears will flinch from the noise of drummers, whip crackers, trumpet blowers, loud speakers, ice cream vendors’ horns, and all the cacophony associated with such grand public festivity.

As an elephant walking in procession you will be flanked by thronging crowds on either side of you, a sea of human beings who as your cellular DNA memory will remind you, have only caused you and your species much pain and suffering.

Dear spectator, this year by all means go ahead and enjoy the Perahera, be awestruck by its magnificence for indeed it is a unique spectacle. But as you watch the magnificent elephants file by, spare a thought for their discomfort and suffering. Imagine yourself in their place. Take a moment to remember that elephants are highly intelligent beings, they have feelings, they cry, they have astonishing memory capacity, they nurture their young as we do our babies. Most of all, dear spectator, remember elephants were born to be wild and free. They are not meant to be paraded for our viewing pleasure.

The tradition of including elephants in processions needs to be rethought through awareness-raising. Sri Lankans living in other countries have begun to celebrate such traditions using artificially constructed, beautifully decorated elephants on wheels, proving that it is not necessary to inflict pain or suffering on living animals any more. After all we are supposed to be more enlightened in the 21st century, than our ancestors who first initiated the concept of the Perahera.

If you observe any cruel treatment of the elephants before, during, or after the Kandy Esala Perahera, please take photos and report such instances to DWC Hotline: 1992. You are encouraged to also share your observations on the Say No To Cruelty To Our Elephants of Sri Lanka Facebook page.

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Latest comments

  • 13
    5

    For that group of persons who envy, or do not understand our traditions and pageants,considering them non-essential, preferring that our people work in industrial parks to secure the global dollar, and that elephants be preserved as DNA in DNA-banks to be re-grown in 5,000-years time.Please focus your attention on the following :

    1)Tasering, shooting and incarceration of humans who do not follow regulation.

    2) The new concept of education, of less than 200 years, where children are forced into schools and trained to study – and given medication when they cannot, and/or psychologically and/or at times, physically traumatized?

    3) The painful braces on children’s teeth.

    4) The intense training soldiers go through, and the many punishments metered out to them for not following procedure, and the eventual PTSD many suffer after combat?

    5)That our children are not bonding with their parents for most part of the day, and not roaming around the earth in the happiness of nomadic existence, like what their ancestors did?

    • 11
      3

      RTF,
      You have hit the nail on the head. These Modapalana supporters do not care about children just like their paymasters / NGOs. Whenever there is spotlight on the abuse of animals, there is a universal / global concern on social inequalities and corresponding human rights abuses. And especially the abuse of children. These animal rights concerns and spotlight on abuse selectively are a smoke screen. And politically motivated / carefully orchestrated.
      We will never see the day that Ms. Kadirgama and her followers will take on the cause for abused horses or disadvantaged children!!!!

    • 9
      1

      RTF,
      You have hit the nail on the head. These Modapalana supporters do not care about children just like their paymasters / NGOs. Whenever there is spotlight on the abuse of animals, there is a universal / global concern on social inequalities and corresponding human rights abuses, especially the abuse of children. These animal rights concerns and spotlight on abuse selectively are a smoke screen. And politically motivated / carefully orchestrated.
      We will never see the day that Ms. Kadirgama and her followers will take on the cause for abused horses or disadvantaged children!!!!

  • 11
    3

    [Edited out]She dare not mention the cruelty inflicted on animals in western countries.by slaughtering them for food. Remember Meat has replaced cereal as the staple diet of the west.
    Then she does not mention a word about training horses and greyhound for racing as a sport as well as gambling. She should be asked to comment on another cruel sport practiced in the west of hounding of foxes with hounds,.
    Who does she think she is to criticise 2300 yr old tradition of our close association with elephants. Back here in Sri lanka, she should first comment on thepractice of rearing of pigs in coastal christian belt introduced by prtugese and dutch.This is part of the western conspiracy of CT and christian NGOs to shake the cultural foundation of this country.
    CT and the christian NGO are testing the patience of the decent natives of this country.

  • 8
    5

    Dear Reader. Can you send photos of slaughter of pigs, cows and chicken to this [Edited out] for her album.
    Iaslo would like to know if this woman who is so concerned about animal welfare if a vegetarian or a Vegan

    • 2
      2

      That is a good idea to teach blind people.

