Pachyderm prince of Bellanwila | Sunday Observer

Pachyderm prince of Bellanwila

Myan Kumara and his mahout Wasantha
Myan Kumara and his mahout Wasantha

Since the time of our powerful monarchs elephants have been closely associated with Buddhist temples. These gentle giants enrich the aura of the temple in a manner that attracts much attention. We have had a history of such tuskers who have faithfully served for years.

The Bellanwila Raja Mahaviharaya has been an important temple for decades. The entry of the present tusker can be traced to the goodwill and love of the late chief incumbent most Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathna Thera. I had had the privilege of meeting this distinguished prelate on several occasions.

The bhikkhu was a scholar and an excellent administrator. He was known as a man who loved and cared for animals. During a visit to Myanmar he had gone to a kraal, in search of a tusker. It is said that a young elephant had actually bowed before the bhikkhu, who immediately realized its potential for temple related duty. In 2013 to the delight of hundreds of devotees the tusker, now named Myan Kumara arrived in Sri Lanka.

When I visited the tusker last Friday evening he was happily indulging in his favourite meal of kitul leaves. Sensing our presence he paused, and extended his trunk in a gesture of friendship. Myan Kumara has grown much since I last saw him. His mahout Wasantha was cutting some coconut palms. Wasantha explained,

“The elephant is now 15 years old. I am taking care of him for the past 2 years. He is quite accustomed to people and has a friendly disposition. We begin our day, taking a walk. He likes this and we walk about 2 kilometres.

Around 1pm I give him his bath. He enjoys being in the cool water. His favourite treat is tamarind”. The young tusker slowly moved forward and tried to playfully take hold of my diary, extending his trunk. He responded to my patting, curling up his trunk, and asking for a treat!

Wasantha, 46, is a native of Wattegama, Kandy, and has been a mahout since 1993, beginning his career as an apprentice looking after elephants at the magnificent Dalada Maligawa. He said, “Myan Kumara is an intelligent tusker. We have taken part twice in the grand Esala Perahera. He was placed third in line. Myan Kuamra travelled to Kandy by lorry. We would stop regularly to feed him.

I think he understands the grandeur and significance of such a spectacular event. We have a costume for him. It was a new experience for him, being around other tuskers who were well accustomed to the pageant. As you know the karanduwa is carried by the famous king of elephants, Nadungamuwe Raja.

“There is another female elephant named Manika who is around 50 years. She also takes part in some temple rituals at Bellanwila. She travels from Wadduwa. Myan Kumara has carried the karanduwa at this temple and we continue to train him”.

This young tusker has undertaken a sacred duty for the rest of his life. He is loved by all the bhikkhus in the temple and is part of the identity of the Bellanwila Raja Mahaviharaya. Hundreds of local and foreign devotees visit the temple daily and take time to see the gentle giant. He continues to sustain an elegant Buddhist tradition and enhances the grandeur associated with the perehara.