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Elephant Marriappan - a true story.

This is the true story of Marriappan, an elephant from Tamil Nadu. Marriappan is a huge male elephant with lovely long tusks. His tusks are his pride and joy, milky white in colour and running parallel to each other. If Veerapan had his moustache, Marriapan has his tusks.
Marriappan was born in the tranquil surroundings of the Kozhikamudhi Elephant Camp located in the pristine forests better known as Top Slip in the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, near Pollachi, Tamil Nadu. The camp is situated in a lovely valley with a perennial river (Varagaliyar) flowing nearby. There is a settlement for elephant-men (mahouts/cawadis) within the camp, who were a part and parcel of his upbringing.
While everyone knew who is mother was there were some doubts as to the identity of his father. His mother Sivagami would interact with wild elephants, and so there was the possibility that Marriappan’s father was a wild male. The two camp elephants, Kaleem and IG-1 could also have been his father especially IG-1 who was often seen with Sivagami. However such mundane matters did not seem to bother Marriappan as he grew up in these idyllic surroundings. He did not want for company as he had a large family in the other camp elephants and an extended family comprising of the mahouts and cawadis all of whom he knew well and who in turned cared for him. It was all a baby elephant born in captivity could ask for. He lived in natural surroundings, enjoyed long and frequent walks in the forest along with his mother and other members of his family and he especially enjoyed playing and frolicking in the river.
This idyllic childhood was interrupted for a short period when he was around two years old. Like all children Marriappan had to attend school! He was separated from his mother and began to be conditioned to lead an independent life as well as to be trained to be part of a work force. After this initial period of schooling, Marriappan returned to live with his mother and the rest of his family and all seemed right with his world.
At the age of seven Marriappan was moved to the Arulmighu Mariamman temple in Samayapuram, Trichy and he found himself, for the first time in his life, in unfamiliar surroundings. Gone were the beautiful forest that was his home. He now lived in an urban jungle. The soft ground was replaced by hard cement and he was no longer able to go for long leisurely walks in the forest nor was he able to frolic in the river. Instead he was assailed by strange rumbling and honking sounds – his new home was located along the busy Trichy-Chennai National Highway.
However, like most children, after an initial period of uncertainty what with the pain of separation from his family, a different diet and daily routine, Marriappan seemed to adjust to his new home and even made friends with his new mahout and his family. He was cheerful and playful by nature and this worked to his advantage. Soon he became one of the more popular members of the temple community, especially among the many visitors, and was allowed to roam free within the temple compound. In 2003, at the age of fourteen, Marriapan took his first official holiday - to the elephant Rejuvenation Camp in the Mudumalai Forest camp.
However by this time Marriappan had grown into adulthood. He was a magnificent specimen; he had developed a large tall body and his now famous tusks. All this made him look quite intimidating and he began to initiate fear among the public and even his mahout. At around this time Marriappan began to show a change in behaviour which was bought about his change in lifestyle. The consequences were severe. To ensure safety for the public and the mahout’s lack of confidence in handling the animal, Mariappan was chained. His unintentional behaviour was considered a threat and he was condemned to a life in chains. He would serve seven years.
For seven years he was isolated from everything and everyone and kept constantly chained. He was totally neglected and his cell would not be cleaned, dung and urine would pile up. His diet changed and he was given monotonously repetitive food. Water was provided through hose pipes- a far cry from the river he was used to. To add insult to injury he would be tranquilised on yearly bases to enable his mahout to either tighten his chains or to clean out his cell. It was the worst form of solitary confinement ever melted out to anybody. A living hell.
After being subjected to such treatment for seven years the temple authorities decided that they could not handle him anymore and requested the Forest Department to shift Marriappan from the temple. The department came up with various options but for various reasons these failed. It was at this time that a Court directive was issued with regard to temple elephants. Mariappan was to be transferred to the Arignar Anna Zoological Park or the Vandalur zoo in Chennai. His sentence was coming to an end.
Careful arrangements were made to shift Marriappan which included a through medical check-up, which was long overdue. His new home was prepared to accommodate him, special attention was paid to making him feel comfortable and to familiarise him with his new handlers. A female elephant form the temple, who was known to Marriappan, helped him make the transition.
In his new home, in infinitely better suuroundings and with better treatment Marriappan responded positively. He accepted his new handlers and was soon allowed them to touch his tusks and was in turn allowed to graze by tying a single chain. A far cry from the dangerous beast he was made out to be! Soon he was socialising with an adult female and five juveniles. He was revitalized, allowed to roam freely and given small work such as lifting and carrying fodder, walking around the zoo; this improved Marriappan’s physical and mental health. Eventually he resumed his education by attending a week long crash course!
The icing on the cake and the happy ending to his story was soon to follow. After spending two months at the zoo, it was decided that Marriappan should return home- to the very place where he was born and spent the best days of his life – the elephant camp at Top Slip, where he would be reunited with his mother.
Marriappan now lives in Top Slip where he spends his day roaming in the forests of his childhood. He is allowed to graze free in the forest from 9.300 AM to 4.00 Pm, in the company of his mother Sivagami and her female companions. During the night he is tied to a tree with a ten meter long chain, with grass and mud as bedding in contrast to being chained within a concrete room for seven years without any opportunity to walk or move out of its confinement. He receives two sumptuous meals a day which takes care of his nutritional requirements.
At present Marriappan does no work but is being trained to be a koonkie. The Anamalai forest camp specialises in koonkie operations and Mariappan’s height and tusks make him a potential candidate. Any male elephant born in this camp or any tusker brought to this camp is trained to be a koonkie. Mariappan too is being considered for this task and this could well be his future calling in life.
Mariappan only fault seemed to be his size and intimidating appearance. Due to this and the reluctance of his then mahout, reluctance born out of ignorance and fear, he was put through seven years in hell. It is a credit to him and his kind that despite such cruelty at the hands of man, Marriappan shows no trace of animosity. He is now as docile as can be and even allows his mahouts young son , a mere toddler , to handle him.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 24th, 2011 09:48 am (UTC)
great story..
Such an amazingly tender, insightful, beautifully told story. Thanks, Vikram Namjappa.
Jun. 24th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC)
Wonderful tale. May I please share this with some friends?
Jun. 25th, 2011 03:52 am (UTC)
Please go ahead.
Jun. 27th, 2011 08:09 am (UTC)
I'm glad there is a happy ending for Mariappan. Mariappan being chained and his torturous 7 years reminds me of the elephants at Dubare Elephant camp, Madikeri.
Jul. 15th, 2011 05:06 am (UTC)
Fantastic story! Halfway through I was desperately hoping for a happy ending and was glad when i got it!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


Vikram Nanjappa

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