A month ahead of Dasara, he and 14 of his companions make the trip to Mysuru. They are lodged in a palace in the city, but it is still a far cry from their forest home and there is a lot to get used to.
Arjuna is the ‘ambari‘ elephant of Mysuru’s grand Vijayadashami procession. He reached Mysuru on August 17th. His mahout, Vinu, said he was a little weak when he arrived and weighed “only 5250 kilos.”
Now on a special diet that includes beaten rice or ‘avalakki‘, sugarcane and jiggery, he has put on some weight. “He is fine now,” says Vinu. Along with the other elephants he also tucks into black gram, green gram, wheat vegetables, salt and butter.
The pachyderms are bathed by the mahouts who live with them in the forest and travel with them along with their families to Mysuru each year.
The golden howdah that he has carried each year since 2012 weighs a whopping 750kg. The elephants rehearse the 5 kilometre route through the city, to get used to the noise and crowds. And Arjuna is weighed down with increasingly heavy sandbags to get used to the weight he will carry on the final day of the procession.
In earlier years, when there was royalty in India, the Mysuru maharaja from the Wodeyar dynasty rode on top of the ambari elephant. Now there is an idol of the goddess Chamundeshwari instead. The legend is that Chamundeshwari killed the demon Mahishasura, after whom Mysuru is named. The Chamundi hill, that overlooks the city is said to be the body of the buffalo that Mahishasura rode.