A unique, ‘elephantine’ experience in downtown Nugegoda, Sri Lanka

Returning home on Sunday late in the morning along the High Level road, I noticed that there was elephant dung on the side of the road and I surmised that there was a tame elephant walking along the road somewhere in front of me (in Sri Lanka it is not uncommon to see tame elephants being walked along the road, going on some errand accompanied by its mahout). From the quantity of dung on the roadside I guessed that this should be a large mature elephant.

A few minutes later I spotted a crowd by the side of the road, and I noticed that they were all watching an elephant which seemed to be in the front yard of a house by the side of the road. I stopped my car and walked up to see the elephant, I was quite astonished to find that it was indeed a very large mature male elephant with two of the most magnificent tusks I had seen. I realized immediately that this was no ordinary elephant since tuskers (even with regular small tasks) are quite rare in Sri Lankan elephants.

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The elephant had stopped for a drink of water and the house owners had willingly allowed the mahout to bring the elephant inside, and given it a large barrel of water to drink from.

When I spoke to the mahout I realized, as expected, that this was no run–of–the–mill elephant. It was none other than the famous Nadun Gamuwe Wijaya Raja one of the few elephants who are eligible to carry the scared relics of the Lord Buddha in the annual world famous Kandy Perahara (pageant). Only a very elite chosen few, who have several specific physical and behavioural characteristics can aspire to carry the sacred relics in procession, and today there are only four such captive elephants available in Sri Lanka.

This explained the excitement and interest shown by the passers-by, since to Buddhists, this elephant could be considered sacred, by virtue of the fact that he is the bearer of the Lord Buddha’s relics at the pageant. In fact I saw people rushing to buy watermelon and whole combs of banana to feed the elephant, which some of them felt would be a very meritorious act.

After a good drink of water and quenching his thirst Raja moved out on to the High Level Road, to continue his journey to a temple some 50 kms away, causing traffic jams, because all the vehicles were slowing down to watch this magnificent sight.

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 I followed closely behind the mahout and the other helpers, who then decided to give Raja a rest and directed the elephant towards the car park of a large clothing store. Here in the shade, Raja rested, since the mid-day sun was extremely hot, and walking on the road tarmac would have been quite uncomfortable.

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Crowds continued to gather as Raja calmly broke off branches from the adjacent houses and ate them.



It was indeed a very unique sight to be so close to such a magnificent and calm animal. He must have been easily over 12 feet in height and emanated calm demeanor. At the same time I could sense sheer of power and majesty. There was no agitated swinging of the trunk or his head, as one sees tame elephants doing most of the time. He just stayed silently, with just his ears flapping (to keep himself cool) while he patiently broke off branches and munched on them.