  • 7
    5

    Hello People,
    The writer is talking about Sri Lanka. Not whether western countries or whoever is doing worse things with animals.
    There is a point to be made and heard. As long as you don’t feel the pain, it’s OK to inflict on others. So go ahead and criticise the west. Also cricise the west for orderly traffic, queues, politeness on the streets and giving us something called Tea, english, cricket and killing pigs, cattle etc. Yes. I eat meat.

    • 5
      6

      Gamani Perera:

      You are Donkey. Politness ? How much you know ?

      Thank them also HIV-AIDS, Promiscuousness, Drunkardness, drugs, Cirrhosis.

      We believe when you eat meat in this very life you may eat your previous life mother, father,and relatives etc. Unlike the Almighty gods, our beliefs are proven true even form many westerners now.

      So, respect our culture.

  • 9
    4

    Finally we have been able to find a Person to lead or to be the “GESTAPO CHIEF TO CONTROL ANIMAL CRUELTY.”. I wonder, what drove this woman to make such a stupid and insensitive comment. Definitely, she is not a Buddhist. Wonder how many glasses of cheap wine, she has consumed the day before.
    I propose to the CMC, this woman must be appointed as the commissioner of Welfare of Stray Dogs in Colombo City effective immediately. Or perhaps as the Deputy Governor of CB.

  • 13
    3

    No I don’t see any abuse or cruelty here.
    The elephant was trying to attack the elephant next to him. The mahouts had to get him away from the others and calm him down. It can happen with any other animal.
    Suddenly, there seems to be so much hype about elephants and people are going berserk with words. Does that elephant look starved and beaten and ill treated? How do you control when one elephant started to fight with the other ? By petting him? Don’t be ridiculous. The animal is stronger than two buses and the only way the mahout can control him is with the hook. And the real purpose of the hook is not to cause pain but rather to apply strong, clear pressure to very particular control points that the elephant has been trained to react to (stop, turn left, turn right, kneel, stand still, etc.). Maintaining full control over elephants is a key part of the mahout’s job. Beyond ensuring that work will be done properly and efficiently, full control ensures the safety of the mahout, the safety of other humans nearby, and even the safety of the elephant itself.
    Haven’t you seen how elephants are treated while being trained for circuses in your countries. How they use techniques that include stabbing with pitchforks, prodding with electricity and food deprivation. Those elephants mistreated by the hook have usually wounds at the upper ear, the forehead and trunk or to the elbow. This is not at all like that.
    Behind closed doors, walls, cages and in the wild there is much unreported abuse takes place. Animals are tied up and not given the food to eat, hundreds and thousands of animals get slaughtered for the name of God where animal must be awake and experience the pain of death.
    Those are the deliberate cruelty which needs to stop.

    NGOs (non-governmental organizations) say it is ok to do Horseback Rides, Husky dog sled rides, Camel rides, killing cows for meat, Bear hunting, Deer hunting for fun in their countries BUT it’s not ok to ride an elephant in Sri Lanka. I would like to tell you that we love our animals and we live with them for thousands of years and we have a better understanding about them. We do not require advice from any of you or from greedy NGOs. We all have different views and beliefs, we don’t mind you people worshipping Almighty but we don’t want Almighty worshippers and Atheists to criticise our traditional Buddhist Sri Lankan events. We don’t tolerate that. Elephants are the soul symbol of Sri Lankan pride and royalty, ancient Lankan kings led our battles riding elephants, just like westerners rode on horses, there’s an enormous respect for these animals and treated like same as humans, let’s talk about the bloody English Derby where horses are being killed or permanently disabled and put down needlessly and being culled even before they have a life., Let’s talk about the greyhound racing, or the filthy western circuses where animals are treated like shit. Let’s talk about sacrificing animals in the name of God. You people are nothing but bunch of Hippocrates. Stop pointing finger at our sacred traditional events. Keep your pointless biased garbage to your selves.

    I don’t give a hoot about these organisations, they collect money from you and use it for themselves. That money is not used to help the charity in Sri Lanka for which they say it’s for. If they collected $100,000 from your country,90% will be used for their salary and the remainder is donated and used to show what a huge impact they made.

    I support Sri Lanka’s elephant culture and ignore NGOs along with hypocritical westerners.

  • 5
    7

    Most people who have posted comments are idiots. In local terms they are Bombay looking Culcatta. Good article AK. The truth hurts.

    • 9
      3

      My dear you know why “HOOTER” fast food chain is famous in the USA. You may or may not know what is the specific physical attribute displayed by Hooter girls. I believe you and your friend would have got through the initial screening test for a “Hooter” job, but not for commenting about our SINHALA BUDDHIST heritage and centuries old SINHALA BUDDHIST culture.

