About 38 mahout-artists from UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and Gujarat join hands to decorate 18 to 21 elephants for Rath Yatra

Priya Adhyaru-Majithia

Mahant Jagdishdas (left) and other artists fill shades of scarlet into the basic white sketch made to decorate the animal for Rath Yatra

In the build up to the 136th Rath Yatra, a riot of colours and celebrations galore at the Jagannath Temple. To follow the special tradition of Gaj Shringaar, about 38 mahout-artists from UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and Gujarat have combined their talents to decorate 18 to 21 elephants.

The happy beginnings of the Rath Yatra procession are seen in elephants being painted and tastefully attired with artful motifs and embroidered velvets. The excitement rises to a crescendo in Gaj Shringar with use of vibrant colours, textiles, flowers and bells.

Lotus, Sun God, kalash, flowers, creepers – the traditional Indian motifs are painted in acrylic colours using shades of scarlet, yellow, parrot green and blue on elephants. This special custom is a prelude to the Rath Yatra, which is incomplete without its decorated elephants.

Elephants have always held an important place in our society as Lord Ganesha, the elephant- headed Hindu deity, is considered the lord master of all ceremonies and happy beginnings, explains Mahant Jagdishdas, one of the master elephant caretakers appointed by the mandir.

Under him a team of 38 to 40 mahoutartists tirelessly work from 6 am to 8 pm to freshly paint and decorate about 18 to 21 elephants for the Rath Yatra procession every year. The mahout-artists take great pride in decorating the elephants for the occasion.

“Elephant painting is an auspicious art like doing rangoli,” said Naresh Rajput, a mahout in the care of temple elephants for past 30 years. This is a special art form practised by mahouts to decorate elephants for religious processions and festivities.

“For Rath Yatra, about 38 to 40 mahouts from UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and Gujarat have combined their talents to decorate 18 to 21 elephants. Using acrylic colours with wall paint brushes, they first make a sketch treating the animal as a live canvas and later they fill it with vibrant colours to create lively ambience for the festivities. Painting one elephant requires about 3 artists and demands about four hours,” he said.

Mita Mehta, 37, businesswoman and painting-enthusiast, who has been participating in the painting of the yatra elephants for past 17 years, said, “Elephant painting is spontaneous art and expression of joy and excitement.

The way walls are painted using geru, abhala and other traditional colours prior to auspicious occasions such as marriage, similarly, elephants are decorated for festivities and processions. Painting elephants demands a huge amount of patience as they tend to move a lot unlike enthusiastic women getting mehendi done on their hands and feet.”


The story appeared on page 8-9 of Ahmedabad Mirror on July 10

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