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HomeUncategorized‘National treasure’: Sri Lanka’s most revered elephant dies at 68

‘National treasure’: Sri Lanka’s most revered elephant dies at 68


Amid an outpouring of grief, Sri Lanka’s president orders that cadaver of Nadungamuwa Raja be preserved for posterity

The death of Sri Lanka’s most sacred elephant at the age of 68 has prompted an outpouring of grief and a presidential order for the massive cadaver to be stuffed and preserved for posterity.

On Monday, a procession of mourners led by schoolchildren, priests in saffron robes, and an elderly lady with a Zimmer frame paid their respects to Raja, praying and reverently touching his mighty tusks.

According to his office, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared Raja a “national treasure” and ordered that his remains be preserved “for future generations to witness.”

After Buddhist funeral rites, Raja was turned over to taxidermists.

Mourners gather near the body of Sri Lanka’s sacred tusker Nadugamuwa Raja, who carried a golden casket of relics at an annual Buddhist pageant, in Weliweriya, Sri Lanka. AFP

Nadungamuwa Raja was the most important of 100 elephants in an annual pageant surrounded by fire eaters and drummers.

Raja, decked out in lights, carried the golden casket of Buddhist relics nearly every year from 2006 to 2021 at the annual Esala Perahera pageant, a major tourist draw in Kandy’s central city.

He even had an armed escort of elite commandos following a 2015 incident in which a motorcyclist nearly rammed into him while on his way to a temple ceremony.

Between 1953 and 1986, one of Raja’s predecessors, also known as Raja, carried the golden casket containing 34 relics for exactly 34 years.

When the elder Raja died in 1988, at the age of 72, there was an outpouring of grief, and the government declared a national day of mourning.

The older Raja was also preserved and has his own museum within Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth compound, which houses a purported Buddha tooth.

Search for successor

Choosing a successor will be a time-consuming process. To qualify, the chosen elephant must be from a specific caste and have unique physical characteristics.

When the elephant stands, seven points must touch the ground: its four legs, trunk, penis, and tail.

The animal must also have a flat back, tusks in the shape of a traditional winnow, and a height of about 3.7 metres (12 feet).

Raja, who was only 3.2 metres (10.5 feet) tall, was given an exception because he was the tallest person in the country at the time.

Raja was born in India and was a gift from an Indian prince to Sri Lanka.

Elephants are a protected species in Sri Lanka, but many are kept as pets as status symbols.

In recent years, laws have been tightened to make the capture of wild elephants a capital offense punishable by death.

Animal rights activists claim that captive elephants are frequently mistreated, a claim that temples and owners of domesticated elephants deny.


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