This Indian Temple is Sparing Elephants by Replacing them with Beautiful Wooden Jeevathas

This Indian Temple is Sparing Elephants by Replacing them with Beautiful Wooden Jeevathas

Although elephants are endangered, it’s common to use them in rituals and processions in the state of Kerala, India. One local temple has decided to go against the grain, announcing at the start of February that they will use wooden structures called Jeevathas to take the place of elephants. Although the temple’s leaders cited safety concerns as the reason for their decision to stop using elephants, the decision is welcome for anyone who cares about elephant welfare.

Map of Karala, India

Map of Kerala by Saravask, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Elephants dressed in caparisons and paraded during festival

Typically, elephants parade during a 7-day festival and are decorated with caparisons – an ornamental covering. The elephants’ dress is elaborate, but also unnatural for the elephant. Parading in front of many people, who also sing and play instruments, is a stressful situation for the elephants, which can be dangerous for ritual participants or onlookers.

“I personally like to watch the elephant parade,” local resident K.S. Sreekumari told Deccan Chronicle, the Indian newspaper that originally reported the change. “However, I respect the devaswom’s decision as the parade poses a huge risk.”

Temple authorities switch to wooden structures instead of elephants

Jeevathas are made from wood and don’t look anything like elephants. Their purpose is to carry idols that often represent or honor the god in question. Handles make it easy to carry the structure between two people in a parade by mounting it on the shoulders, which is already a common practice at the southern tip of the state of Kerala, Travancore.

In Hinduism, god has many faces. Nalpathenneeswaram Sree Mahadeva Temple is especially dedicated to a specific form of Shiva called Kiraathamoorthy, where the god is typically depicted as a hunter. Before ceasing to use elephants, the temple’s administration performed an astrology-based ritual to consult the god. Luckily, the temple’s patron god approved the use of jeevathas instead of elephants.

Second temple to pave way to elephant-free processions

The only other temple known to stop the use of elephants is Kanichukulangara Devi, also in Kerala. Sacred to the Hindu mother goddess Bhagawathi, they were using as many as 15 elephants in their celebrations until they came to the conclusion that using elephants was too dangerous. Hopefully, these pioneering temples will set a trend for the rest of Kerala so elephants and humans can both stay safe.

Note: Please keep comments peaceful and family friendly.

Join the Conversation


  1. Emily Boliver

    I am so happy to hear that the elephants are being replaced with wooden structures. That is being very thoughtful to the well being of the elephants. Thank you so very much for being so caring of these elephants.

    Reply Report comment
  2. Tisa

    Thank you. Such happpy news. I hope the world will learn from you and become kind to all animals everywhere.

    Reply Report comment
  3. Leanne

    Thank u for taking the elephants out of the parade and replacing them with wooden structures.

    Reply Report comment
  4. Maij Carter

    We’ll done Kerala. This is a step forward for all elephant ceremonies. Thank you.

    Reply Report comment
  5. Sonja Barton

    Does anyone know what they are doing with the elephants. Are they sending to sanctuaries?

    Reply Report comment
  6. Elizabeth Fuller

    Perhaps this paves the way to releasing all temple elephants to sanctuaries – where they can be doted on rather than abused. Perhaps the temple leaders could be persuaded that all their gods would be pleased if elephants, as endangered species, could be looked after in safe reserves or sanctuaries? The elephant “keepers” would still have jobs as they could feed, bathe and guard the elephants.

    Reply Report comment
  7. Marilyn Ashman


    Reply Report comment
  8. Barbara P. Turner

    About time! In different cultures, different animals are deemed as “GODS” but in doing that it just ties in with how reverent the people look at that animal. GOOD CHANGE! AGAIN, ABOUT TIME!

    Reply Report comment
  9. Sheila T.

    Very good move made for both the temples and my hope is that this will pave the way for all those temples to do the same. I read that safety was cited as a concern for change but thanks anyway for finally realizing that elephants are more valuable than being placed in a parade. They want to live their lives as elephants, not as symbols.

    Reply Report comment
  10. April M

    Hallelujah! Mark up another win for the elephants! Thanks to the temples who have decided to replace them with wooden models. Any little stride toward elephants being saved, especially for future generations and to elephant babies with their mothers instead of orphaned, starved, set on fire, taken away and sold into slavery or zoos, etc., or killed is a win/win/win for our world’s elephants! Let them live their lives, happy in their happy family elephant units, not as symbols or rides, or to make a sorry-ass zoo money!

    Reply Report comment
  11. cindi scholefield

    This is amazing, especially in Kerala, where animals in general are treated very badly. It’s innovative, compassionate, and whoever the patron god is, good on him for saying yes 🙂

    Reply Report comment
  12. Jaime Perez

    This is wonderful news. Elephants will be spared the stress of this celebration. Now hopefully other places will follow suit.

    Reply Report comment
  13. Carly B.

    I too am so happy to hear of this recent change to the parade.. 🙂 Hopefully this will release so much stress from these poor animals..

    Reply Report comment
  14. Lisa Scharin

    WONDERFUL NEWS!!!! Now these elephants can be elephants!!!! They do NOT belong on the streets surrounded by people, noise and decorated like a Christmas tree!
    Happy the GOD was in favor of the alternative!!! Hope other temples follow!

    Reply Report comment
  15. Nazli

    I appreciate the people who decided about this humane change.I’m sure their god is happy too.

    Reply Report comment
  16. Rona Strathdee

    Excellent, compassionate news.

    Reply Report comment
  17. mari smet (@greentimes999)

    Wonderful idea — finally, stopping the cruelty — great idea using materials as symbols to get the point across is just as effective — THANK YOU TO THE WISE, RATIONAL, COMPASSIONATE decision-makers who created a beautiful alternative whereby everyone wins and no-one suffers.

    Reply Report comment
  18. Irene garofalo

    Get those elephants,to wildlife s.o.s. retire them with a reward of semi freedom with good food and friends!!

    Reply Report comment

Get The Newsletter!

Fields marked with an * are required