      We look after our elephants participating in the KANDY BUDDHIST CULTURAL pageant better than you treat your own dog.

      Since the pretentious Buddhists from Colombo’s obnoxious Elite circle have started to roam the corridors of power in Colombo, Cinnamon Garden Gossip Club also have jumped into the campaign of insulting the Sinhala Buddhists and their cultural practices. The truth is being a Hooter you know where your brain is.

      • 6
        4

        HOOTER girls are relevant here, if Agita Kadiragamar wants to be one of those. Instead of eating animal Felsh you can display it.

      • 4
        4

        This is more sinister than that. Since the yahapaanyas came to power , the NGOs have suddenly become the self appointed custodians of elephant welfare,.Buddhist priests have ben remanded in custodyfor possessing elephants. The irreligious primeministers christi a batallion which was ecently promoted to CID is hunting for ny one owning an elephant on the pretext of animal welfare. Their agenda is prevent elephants participating in buddhist ceremonies.; thus eroding gradually the ancient buddhit rituals. Ranil as the primeminister is surrounded by non buddhists. 90’5of his appointees are chritians or catholics. This is a fact, and this could not have occured by chance.
        Heis on a mission to decimate the buddhism in this country.
        Last time he was the primeminister in 2000 half of his 11mrmber cabinet was catholics. This too could not have happed by chance. Iremeber theforeign minister marapana who was a catholic ordered all shops in colombo to decorate theie buildingswith xmas trees and illuminations.
        Of course we know that ranil’s cousin former bishop of kurunegala openly supported the LTTE cause.

        • 2
          1

          My dear Son Ruwan, small correction for;

          “Of course we know that ranil’s cousin former bishop of kurunegala”

          It is not his cousin, he was his father’s( Esmond’s) brother. “Baappa”. Now you understand what is the background of the family. Why “the man” is surrounded by Non-Buddhists and the sworn enemies of Sinhala Buddhists. Don’t get me wrong son, The fellow who came before him; other strongman is no different.

          • 0
            1

            [Edited out]

  • 0
    4

    [Edited out]

  • 0
    3

    [Edited out]

  • 10
    1

    Absolute fact that an elephant does not have a better life in captivity or indenture labour. Why that so hard to see?
    Why is Buddhism and Ahimsa dying out?
    Why is anger, venom and hatred used to convey a counter opinion?
    Why is that over the years a cultural festival has been claimed as a religious one – when it represents very little of the doctrine of that religion?
    Why are we so defensive?
    Why can’t we examine our own practices and improve our ourselves without someone having to point it out?
    And why is that so many people don’t seem to know how to handle a difference in opinion? If the only way through an argument is to hurl insults then it means you have run out of evidence to defend your opinion.

    • 3
      2

      Roshan D

      You are absolutely right

      For a country that trumpets being the last refuge of ‘Buddhism’ so much, it is obvious that it is all just window-dressing and BS

      Compassion, Empathy and civil discourse are no more part of the equation – they left the building a long time ago.

      We are now a bunch of self-centered barbarians and philistines, willing to do any foul thing for the next Rupee.

  • 3
    0

    And they all rush for a bullet train? Hingannage Ratta.

    Aug 17: Four elephants were killed when they were hit by a passenger train in northern Sri Lanka on Wednesday, Police said.

    The elephants were walking towards a newly constructed railway line in Chettikulum, in the Vavuniya district when they were hit by the Colombo bound Thaleimannar Express train.
    No passengers were injured in the accident. Beast men want all forms of transport yet breed like mice is of no moral consequence?

  • 0
    0

    Dankotuwe Maama , so was Kochia Jayawardene , so was banda , so was Chandirka;s husband , so was Percy raja mahinda ,

  • 4
    1

    The Lord Bhudda never wanted to harm any being .So why do we want to harm any animal in the Lord Bhuddas name? The peraheras are done to glorify the Temple and its incumbent High Priest and massage his ego ,rather than to inspire the Dhamma among the people.Just because a Sinhalese Buddhist tradition has been held for many years does not make it right to create suffering of animals even if it causes humans happiness.
    In the same way child marriage in Muslim Qazi courts and Thesavalamai law which controls women are also wrong but it is tradition.Female Genital mutilation is tradition but is it right in the 21st century of enlightenment.

    On the other hand robotic ,life like elephants will not do justice to a medieval pageant like the Nuwara Perahera

  • 0
    2

    Well done Ajitha…. I always admired your hard work….. thank you very much.
    Sandra

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