Forest authorities who have been preparing the list of first batch of elephants participating in the festival, starting from October 6, have confirmed the participation of both Arjuna, 53 years, and Balarama, 55 years. The two pachyderms have found space along with other elephants; Srirama, Abhimanyu and Gajendra arriving in the first batch on August 30.
A forest official said that though Arjuna performed the role with elan during Dasara 2012, by carrying the 750-kg golden howdah in Jamboo Savari, the grand finale of Navaratri, alternative arrangements had been in place.
If anything goes awry at the last minute (as Arjuna is known for his pranks), Balarama is the only “readily” available elephant, to take on the arduous task.
Earlier too, when there were complaints about Balarama growing old and not being able to carry on the job with ease, efforts were made to prepare a second line of elephants. But this had not yielded the desired results, as Vanaraja, who was touted to succeed Balarama in Dasara 2011, hadn’t fit the bill.
“The elephant hand-picked for the task, especially for carrying the golden howdah, should not only look majestic, but also have the experience of dealing with large crowds. Balarama has it all,” added the official.
Though there are contrasting versions about the number of years of Balarama as the howdah carrier, it is said that the elephant has remained an integral part of the festivities for over 12 years now. Today, his role has been altered, as he is now the ‘Nishane’ elephant (the elephant which leaves the Palace first in Jamboo Savari as a prelude to the procession).
In spite of this, he remains the cynosure of all eyes, add the officials.