Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Sunday, March 3, 2024

Celebrating the life of a gentle giant












A revered figure across religions, cultures and borders, India's affair with elephants dates back to almost three million years. Mythologies, paintings, literatures, performances, films have all been full of tales of its magnificence. Even Kautilya's Arthashastra talks about ‘Gaja Vanas’, integral to the forests as well as the survival of the ecosystem. The country is home to 60% of Asian elephant population of the world. And yet, despite this status, somehow, we have managed to meddle with its right to walk the earth. It is estimated that the human-elephant conflict in India leads to approximately a 100 pachyderms getting killed every year. Creating awareness is perhaps the least we can do, highlighting its right to passage. 



This week, Delhi will witness a four-day long festival dedicated to the Asian elephant, tracing its journey from mythology to the present. Called Gaj Mahotsav, a part of the Gaj Yatra campaign, it will be organised by the Wildlife Trust of India in association with the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change in partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and United Nations Environment. Says writer and art curator Ina Puri, one of the curators, “The importance of having an event of this scale and magnitude will focus much needed attention on the crucial need to review the elephant corridors across our lands. It is time we look at this as a national environmental crisis that is threatening the existence of elephants in our forests.” 



The festival will have eight segments – Gaja Shastra, Gaja Dharma, Bala Gaja, Gaja Yatra, Gajotsava, Gaja Gamini and Airavata. Gaja Yatra will showcase 101 artists and their installations, which will later be placed in important public places across the country. “Each work is distinct and unique, drawing upon the memory and personal associations of the artist to the elephant,” says Puri. Debasish Mukherjee uses textile and weaves an exquisite postage stamp with the motif of the elephant. Gopal Namjoshi’s installation brings out the grace and might of the majestic mammal. Shalina Vichitra evokes memory with a delicately created assemblage of ceramic figures depicting the elephant. Narayan Chandra Sinha calls his work Bhalobasha or love and his bronze elephants in diverse shapes and sizes show the gentler, loving side of the animal, otherwise so maligned. Sulu Mathews' work is dedicated to the elephant family, a mother walks keeping an alert eye on her young ones. Baiju Parthan's brilliant work is about social tensions and takes a critical view of the ongoing crisis that is threatening the fragile ecological balance in our environment. “The painting, sculpture and works in diverse mediums, all with the leitmotif of the elephant, connect the real and mythical worlds powerfully. Collectively, there is a sense of anxiety and unease and we must together resolve the crisis is what our message is,” underlines Puri. 




History of domestication




Acclaimed filmmaker Mike Pandey has worked on the segment Gaja Gamini, which talks about elephants in cinema. Pandey says that no other country in the world has a history of domestication of the elephant. “Indian Elephants are revered as a symbol of divinity. They were easy to domesticate. Habitat loss has put them in trouble now,” explains Pandey. For Gaja Gamini, films such as The Last Migration(1994) by Pandey and The Vanishing Giants(2002) by Ritambara Rana, and written by Pandey, will be showcased. “The Last Migration is also the first man-animal conflict story, a fight for food and space. I feel that social media platforms and public broadcasters like Doordarshan can play a crucial role in showcasing these documentaries and in dissemination of information and generating awareness,” says Pandey. 



Gaja Yatra has artists from many parts of the country. “Falguni Gokhale, for instance, is a graphic designer and an artist. On the body of the elephant she has illustrated the many stories and myths about the mythical Airavat who emerged from the ocean as a result of the Samudra Manthan. Naresh Kapuria has made an elephant like a rocking horse and Puja Kshatriya has made a beautiful elephant with a golden gilded hue,” informs Alka Pande, art critic, author, and one the curators for the festival. 



The segment on Gaja Sutra will be a symposium by journalists who will share stories from the print and electronic media, curated and facilitated by media persons like Jay Mazoomdar and Bahar Dutt. Gaja Shastra will have discussions on parts of the policy makers and bureaucrats. 



Gaja Dharma, as the name suggests, will be about elephants in religious traditions, wherein spiritual and religious leaders and scholars will share their insights, curated by Buddhist scholar, practitioner and teacher, Shantum Seth. “Dharma has eternal relevance, beyond time. Spirituality has an important role in our society. It is not about how it is relevant to our day to day life, but how it has always been relevant as long as humans have existed. If we look within ourselves, we are not separate from the elephant. We are one, we share the eco-system, same planet and what we do, say, think, affects everything including the elephant. Elephant is often used as symbol of how to train your mind in the Indo-civilization religions like Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Hinduism,” states Seth. Bala Gaja is a segment for the children, storytelling, painting, shadow puppetry, clay modelling and cartooning workshops by noted personalities such as Bulbul Sharma, Surendra Verma, Dadi Pudumjee and Rohan Chakravarty. 



Gajotsava will celebrate the grace of elephants in performing arts, serving as the closing ceremony for each day. Stalwarts like Astad Deboo, Mallika Sarabhai and Saroja Vaidyanathan will present 'Gaja' themed performances. In keeping with the festive season, visitors will have an opportunity of pledging their support to the cause of #RightOfPassage by tying a symbolic thread of allegiance (a rakhi) to an elephant sculpture at the venue.








Source: The Hindu