Annual Elephant Race Draws Huge Crowds in India

Category: Society / Mar 07, 2012 9:56AM EDT

Devotees and tourists thronged to a Temple in India's southern Kerala state to watch the annual elephant race which traditionally heralds the beginning of a ten-day festival in the temple dedicated to Hindu God Krishna.

Approximately 26 elephants were lined up for the event, and six of them were selected for the race.

The half a kilometer race began on Monday (March 05) from a revered banyan tree and culminated with the victory of the 36-year-old elephant, Gopi Kannan.

Kannan was named after the temple deity and he won the race for the ninth consecutive time.

Gopi Kannan raced past four other elephants to enter the temple premises and went straight in to the sanctum sanctorum.

The winning elephant will have the privilege to carry the idol for all the important rituals that would take place during the next ten days.

Foreign tourists were thrilled by the spectacle.

Approximately 66 elephants participate in the festivals throughout the year and they are housed in a nearby park.

The race is held to commemorate this event and prayers are organized for the well-being of the animals.

In India, elephants are worshipped and the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha is one of the most popular among Hindus.

Elephants are seen during few of the Hindu festivals as part of the celebrations and Kerala has set the retirement age for the elephants to be 65.

Elephants are a protected and endangered species in India. Conservationists say elephant populations have fallen rapidly in recent years because of loss of habitat as a result of human encroachment into forest areas.