Review: Trunk Lines

Posted: February 2nd, 2016

In India the boundaries between animals, humans and gods are extremely porous. Souls are held to transmigrate across these boundaries; gods may take on animal or human form – or both simultaneously – as Vishnu does in his ten incarnations, or Ganesha who has an elephant head and a human body. Nor are elephants entirely confined to any one of these categories, for they are partly divine and seem very human. Famous elephants, including the distinguished Kesavan, who stood 3.2 metres in height and served the Guruvayoor temple in Kerala for over fifty years until his death in 1976, were thought to be an incarnation of the deity. A life-size statue of Kesavan stands guard outside the temple, garlanded and honoured by a procession of elephants every year on the anniversary of his death. Temple vendors still do a brisk business selling photographs of him, and near-lifesize cut-outs of this celebrity animal welcome travellers to airports in Kerala. A popular film adaptation of his life made in 1977 portrays him to be very human in his morality and devotion, although when he dies, his soul is shown leaving his body and joining the divine, dropping a lotus as an offering at the feet of his beloved god, Guruvayoorappan.

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