Guruvayur Kesavan History

Guruvayur Kesavan Stories are endless. It was one of the majestic elephants which served the Lord in all its sincerity and uniqueness. Valiya Raja of Nilambur once prayed to the Lord to save his family and property from the enemies attack. He promised to offer one of his many elephants if his wish is fulfilled. His wish was fulfilled and he offered an elephant which later became the famous Guruvayur Kesavan.

On his arrival, Kesavan was 10 years old and elephant Padmanabhan was the undisputed king. Young Kesavan acquired all the kingly gestures and nobleness of Padmanabhan and even excelled him. He would bend his front-legs only before those who hold Lord’s Thidambu to enable them to climb upon him, all others were to climb by his behind-legs. He never caused any bodily harm to anyone. He sometimes was called “Lunatic Kesavan”, but never spoiled any sanctity.

Even if he became wild outside Guruvayur, he would straightaway come to Guruvayur, go round the temple and stood where he used to be chained. In 1973, the first time in history, the Golden Jubilee of the services of an elephant to the temple was celebrated. Kesavan was conferred upon the honour of “GAJARAJAN” (king of elephants ).

However, on famous Ekadasi day, 2nd December 1976, Kesavan fell ill while Thidambu was placed on his head. He couldn’t hold on his legs. The Thidambu was soon transferred to another elephant and Kesavan was brought to the Kovilakam compound. He died in front of the Lord with his trunk stretched in front. He was 72, 3.2metres tall, and participated in every ceremony at the temple. Kerala’s biggest and grandest elephant, Gajarajan Kesavan, served the Lord and people for the long 54 years. Who has seen him will never forget Kesavan. To commemorate him, a 12 feet high statue has been erected in front of Sreevalsam rest house.

One of the most famous elephant serving Lord Guruvayur was Keshavan, also know as Gajaräja, or “king of the elephants”. In January 1922, Valiya Raja (King) of Nilambur offered one of his  12 elephants to Lord Guruvayurappa, as a fulfillment of his vow when he got back his entire property intact at the time of the Malabar Mutiny. Aged 10 years, Elephant was named  Keshavan.  He was noble and kindly, yet mischievous and stupid.  To remove his lunacy, he was given butter to eat which was first sanctified (made holy)  by the Melshanti (Head Priest) – believed to be an effective treatment for stupidity, and then made to perform bhajan by attending all the 3 siveli (temple functions).  All this transformed him into an idealDeity elephant.

He would bend his front legs only before those who held the Lord’s thidambu (Deity) to enable them to climb on him.  Others who held the umbrella, alavattam etc. had to climb by his behind legs. Very compassionate, he never harmed anybody.  Even when he was inside and outside Guruvayur, he was not destructive; He would proceed to the temple, take a round and occupy his place.

Once he was hurrying to the temple, disobeying the mahouts.  Everybody in the area fled for fear of being trembled by it.  Except for a poor, helpless leper who could not run away & remained helpless on the path.  As the people watched with fear, they were astonished when they saw that Kesavan had actually lifted the leper with his trunk, placed him safely in a corner, and proceeded straight to the temple.

In 1973, Kesavan was honored with the title of “Gajarajan”(King of elephants) when the temple was for the first time, celebrating the golden Jubilee of the services of an elephant. Keshavan’s unique devotion for his service at Guruvayur will not be forgotten. When Keshavan became the leading elephant in the temple herd, he would no longer tolerate another elephant’s carrying the Deity. Once, when another elephant was selected to carry the Deity in procession, Keshavan became so disturbed that he attacked the other elephant and chased him away. Whenever Keshavan was to carry the Deity, he would demonstrate his great eagerness to perform his service by pulling at the chains that bound his feet.

For more than fifty years Keshavan served Lord Krishna at Guruvayur. During one festival,(On the fateful day December 2nd, 1976 on the famous  GuruvayurEkadasi day)  however, he became ill, just at the time of the Deity procession. His huge body began to tremble, and he was removed from the procession and taken to a nearby stable, where he fasted throughout the night. The next evening, when the conchshell blew to announce the appearance of the Deity, Keshavan bowed before the temple, and amid thousands of devotees chanting and playing on musical instruments, his soul departed from his body to attain the eternal realm of Vaikuntha.

A 12 – feet high concrete statue of the elephant Kesavan has been executed by the temple members at the spot in front of the Panchajanyam Rest House – a fitting memorial indeed for a unique devotee. When pilgrims arrive at Guruvayur, they are reminded of Keshavan by his tusks and portrait displayed above the main entrance to the Deity chamber. And throughout the city many shops sell colorful paintings of Keshavan.

At Guruvayur, whether on the days of great festivals or in the moments before the evening procession, when ten thousand oil lamps are being lit, or while hearing about Keshavan, the king of the elephants, the pilgrim naturally feels a growing desire to glorify the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna.Elephants race at Guruvayur

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