ECONOMYNEXT – Nadunagamuwa Raja, the bull elephant tasked with carrying the tooth relic of the Buddha in Sri Lanka’s Kandy Perahera pageant, passed away Monday (07) morning, the Temple of the Tooth said.
Raja, known for his imposing height of 10.5 feet (3.2 metres), was considered a national treasure given his stature as the main bearer of the casket housing a replica of the sacred tooth relic. The tusker was often provided security by armed soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army.
Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country with over 70 percent of the population adhering to the faith, and the annual Esala pageant in Kandy draws thousands of local and foreign tourists to see the country’s biggest religious festival.
The scores of elephants in the pageant are a big draw, though animal rights activists in Sri Lanka have been critical of the practice, arguing that chaining elephants and subjecting them to unnatural sounds and flashing lights can hurt them physically and psychologically. Defenders of the practice say it’s a centuries-old tradition, though Buddhism is a religion that promotes compassion to all living beings.
Raja carried the casket for 12 years and was previously paraded as the flank tusker who walked beside the main casket bearer.
According to the Temple of the Tooth, the elephant was born in 1953 in India. He was one of two elephant calves gifted by a Mysuru Maharaja to the veteran native physician monk residing in Nilammahara Temple Piliyandala in appreciation of curing his relative’s long-lasting illness. The other elephant was the late Nawam Raja of Gangaramaya.
In 1978 Nadungamuwa Raja was acquired from his second owner Herbert Wickramasinghe the former MP of Bandaragama by Dharmavijaya Veda Ralahamy of Nadungamuwa area, an eminent Ayurvedic physician of that time and the father of the present owner Dr Harsha Dharmavijaya, according to records.
He was 68 years old at the time of his death. (Colombo/Mar07/2022)