FACTS & FIGURES
Time of the year - March (9 March 2001)
The Elephant Festival is a unique event held annually in Jaipur, the capital of the north Indian state of Rajasthan. Groomed to perfection, glittering in gold, row upon row of elephants catwalk before an enthralled audience. The elephants move gracefully in procession, run races, play the regal game of polo, and finally participate in the spring festival of Holi. It is festival time for the elephants.
There are deadly and fierce elephant fights in the Jaipur Chaugan or polo field, the venue of the Elephant Festival. During Holi, the Chaugan is brought alive with elephants, dancers, musicians, and onlookers from the entire globe. The festival starts with an impressive procession of the majestic animals lovingly painted and tastefully attired with glittering ornaments and embroidered velvets.
The echoing sound of the bankiya (trumpet) fills the atmosphere. A ceremonial procession is recreated with caparisoned elephants, lancers on horses, chariots, camels, cannons, and palanquins. The large beast is the center of attraction in the many races and beauty pageants.
Strangely, most of the participants are female elephants. The mahouts (elephant keepers) take great care to decorate the elephants-painting their trunks, foreheads, and feet with floral motifs and adorning them from tusk to tail with interesting trinkets. The mahouts were employed in the Phil Khana, the department of elephant in the royal administration. They played an important role until the princely state was incorporated into the Union and the department because redundant. They, however, have continued their association with the elephants.
The game of polo forms the highlight of the festival. Dressed in saffron and red turbans, the teams try to score goals with long sticks and a plastic football.
Finally, the tourists are invited to mount the elephants and play Holi. Participants dance with great vigor-the excitement rising to a crescendo.
The Jataka stories of Buddhism refer to the tradition of Hastimangala (the Elephant Festival). A royal mount from time immemorial, the elephant has also been a symbol of strength and wealth. For the Rajput kings, the elephants were of especial significance not only during war but also during the royal festivities-a must at royal pageant. Nishan-ka-hathi, the flag carrier, led the procession. The king always mounted a caparisoned elephant. Special hunting programs and elephant fights were organized to entertain the royal guests. Jaipur was a favorite with the important personalities of the British Raj and the Maharajas always arranged for their guests of honor elephant rides up to the Amber palace. Even today, the mahouts take tourists up to the Amber Palace on elephant back.
Rajasthan Tourism revived the tradition by including the Elephant Festival in the cultural calendar. The present-day pageant, originated only a decade ago, was devised especially with the tourist in mind. The inclusion of the game of polo is more recent, being inspired by a cartoon in Punch magazine that showed the Indian polo team atop an elephant after it won all the international tournaments. Every year on the day after Holi, the old stadium at Jaipur, the Chaugan (originally planned for elephants), forms the venue for a spectacular jamboree.
PLACES TO VISIT
The elephant festival is the specialty of the state of Rajasthan. Like the Desert Festival of Jaisalmer, the Elephant Festival of Jaipur has become a major draw for the tourists. Given the importance of the elephant in the socio-cultural milieu of the state of Rajasthan, tourists can rest assured that they are in for some great Indian festivities and fun in Jaipur.