by Vipramukhya dasa
Posted April 9, 2006
The picture shows Vipramukhya with Gulab Kali as a baby elephant in 1984.
Some say Gulab Kali had a special relationship with me. I don’t know. I do know that she recognized me every year when I visited Mayapur. She would become happy to see me, as she became happy to see all of the devotees. But somehow, over the years, she and I seemed to grow close.
I was first met Gulab in the early eighties, just as I was preparing to accept sannyasa in Mayapur. She was very fond of sannyasis, and especially Bhavananda. Gulab used to follow him around wherever he went. I thought that was pretty cool, and so I used to go and play with her, too. As with many devotees, she’d latch onto my hand and go for walks with me. People used to criticize me for spending too much time with the elephant, unbecoming, they said, of sannyasis. I didn’t see it that way. I saw her as a devotee in an elephant body, who loved to play with devotees.
I’d frequently spend an hour or so a day with her when she was just a baby. I didn’t really treat her as a elephant. I just treated her as a friend. I’d play games with her. Sometimes I’d hide behind a tree and jump out and say, “Gauranga!” She’d get so excited by this game, that she would roar. That was the first time I ever heard an elephant roar, but it would not be the last.
As years went by she seemed especially happy to see me whenever I’d visit Mayapur. Even though she was getting bigger every year, I’d still take her out alone within the ISKCON compound. Sometimes I’d take her up the road all the way to Lord Chaitanya’s birthplace and back. Sometimes I’d run ahead and hide behind a tree, or a rickshaw, and she’d get very excited trying to find me. Finally, I’d jump out and shout “Gauranga” and she’d roar.
I discovered she loved to follow me. If I’d walk with her out in a field, she’d follow behind as if she was a little puppy. If I walked in a figure 8, she’d follow right behind. Then I discovered that I could shout “Gauranga” from a long distance away, and she would hear me and respond with a loud roar that could be heard for miles.
Once I stood with Kaliyaphani Prabhu and other devotees from the United Kingdom some distance away from the elephant barn, looking at Gulab from afar. I shouted “Gauranga” loudly, and Gulab replied with a loud roar. Then others took their turn loudly shouting “Gauranga” but she did not reply. Then I would shout again, and she would roar again. We repeated this four or five times and each time she roared only when she heard my voice. It was amazing how she was able to identify my voice.
Once Gulab Kali followed a procession of devotees to the Ganga, all the while holding my hand with her trunk. When we reached the river I boarded a boat along with the other devotees and pushed off shore, leaving Gulab with the Mahut, the elephant trainer. This greatly agitated Gulab, and she began entering the Ganga trying to follow the boats, greatly distressing the Mahut. The only way that Gulab could be calmed down is when I jumped in the water, swam back to the shore, and let the devotees go without me. Gulab simply wanted to go wherever I was going, it seemed.
As she grew into her teens, I’d often walk over to the elephant barn to see Gulab in the early morning around sunrise, just after I performed my Salagram puja. At that time of morning, the Mahut and his family would be sleeping or just getting up. They knew me well enough, and trusted that I knew how to handle Gulab. I’d unchain her leg and take her out all by myself, borrowing the elephant goad just in case, though I think I never needed to use it.
Quite often I’d take Gulab out the front gate of ISKCON Mayapur and walk her up and down the road. Sometimes shop keepers would come forward and offer her treats, expressing surprise how the elephant followed dutifully behind me wherever I went. After sometime they all came to know me as “Hati Maharaja” (the elephant Swami). To play with her, I’d sometimes run and hide behind some of the shops, or the parked rickshaws, and she’d run here and there trying to find where I was hiding.
Once in awhile I’d ride on Gulab’s back, but mostly I’d walk with her just behind, or at my side.
Originally there were two ISKCON elephants, you know. Sundar Kali and Gulab Kali. Both elephants were female. Sundar Kali was a mature, older elephant. She was not Gulab’s mother, but Gulab looked to her as a mother. Sundar Kali’s job used to be to carry the temple deities during the weekly procession, and Gulab would follow behind, usually holding Bhavananda’s hand, and in later years, holding my hand.
After Sundar Kali passed away, Gulab inherited the sacred duty of carrying the deities during the weekly procession. Usually, during those processions, if I would be near the front of the parade, she’d reach out, grab my hand with her trunk, and walk the entire way holding my hand.
Four years have passed since I last played with Gulab Kali. I’m very sorry to learn that she passed away. I used to know exactly how old she was, but I’ve lost track. I’m sure someone will be able to say more authoritatively than I. I do know she was around 3 years old when she was acquired by ISKCON. I met her around 1982 when she was four. So that would put her age somewhere around 28 years old. That’s too young for an elephant to die. Elephant’s are like humans, and can live up to about 80 years old. She was just a young lady when she passed away. But she will be remembered by thousands of devotees all over the world, and she was surrounded by hundreds of loving friends at the time of her passing. She passed away in Mayapur, the holy land of Lord Chaitanya. Gulab Kali, therefore, is now forever blissful in the eternal land of Gauranga.
I pray that she will one day remember me once again.
Your fallen servant,