elephants on parade

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At last India has taken a correct step in giving up the use of elephants on their military parade.

Elephants are not meant to go on parades or religious processions. In Lanka we see them regularly on Buddhist temple procession and yet we all accept that a true Buddhist woudl not harm or hurt any living creature!

Here is an article i wrote sometime ago

not so wonderful Thailand

daya dissanayake

Thailand is a wonderful country. Wonderful people. Wonderful markets. Wonderful temples. That is how i saw it on my previous visits. Unfortunately during my last visit i was in the wrong place at the wrong time, which shattered my ideas about Wonderful Thailand. It was my second visit to Ayuthaya. What i remembered from my first visit was the wonderful legacy left behind by the earlier rulers and the beautiful temples and the ruins of a bygone era. This time i saw something i had missed on my first visit. The elephant rides.

There was the mahout seated right in front, and behind him on the chair was a couple of Europeans. They were laughing. They were having a ride of their life. Something they could always talk about, and tell their grand children someday. They would have arrived in Thailand by air, stayed at a star class hotel in Bangkok and driven to Ayuthaya in a luxury car. They could have seen the ruins of Ayuthaya from the car, in air-conditioned comfort. But they found it more enjoyable, riding the elephant, under the hot mid day sun. They did not mind the heat and the dust and the shaky ride. It was fun. It was fully worth the money they had paid for the ride, and the visit to Thailand.

The mahout and the owner of the elephant earned money. It was a great tourist attraction. It helped bring in more dollars and euros and yen. It was good business, all round.

Then my eyes went to the elephant. He was very young. Two small tusks had started growing. I looked at his eyes. At first i though he was blind, but then saw that he had his eyes almost shut, either in pain, boredom or sheer disgust. The chair was an iron contraption, crudely made, with cushions for the human beasts seated on it. There was some kind of sheet or carpet under the chair on the elephant's back. I could not see if it was padded and thick enough to soften the pressure of the iron frame of the chair. The iron bars would be pressing on the back of the elephant, rubbing his skin as the chair swayed with every step he took.

His feet were bare. Elephants did not wear shoes or sandals. Their feet were meant to walk on bare earth, over fallen leaves and grass and little shrubs and on mud and sand. Today this elephant had to walk on asphalt and concrete, growing hotter as the sun moved over them.

My eyes followed the poor elephant and the human beasts riding the elephant. Without any prodding by the mahout the elephant trudged along the pavement, crossed the road to enter a small open area. I thought he had stopped to put the beasts down, but it was only so he could turn around and begin his return journey. He crossed the road once more at the same place and walked along the pavement, unmindful of all the people and all the cars and busses and trucks moving past him.

How could he be so unmindful, when his lungs would be coated with exhaust fumes and dust and the noise hammering into his ears all the time. His nostrils were meant to detect the smells of the jungle, of other animals and his sources of food and water. His ears were meant to detect the slight foot falls of other animals and the singing of the birds in the forest.

I watched the elephant disappear around the next corner only to see another elephant walking towards me. The elephant looked older. There was a young woman and her child on the elephant, behind the mahout. The mother was pointing out the ruins by the road side to the child. They were happy, she looked a kind and devoted mother and the child's eyes reflected the love for his mother.

The mother did not see that this elephant too would be a mother. That her baby elephant would have been taken away from her soon as he could be put to work. That probably the calf never had a happy childhood, playing with other baby elephants and roaming around freely in the forest and the grassland and in the rivers.

The elephant would have seen the mother and the child, reminding her of her own children, and perhaps wondering where they would be this day. The elephant followed the same path as the earlier animal, turned back to retraced her steps along the pavement.

How many times would these elephants walk this path, i tried to guess. I had no idea when they would start their day and if they ever had any break during the day. Perhaps they would have a little rest when the mahout stopped for a drink or a meal, unless he had it as they walked along with the human load on the elephant's back. I did not want to ask from the mahout or from anyone else about this, because i did not wish to learn the worst, that the elephants never stopped for any rest or food till evening. Or did they work through the night too, till as long as tourists flocked to this ancient city.

The elephants reminded me of squirrels in circular cages, running not stop as the cage revolved. They reminded me of caged lions and tigers, walking round and round their small cage in the zoo, ignoring the beasts who came to look at them.

I thought that we in Sri Lanka were torturing our elephants in the name of the Buddha, when we paraded them during temple processions and festivals. But the Sri Lankan elephants were lucky in that they had to suffer this only a few times a year. The Thai elephants had to suffer it everyday.

All life is sacred. All animals, man or beast, feel pain, get tired, thirsty and hungry. All animals wish to live in their natural habitat, among their own kind, with their own families.

Have the Thai's forgotten the word of the Buddha about Ahimsa? Or have they started to believe that Bhatt is more important than Buddha?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7832506.stm

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