|Sunday, 16 February 2003|
Good bye, Kandula!
by T. V. Perera
It was Friday, October 18. Standing under the porch of the Sri Lanka Light Infantry Regiment at Panagoda, I fed him apples, pineapples, plantains and more. He crunched and swallowed them gleefully. In a matter of minutes the tray of fruits was over. Here was Kandula the Fifth, the Mascot of the Regiment, enjoying what was to be his last regimental tray of fruits. In a short while from now he would be removed to his new home at Pinnawala, as he has been classified as 'too big' to continue as the mascot.
The name Kandula is associated with the history of ancient Lanka. It is recorded that King Dutugemunu who unified the island, rode to war with the Dravidians on the back of a majestic tusker named Kandula. Although Dutugemunu had his mighty warriors, the dravidians were well fortified in a large and strong fortress which kept the Sinhala army at bay. Kandula, then set the Herculean task of crushing down the fortress, had charged with such fiery force and power which crumbled the fort and brought out the Dravidians, who were no match for Dutugemunu's army.
When Colonel Richard Udugama was the Commanding Officer of the then 1st Battalion, The Ceylon Light Infantry, a baby elephant was acquired from the Dehiwala zoo in 1961. Christened Kandula, after Dutugemunu's famous elephant, he was expertly trained and performed ceremonial functions perfectly for more than six years, to the admiration of many from all walks of life. He grew as an elephant would until he was pronounced 'over size' and was replaced by a second baby elephant, with the name Kandula being traditionally adopted.
In similar fashion came and went Kandula III and IV. In April 1991 a team of wildlife officers came across an abandoned baby elephant, about 2 years of age, in the Bibile jungles, and handed him over to the elephant orphanage at Pinnawala. He was subsequently brought to the SLLI Regiment Headquarters in August 1993 as the mascot, named Kandula V and 'recruited' in the rank of a Private.
In keeping with the regimental motto of 'I Will Serve' he did his best in retaining the pride of the elegant Light Infantry Regiment, gradually rose-up to the rank of Sergeant Major and was now 'retiring' for which, a befitting ceremony had been organised.
An hour earlier, all soldiers and officers participating in the parade including Kandula V himself, had lined-up on the tarmac. Sharp at 9.15 a.m. the bass drummer banged his big drum, signalling the start of the events. Mascot Kandula marched in front stepping to the music of the band, with 100 Infantrymen and 2 Officers following, onto the nearby parade ground and stood at the head of the line-up. He had done this many a time before, even at national level parades as well as guards of honour, prominent among which were those presented to Pope John Paul in 1995, and to Prince Charles who visited Sri Lanka for the 50th Independence celebrations in 1998.
The strings of medals and the 'spit and polish' boots of the soldiers on parade, commanded by Major P. J. Priyantha glittered in the sunlight. This was a special parade that one would witness only about once in a decade. In fact this was a guard of honour that was being presented to Kandula V. From the head of the line-up from where he stood Kandula walked and stood by the saluting dais on which Colonel Janaka Masakkara, the Regimental Commander had by that time mounted.
As far as Kandula was concerned, this was something strange. All these years he had stood in line with the troops, and was part and parcel of the parade. Elephants are intelligent animals. It did not take long for Kandula to realize that this was his last regimental activity; that the regiment was bidding him good-bye. He swayed restlessly. Stretching out his trunk, he scraped the earth in front of him, collected the sand in the curl of his trunk and splashed it onto the under-part of his body as if to say, 'I am part of this regiment ground'.
That he was in a state of emotion, was quite evident. On being invited by the parade commander to inspect the guard of honour as military formalities would have it, Kandula accompanied by his keeper, walked upto the head of the parade and then, with measured steps down the line, with Major Priyantha following in 'goose step'.
Having inspected the parade Kandula marched slowly back to his position near the saluting dais, and for the very last time, lifted his trunk and trumpeted. That was his way of telling every soldier in the regiment, "Thank you for every thing".
"Centre, Open Or...der...March" the voice of Major Priyantha thundered across the parade ground, and with military precision the troops on parade, divided, forming a gap in the middle. The final moment had arrived.
It was time to go; to go in military style. The band struck 'Auld lang syne'. All eyes were on Kandula, who appeared rooted near the dais. The regiment was too sacred for him to leave.
Then very slowly with calculated timing, he moved forward in a straight line until he reached the centre-path the lines of troops had created for him. Here he paused for a brief moment, and then dragged himself through the path. All spectators had by this time, arisen from their seats.
There was not a whisper. Kandula V was going. Good-bye Kandula, Good bye!
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