The Lede
Court Versus Prayers: Chinnathambi Arrives In Search of Water
Tamil Nadu

Court Versus Prayers: Chinnathambi Arrives In Search of Water

A Joseph

A Joseph

Tribals are offering prayers to their ancestral elephant Gods to bring Chinnathambi back to his home as the Forest Department wants to take him to camp

The Tamil Nadu Forest Department on Monday told the Madras High Court that there was no option before them but to capture 25-year-old male wild elephant Chinnathambi and send him to an elephant camp.

Two PILs filed last week on the issue of what needs to be done with Chinnathambi was heard jointly by a bench comprising Justices Manikumar and Subramania Prasad.

Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) of Tamil Nadu Sanjay Kumar Srivastava told the court that despite efforts to translocate the elephant into the forests, he kept returning to human habitations.

WWF wildlife conservation expert Ajay Desai was tasked by the Forest Department with preparing a report on what needed to be done with Chinnathambi. In his report submitted to the court, Desai made a few observations.

“Thus elephants like Vinayagan and Chinnathambi not only create conflict but other younger elephants which follow them also learn to become crop raiders. In particular, Chinna Thambi is known to have several younger males following it for crop raiding and when it enters into villages and human habitation. There are several videos of it entering human settlements with other younger males and some even show it doing this in daylight. If Chinna Thambi is not managed it will teach the same behaviour to all the younger males which follow it and in a few years these males will grow up and teach the same behaviour to other younger males and so on. Thus severe conflict will multiply with time.”

Read the full report of Ajay Desai here
Read the full report of Ajay Desai here

Desai recommends that Chinnathambi be taken captive and trained in an elephant camp so that his crop raiding behaviour is not passed on to other wild elephants.

The Lede had already reported on how Chinnathambi had not behaved like a wild elephant but headed straight to human habitations upon being released in the Anamalai Tiger Reserve in the wee hours of February 01.

Tribals Pray For Chinnathambi’s Return

The Irula tribals of Anaikatti, Coimbatore district worship wild elephants. They don’t use the word “yaanai” that Tamils normally do for the pachyderms. Tribals instead, refer to elephants as either ‘Periyavar’ (the elderly one) or ‘Raja’ (king).

When they see a ‘Raja’ eating raw tamarind, these tribals ensure that they provide water for the elephant as it is bound to get thirsty soon after.

Anaikatti is one of the villages where wild elephants frequently enter into villages from the forests.

In the village of Panappalli near Anaikatti, tribals have built a temple for the ‘Raja’ and four generations of tribals have been worshipping there.

Tribals here believe that one has to live in harmony with wildlife and this is the reason they want captured elephant Chinnathambi to be brought back to his home, near Anaikatti. In order for this to happen, they are now offering special prayers at their ‘Raja’ temple.

While Forest Department officials and wildlife experts say that it is impossible for Chinnathambi to be sent back into the wild again, the tribals of Anaikatti disagree.

The current descendant of the tribals who built the century-old Raja temple spoke to The Lede. “It is in the elephant’s path that farms, cows and goats are now present,” said Pathuvan, the priest who now conducts prayers here. “For four generations we have been conducting poojas at this temple. My ancestors carried this statue from Karamadai and brought it here on foot. Initially we were praying to ‘Periyavar’ (elephant) by keeping his statue under a tree. After that I built a small structure and kept ‘Siriyavar’ (smaller elephant). In this world, we cannot claim ownership over everything, saamy (respectful term used for males in the area). That is why since the time of our ancestors we have been worshipping Vinayagar. There is no more powerful force than Him,” said Pathuvan.

Pathuvan offering special prayers at the century-old tribal ‘Raja’ temple where the deity is an elephant

“We conduct weekly poojas and once a year, during Purattasi (Tamil month), we collect forest produce and offer it to the deity. Where we find elephant footprints, we place some coins as offerings, conduct poojas and then tie the coins in a cloth and hang it outside our homes or in the temple.

Earlier the non-tribals used to participate in our rituals by offering whatever produce they cultivated. When we did all this, the Rajas (wild elephants) never used to destroy anything. Even if they come to our land, we would fold our palms and say ‘Poyidu Raja’ (Please go away Raja) and the elephant would leave.

Once Raja (an elephant) came to my house. “Please go away quietly without disturbing us” – my wife and I told him. The elephant left without even looking back.

Now a lot of things have changed. The non-tribals do not conduct poojas anymore. We burst crackers now to drive them away. We pelt stones at them. We force those without anger to get angry.”

He continued with his special pooja in prayer of Chinnathambi returning home safely.

Pathuvan’s special prayers at the ‘Raja’ temple for Chinnathambi to come back home safe

“If he wants to, he can finish all of us. He has the courage and the strength to conquer an army. But Chinnathambi did not hurt even a drunken man who was annoying him. It is not a good idea for us to anger him. Chinnathambi is a very good soul, saamy.

We humans, despite having everything, we wail that we do not have enough. When they (elephants) don’t find anything, they will come to us for food, won’t they? What we give them is our sacrifice, saamy.

In September last year, Chinnathambi came to our field. “Eat whatever you want and leave some for us,” I told him. He ate well. My wife arrived and saw this. “If you eat everything, what will we do Raja? Now you leave this place,” she told Chinnathambi. The next second he left the place. After that Chinnathambi never visited us.”

“He is bound by truth. He is capable of coming back here no matter who opposes him. Nothing should happen to him. He was roaming around like a king, to cage him is a sin. Let him live in freedom. That is enough,” said the old tribal priest.

Chinnathambi Arrives In Search of Water

In the meanwhile, Chinnathambi who had been gorging on sugarcane in the fields behind the Amaravathi Sugar Mills in Krishnapuram, Tirupur district, decided to come out into the open fields in search of water.

Forest Department officials are worried that he could cross over to the neighbouring district of Dindigul if he is allowed to wander for too long in search of water.

Chinnathambi comes out of the sugarcane field in search of water as Forest Department officials monitor his movements

The court will continue hearings on Tuesday and Chinnathambi’s fate is likely to swing the way of the Forest Department. However, protestors are unwilling to give up.

Activists, wildlife enthusiasts and villagers of Thadagam and Anaikatti submitted a petition to the Coimbatore Collector today demanding that Chinnathambi be brought back to Thadagam and left free to roam here.