Sunday, 8 September 2013

Elephant No. 6: Manjadikuru

Photo: Annie Carruthers

Today's elephant comes courtesy of Annie Carruthers, who was reminded of this little treasure when she saw this week's post on grains of rice.

Annie has had this little guy since she was very young. It consists of a small red seed pod that has been hollowed out, then filled with a series very tiny carved elephants and sealed with a larger elephant stopper. Annie says it used to contain more elephants, but they've been lost over the years, so she only has two of the inner elephants. She's photographed the two inner elephants next to a grain of basmati rice to give you an idea of scale.

Photo: Annie Carruthers

Neither Annie nor I knew anything about these little seed elephants, so I did a bit of research, and discovered that they're actually quite special.

Known as manjadikuru in India—Circassian Seeds in the United States and Britain, and Jumbie Beads in the Caribbean—the little elephant-filled seed cases are good-luck charms sometimes described as "magical seeds".

The seed pod comes from the red sandalwood tree (Adenanthera pavonina). The pod is slit across the top, hollowed out, and left to dry. A series of elephants is then carved from bone—usually camel bone—and placed inside, with a slightly larger elephant carved to seal the mouth of the tiny container.

Leaves, seeds and seedpods of the red sandalwood tree.
Photo: © W.P. Armstrong 2008

The idea is that the owner of a manjadikuru will be granted one wish for each elephant contained in the seed. The conventional number of elephants is 12, although there have been examples of larger seeds containing as many as 100 or more. One interesting manjadikuru even contained a series of rather elaborate animals other than elephants.

Unconventional manjadikuru containing other animals in addition to an elephant.
Photo: © Liz Gray 2010

The story behind the red seeds comes from Kerala in southern India. Legend has it that a peasant woman wanted to visit Guruvayur temple, which was devoted to Krishna. Although it was customary to bring offerings to the temple, the woman was too poor to afford a conventional gift. She knew, however, of a tree that bore shiny red seeds, so she gathered a bag of them and headed to the temple, some distance away.

She arrived at the temple on the first of the month, which happened to be the day on which the local ruler usually visited the temple. To show his devotion to Vishnu, the ruler donated an elephant to the temple each time.

During the ruler's procession, the peasant woman was knocked to the ground, spilling her precious bag of seeds. Frightened by the resulting commotion, the ruler's elephant ran wild, destroying everything in its path. Unable to control his elephant, the local ruler prayed to Krishna for a solution. Suddenly a voice boomed from the temple, chastising the crowd for knocking the woman down. The crowd apologized to the woman, gathered up the scattered seeds, and escorted her into the temple. To everyone's surprise, as soon as the woman presented her offering, the elephant calmed down.

In memory of this incident, a large urn of the shiny red seeds is kept in the temple to this day, and anyone who swirls a hand through the seeds is said to be promised health and prosperity. As to why most manjadikuru contain 12 elephants, it may have something to do with the 12-day Ekdasi festival attached to the Guruvayur temple—a festival that even today features an elephant procession and an elephant race.

Annie's note reminded me that I had a manjadikuru somewhere myself. I had never opened it to count the number of elephants it contained, so I tracked it down.

Mine is fairly recent, and not near as nice as Annie's—no elephant stopper, and much less detailed elephants inside—but it did indeed contain 12. These ones are as thin as paper and almost impossible to put back into the seed case. This may explain why there was talk of outlawing their production at one point, based on apocryphal evidence that making the teeny elephants was causing the carvers to go blind.

For more on manjadikuru, see this comprehensive page featuring an extensive history and some unusual examples.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although festival elephants are usually well trained and amenable, at the Triprayar Ekdasi Festival in November 2011, two elephants decided they'd simply had enough.

Around 5:00 p.m. on the day of the big elephant procession, an elephant named Padinjare decided to simply turn around and head back home. This caused a human stampede, as the elephants were inside the relatively crowded compound at the time. It took nearly 20 minutes to stop Padinajare with a heavy rope, and she did her best the whole time to shake off the three men sitting on her back.

At about 10:30 p.m. the same day, an elephant named Bastin pulled a similar trick. By now the audience had dwindled, and there was less general panic, but it took trainers 30 minutes to corral Bastin and calm him down.

Like humans, elephants just get fed up sometimes, and have no compunction about expressing their displeasure. Luckily, aside from a few minor injuries suffered by people as they fled, neither elephants nor humans were hurt.

Guruvayur temple elephants enjoying bath time.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee)

1 comment:

  1. Hi sheila, can I get a help from you?I would like to use an image from your article.Is that yours?copyrighted?