Hyderabad: The Shia community that feared it would be prevented from using an elephant kept in the Nehru Zoological Park for the Ashura (Muharram) procession breathed a sigh of relief as the government cleared regulatory hurdles and allowed it to bring an elephant from Karnataka.
The Nizam Trust also accepted the offer of providing an elephant for the Bibi ka Alam procession.
The Shia community is urging the government to allow two elephants, reviving an old tradition. It said it would pay for one elephant which could be used as a backup.
The Bibi Ka Alam is probably the grandest and one of the oldest of Muharram processions in the country on ‘Yaum e-Ashura’ to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. It was first installed during the era of the sixth Qutb Shah ruler Muhammad Qutb Shah. Elephants were first used for the procession during the era of Nizam VI.
An elephant amed ‘Fatha e Nishan’ provided by the last Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan was used till 1986. It died in 1986. The Nizam Trust bought a cow elephant ‘Hydari’ from the Bada Imambada, Lucknow costing `20,000 in 1987. This elephant died in 1995.
One Ali Raza Hashim Mosvi gifted an elephant in 1996 for the procession, which died in 2004. The Nizam Trust purchased a cow elephant, ‘Rajani’, which is stabled at the Nehru Zoological Park.
On the recommendation of Central Zoo Authority, the government constituted the ‘Zoos and Parks Authority of Telangana state’ and the governing board decided not to spare zoo elephants for processions. It decided to implement GO Ms. No. 132 dated 22-12-2009 issued for dispensing with the use of animals for processions except for the traditional Bonalu and Muharram procession.
In 2010, zoo authorities addressed a letter to the Nizam Trust to take back the elephant as the animals there could not be used for the procession. The trust had refused to take back Rajani on the ground that it could not take care of the elephant.
The Telangana High Court while disposing of a writ petition (48168 of 2018) on March 18 observed that as the Nizam Trust had refused to take back the animal, there cannot be an obligation on the part of the state government to give the elephant to the trust/
Subsequently the Shia community decided to obtain an elephant for the procession from other states.
Recently a cow elephant from Kalburagi (Gulbarga), Karnataka, ‘Gaja Laxmi Meena’ was used in the Secunderabad Bonalu procession, while ‘Sudha’ was participated in the Old City and Sitaphalmandi processions of Bonalu.
Activists of Shia community and Mujawar of Bibi ka Alam Aliuddin Arif interacted with the mahout of ‘Sudha’, Naseer Khan, who has another bull elephant, ‘Raja’, and decided to obtain the pachyderms from him.
Shia Companion general secretary Syed Ali Jaffary, an advocate, said the Telangana Elephant Welfare and Rehabilitation Society had been formed and there was a plan to purchase an elephant from Delhi and keep it in Hyderabad for the Muharram and Bonalu processions.
The Nizam Trust has accepted the offer to provide the elephant free of cost and addressed a letter to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest to issue a no-objection certificate for the entry of the elephant into Telangana state for which the government accorded permission.
Zoo authorities offered to provide feed for the animal and veterinary officers with tranquilizer equipment to accompany the elephant during the procession.
Mr Jaffary said before using the elephant on the 10th day of Muharram a rehearsal takes place on the 4th day to observe its behaviour. He said, “We observed Meena and we apprehend that this elephant will be frightened as in the Ashura procession blood will be dribbled on the road during the matam (self flagellation).
He said, “We are asking the government to allow the elephant to keep in Hyderabad from the 4th Muharram till the procession as it will be difficult to bring the animal twice within a span of six days. It takes 18-20 hours to transport the elephant from Belgaum to Hyderabad and the elephant has to stand for the entire duration.”
He said that in Muharram the length of procession is about 14 km, which will take more time than the Bonalu. “Because of this, we are requesting the government to allow the elephant to keep here for six days and allow another animal, ‘Raja’, a tusked elephant, as well.