Lead elephant to retire

July 7, 2011 at 7:38 AM

BANGALORE, India, July 7 (UPI) -- Balarama, the lead elephant at the annual 10-day Dasara festival in India's royal city of Mysore, is retiring, with Gopi likely to assume his "howdah" duties.

Balarama has been carrying the 1,650-pound golden howdah or seat for 12 years during the festival made popular by Mysore's Wodyar kings. Now, at age 53 he is to be retired, said forest officials in the southern state of Karnataka, where Mysore city is located. Bangalore is the state capital.

Balarama's place is expected to be taken by Gopi, a big 28-year-old tusker currently undergoing training in Dasara rituals along with Gopalakrishna, another tusker, and Diana, Teresa, Gange and Chaitra at different elephant camps, the Times of India reported.

Gopi's seniority among the others may count in his favor.

The new students will be trained at different forests until they are ready to be taken to Mysore for the festivities which fall in the month of September, conservator of forests B.P. Ravi said.

Two jumbos, earlier tipped to be Balarama's successors, failed to get drafted.

The elephants, caparisoned in their full regalia, are among the biggest attractions during the Hindu festival of Dasara, a spectacular annual event that draws tourists from around the world.

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