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Tirumala: Elephants, horses, bulls showstoppers during Vahana Sevas

Tirumala: Every year during the annual Brahmotsavams of Sri Venkateswara Swamy at Tirumala, it is the caparisoned elephants which lead the grandeur of the colourful Vahana Sevas observed for nine days.

The band of elephants Lakshmi, Maha Lakshmi, Padmavathi, Padmaja, Avanija, Vaishnavi and Srinidhi get the opportunity to steer the Vahana Sevas in which Sri Malayappa Swamy and His consorts are taken in a procession atop the Vahanams in the four Mada streets.

They are not the VIPs or any celebrities, but they have been relishing the divine festival from the past many years and remaining one of the attractions in the fete. Among these seven pachyderms, Lakshmi is the oldest aged 45 years while Sri Nidhi, the youngest, 14 years.

Walking to rhythmic music and drum beats they majestically herald the grand arrival of deities and earn standing ovations from the devotees in the galleries as they trot along Mada streets during the nine-day festivities. It is not only elephants but horses (Aswa) and bulls (Vrushabha) that get equal importance and shine in their roles as showstoppers' of Srivari Vahana sevas, revealing that in the creation of Almighty all life forms are equal.

All these blessed animals are maintained at the SV Goshala at Tirumala including seven pachyderms, five horses and over three dozen bulls that are deployed as front guards in the Brahmotsavam procession.

And also for important festivals at TTD temples including Sri Govindaraja Swamy, Sri Padmavathi Devi, Sri Kodanda Rama Swamy, Sri Kalyana Venkateswara Swamy, Sri Kapileswara Swamy besides the famed Tirumala temple.

SV Gosamrakshanashala Director Dr Haranatha Reddy says special care is taken to protect the pachyderms during Vahana Sevas of Brahmotsavams. The animals are exposed to an atmosphere of sound and lights a few days ahead of Vahana Sevas to make them accustomed to the light and sounds.

They are being fed with Napier grass and sugarcane for every 20 minutes during the processions to keep them calm.

Swamy shrine at Tirumala Interestingly, the male elephants are kept away from taking part in the religious procession as they are tough to control during periodic hormone release. On the maintenance of elephants, he said it annually costs almost6 lakhs for each elephant and TTD spends about Rs 3 lakh monthly to feed all elephants.

Morning walk and massage are also rendered to them to keep them fit. Kerala experts for elephant care for Brahmotsavams: Reddy informed that the TTD brought elephant handlers from Kerala to train the pachyderms for Vahana Sevas during Brahmotsavams.

The animals are subjected to regular health checkups before being deployed on Brahmotsavam duty. Elephant experts are also present during Vahana Sevas to take needed precautionary measures. A special lane has also been earmarked for the entry of these elephants on the Mada streets. Special decorations for animals:

All the animals participating in the Vahana Seva processions are richly decorated with colourful designs, flowers and bright clothes., horses and bulls are provided shining face makeup while the elephant handlers get colourful uniforms and also carry umbrellas and batons to guide the animals.

On the Garuda Seva day, the portrait of Sri Malayappa Swamy is carried by an elephant. The TTD has also made arrangements to provide rich food for the animals showcased on Mada streets. They are provided with tasty banyan leaves, Ragi balls, sugar cubes while on Mada streets at frequent interval