“Gaja Payana” (Gaja = Elephant; Payana = Journey) is the stately march of elephants from the jungles to the Royal Mysore Palace, to participate in the world famous, annual Mysore Dasara celebrations. In fact, Gaja Payana marks the countdown to the Dasara festivities. This year, Gaja Payana is going to begin on September 28th and the elephants will reach the Mysore Palace later.
The Maharajas of Mysore started this tradition of Gaja Payana. Back then, the elephants chosen to take part in the Dasara celebrations would walk the entire route from their forest base camps to Mysore city. It is said that the King himself would falg off the Gaja Payana, after performing puja to the elephants. The nearby villagers would add more colour to the ceremony with their tribal or folk dance, music and songs. All along the route, villagers would warmly greet the elephants and offer them eatables. Once the elephants reached the main Palace gate, they would receive a grand Royal welcome and their regular training routine for the final day’s Dasara Procession would start.
When compared, there is not much of a difference to how Gaja Payana was back then and now, but for a few. Now, our political leaders perform the puja to the elephants and start the Gaja Payana. Also, instead of walking the complete distance, after walking for a ceremonial distance, the elephants are brought to Mysore by trucks. Thus, the risk of getting the elephants overworked or tired is eliminated.
Once they reach the Palace, they are given a special rich diet, different from what they ate at their forest base camps. This would be a protein and vitamin rich, high calorie diet. This is done to ensure that the elephants are strong and fit for the final day Procession. They are also trained daily to familiarise themselves to the city sounds and life. They are taken on rounds around the city, to get them used to the traffic, the crowd etc. This would help immensely to keep the elephants calm on the final Dasara day, when thousands would throng to see the grand Procession, making a lot of noise.
Gaja Payana usually starts at the Veerana Hosalli camp, near the outskirts of the Nagarhole Forest, some 70 kms from Mysore city. Until the start of Gaja Payana, the elephants that take part in the Dasara procession are kept at various elephant camps at Dubare, Hebballa, Moorkal, Kallalla, Nagarhole, Veerana Hosalli, Metikuppe, Sunkadakatte, Bandipur, Moolehole, K. Gudi and Bheemeshwari.