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Here’s what you never knew about ‘the elephant festival’ aka Holi

Written by Guncha Khanna

The Holi eve is not only about Holika Dehan, but also about the Elephant festival that is celebrated in the city of Jaipur in Rajasthan. It is a  unique event that is celebrated annually in Jaipur, the venue being the Jaipur Chaugan or polo field.

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Elephants have always been a carrier of royalty in Indian culture and thus very significant to Rajasthan. As the name suggests it is all about the elephants that are groomed to perfection, glittering in gold head-plates and brocade scarves to embellish their ears and necks. The festival features Elephant polo and elephant dance. The festival starts with an impressive procession of the majestic animals which include elephants, camels and horses. Interesting patterns are drawn on the skin of the animals to make it appear even more beautiful along with the jewellery. Musicians play folk tunes and dancers whirl in the flurry of colors. A wide range of games are played followed by the ‘best-decorated elephant competition’. The tug of war between elephants and men is probably the most exhilarating highlight of the festival. This event not only celebrates the majesty of the elephants but also highlights Rajasthan’s rich cultural heritage. The festivities end with performances of folk dancers , with the splashing of Holi colors on all and a spectacular display of fireworks.

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It has been a great attraction for tourists all over the world as they have many things to do during the day-long event. The glorious visual sites of decked up elephants with gulaal sprinkled over their head, souvenir shopping at the festival and mouth-watering cuisine are the main attractions.

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Historically, the jataka stories of Buddhism refer to the tradition of Hastimangala (the elephant festival).  A royal mount from time immemorial, the elephant has also been a sign of wealth and strength. For the Rajput kings, the elephants were of special significance not only during the war but also during the royal festivities- a must at a royal pageant. Rajasthan tourism revived the tradition of this festival in the cultural calendar.

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For the first time in many years, the elephant festival was cancelled for 2 consecutive years, 2013 and 2014, due to protests from Animal welfare board. The activists were concerned about the elephants being covered in toxic colored powder. They also contended that the inclusion of elephants in the festival fell under the category of “animal performance”, and as a result, the elephants needed to be registered with the Animal Welfare Board. The Rajasthan tourism group, which hosts the festival every year failed to sign up the elephants with the Animal Welfare Board and provide appropriate documents. As a result of this, the organizers decided  to rename it as the “Holi Festival.”

About the author

Guncha Khanna

Currently studying English literature at KMC,University of Delhi. Reading, writing and painting give me immense pleasure. And I hope to make people think, laugh and enjoy with my writing skills. Happy reading!

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