India Elephant Spa – Captive Elephant Sanctuary

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The state of Kerala has long been a popular destination for people wanting to rejuvenate their tired bodies with exotic ayurvedic therapies, yoga and massage.

Ayurveda is an ancient system of health care originating in India that has been practiced for over 2000 years.

The Ayurvedic philosophy is based on three energy sources in the body, which are said to control physical and mental activity.

Vata controls the nervous system, movement and life force, and influences mood and temperament.

Pitta controls the metabolism, hormones, intellect and focus.

Kapha is said to control body form and structure.

Ayurvedic treatment incorporates herbal medicine with massage, dietary and lifestyle changes as well as yoga exercises.

But if you thought only the humans had access to the ancient Indian recipes for physical and mental well-being – you’re wrong.

Here at the Guruvayur Devaswom Captive Elephant Sanctuary, elephants are on a break from their usual duties of participating in religious ceremonies.

Monsoon season and its party time for more than 60 elephants.

At this ‘elephant spa’ they are given five star treatment by specialised trainers, whose number one priority is for these magnificent animals to be as comfortable and as pampered as possible.

The 500-year old Punnathoor elephant sanctuary hosts the annual “Sukhachikitsa” camp, meaning restorative health care and treatment for its inmates.

The sanctuary is located close to the famous Guruvayoor temple in Kerala, which owns this large collection of captive elephants.

Most of these animals have been donated to the temple as offerings by the devotees as the presiding deity of the temple -Lord Guruvayoorappan – is known to be an ardent lover of elephants.

All the elephants both young and old get royal treatment for 30 days.

In elaborate rejuvenation rituals they are given a thorough scrubbing by their trainers followed by a luxurious bath, strictly in accordance with traditional Ayurvedic methods.

The vigorous body massage leaves their skin polished and their limbs nicely exercised.

Veterinary doctors at the elephant yard devise a strict food regime for the animals revitalising stay.

Dr Suresh says the elephants are given a nutritious diet made with ayurvedic herbs and allopathic medicines (the use of conventional medicines) to help them recover their strength and to be ready to face the next festival season.

The food ingredients include special varieties of rice, greengram, horsegram and turmeric powder to provide the necessary fats, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins.

Ayurvedic preparations like Chyavanaprasam, Ashtachoornam, Tefroli powder (a liver stimulant) and Sharkoferrol (for boosting haemoglobin levels) are also included in the mix along with allopathic supplements.

Veterinary doctors say most elephants show considerable increase in body weight after the month long therapy.

The elephant yard has also come to be a major tourist spot, drawing both domestic and international tourists.

One tourist Steve said while he wasn’t keen on the smell, he loved the elephants.

The annual elephant rejuvenation in Kerala started in the early eighties and is now being emulated by elephant sanctuaries in other parts of the country as well.

Decorated elephants are an integral part of Kerala’s landscape – they feature prominently in every festival, every celebration and every public event like races.

Their number has increased at the sanctuary after the Kerala government brought out strict rules for the upkeep of captive elephants.

The rules, which are the first of its kind, specify norms covering every aspect of elephant maintenance including food rest, transportation, work, treatment and even retirement age.

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