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Dr. Sangeeta Roy
Date of Publish: 2017-09-29

Momtaj and Goalpara’s dying tradition of capturing, taming and training of elephants

 

Md. Maushan Ali of Karipara area of Dudhnoi in Assam’s Goalpara district owns a female elephant. They named her Momtaj. Maushan Ali’s father brought her to their house about 47years back. Momtaj was trained under a Mahut and a Phandi with the help of a domesticated female elephant in Dipu1 During the training sessions the trainer elephant used to thrash Momtaj with her legs and trunk. However, Momtaj was a quick learner, said Ali. He added that in his life time he had not seen such a painful rigorous training of an elephant. After the training session was completed the family permanently appointed a mahout for Momtaj who mostly takes care of her. Usually they release Momtaj during the day but chain her during night. The mahout Khormoj Ali often drives Momtaj to nearby places. Momtaj seems more peaceful when Khormoj Ali plays flute. While roaming around the forest areas Khormoj Ali uses to sing the famous compositions of late Pratima Pandey, the legendary folk singer and exponent of Goalpariya Lokageets.

Besides, sometimes while roaming the forest areas the mahout and his companions (appointed for short terms) sing some special songs. The mahout starts a line and then the rest joins him and repeating the end part together:

 

Alla Alla bol re hai, hai Alla Rasul,/Kon Mahaldar2 Hati re Bhai hai Alla Rasul,

Bhutan Mohaler hati re bhai hai Alla Rasul,/Kon ba Phandir dhora re bhai hai Alla Rasul

Phandir dhora re bhai hai Alla Rasul,/Kon Mahutor dhorar re bhai hai Alla Rasul

Mahutor Dhora re bhai hai Alla Rasul

 

( Allah Allah recite my friends, from which Mahal3 this elephant is from/ it is from Bhutan Mahal who is the Phandi that captured? /who was the mahout threw the second lasso/ the mahout, who threw the second lasso.)

During the winter season (from November to March) Momtaj is sent to the forest areas with her mahout for work of heavy lifting. Besides, as Momtaj was trained to uproot trees and move large logs and hence she helps in moving the large logs as well. Momtaj along with the mahout use to spend nearly five to six months every year in the forest areas. The owner Maushal Ali earns a heavy amount by employing Momtaj in these works.

Occasionally, some of the nearby families ask Maushan Ali for Momtaj to transport their grooms to bride’s places in the weddings. The grooms ride Momtaj and follow a procession of families and friends. The nephews and nieces join the groom in the ride at times. The groom’s family offer Momtaj a Gamocha or some home decoration items suh as bed sheet etc and money as a token of thanksgiving. The mahout Khormoj Ali gets all the gifts and the money.

Elephant capturing, taming and training

Undivided Goalpara district was famous for the tradition of capturing and domestication of wild elephants. However, elephant capturing was declared illegal and banned in Assam in 1977. Being the agile living land mammal, having the intelligent, incredible learning and understanding natures and capacity of knowledge have proved an elephant to be the most useful to human beings. This tradition of capturing and rearing elephant was prevalent among some of the tribes and communities like Bodos, Rajbangshis, Caste Hindu Assamese, Muslim communities of Goalpara. Usually, wild elephants were captured in the north and south forest regions of Goalpara. The elephant capturing process is one of the toughest processes where number of people along with the mahout and the local trained Elephants take part. The process of capturing elephant normally takes places from October to March and also during the rainy season i.e. from July to September at times. Dry grass lands are preferred so that it is easier to dig the hole for capturing the elephant. A number of other techniques are also applied in elephant capturing.

 

The trained elephants including the experienced female elephants called ‘Kunki’ are used for both capturing and training sessions. It is to be mentioned here that the people involved in catching operation are constantly at the risk. The entire catching process of elephant takes place inside the forest under the support and supervision of Dept. of Forest, Govt. of Assam. Even the training sessions are also selected to be performed inside of forest as it is dangerous to be taken risk. Mostly a baby elephant is preferred to be trained as it is easy to tame them. And female elephants are mainly selected to train up for domestication.

A mahout is the person who rides and trains the elephants and a phandi is known for his part in lassoing the wild elephants. They may belong to any ethnic group or community. The mahouts and phandis have to spend time in the forests away from their families for months for capturing and training the elephants. They have close bonding with the forests. They sing, dance, and play flutes to keep themselves happy and relaxed during their stay inside the jungles. For both the mahout and the phandi find the initial days of taming and training the captured elephant become very difficult. In fact it is also hard for the elephants to cope up. They say that only a mahout can tame an elephant as it loves to listen to its master singing or playing flute.

Albeit the splendor of animals is in the ecological arenas more than in any other places, the domestication of animals is one of the oldest interesting practices of humans. Likewise, capturing, taming and domesticating elephants are one of the oldest traditions in Goalapara district. Previously many wealthy families used to domesticate elephants. The tradition is no longer in vogue after the ban on elephant capturing came into effect. While mahout are still in demand for taking care of the existing domesticated elephants belonging to private owners or the Forest Department the phandis have become jobless. However, considering the ecological importance, sustaining a charitable relationship between human and elephant is equally important for securing a safe future for the majestic animal.

Dr. Sangeeta Roy

( Dr. Sangeeta Roy is currently associated with the Sangeet Natak Akademy, North East Centre, Guwahati and has authored the book "A Panorama of Bodo, Rabha and Hajong folk dances in Goalpara, Assam." She can be reached at sona301086@gmail.com )

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1-The area where Elephants are trained.

2 - A person who owns the leased forest area for Elephant capturing.

3 - A portion of an area of the forest leased for elephant capturing.

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