March 14th 2006
The Elephant Festival is an inimitable event held annually in
Jaipur. Groomed flawlessly, rows of elephants do a catwalk
before an enthralled audience liked best fashion models to make
this festival an amazing one. The elephants move with poise in
pageant, run races, play the regal
game of polo, and finally participate in the spring festival of
Holi. It is festival time with elephants typically celebrated
one day before the Holi, Indian festival of colors.
Staged at Jaipur Chaugan Stadium elephants put up a
variety programme and the arena is brought alive with musician
and dancer. The crowd, which includes sizable presences of
foreign and Indian tourist, electrify the atmosphere. The
festival starts with an impressive procession of the majestic
animals lovingly painted and tastefully attired with glittering
ornaments and embroidered velvets. There are deadly and fierce
A ceremonial procession is recreated with caparisoned elephants,
lancers on horses, chariots, camels, cannons, and palanquins.
Elephant is the centre of attraction in the many races and
Most of the participants are female elephants. The mahouts
(elephant keepers) take great care to decorate the elephants
painting their trunks, foreheads, and feet with floral motifs
and adorning them from tusk to tail with interesting trinkets.
Female elephants wear anklets with and make music as they walk.
The game of polo forms the highlight of the festival. Dressed in
saffron and red turbans, the teams try to score goals with long
sticks and a plastic football.
Finally, the tourists are invited to mount the elephants and
play Holi. Participants dance with great vigour and the
excitement rising to a crescendo.
The Rajput kings had extraordinary implication for elephants not
only during war but also during the royal festivities-a must at
royal pageant. Nishan-ka-hathi, the flag bearer, led the
procession. The king always mounted a caparisoned elephant.
Special hunting programs and elephant fights were organized to
entertain the royal guests. Jaipur was a favourite spot with the
important personalities of the British Raj and the Maharajas
always arranged for their guests of honour elephant rides up to
the Amber palace. Even today, the mahouts take tourists up to
the Amber Palace on elephant back like shuttle taxis.
Rajasthan Tourism revitalized the ritual by including the
Elephant Festival in the cultural calendar. The present-day
pageant, originated only a decade ago, was worked out especially
with the tourist in mind. The inclusion of the game of polo is
more recent, being inspired by a cartoon in Punch magazine that
showed the Indian polo team atop an elephant after it won all
the international tournaments. Every year on Holi, the old
stadium at Jaipur, the Chaugan (originally planned for
elephants), makes the setting for a stunning fete.