Kandula: The Pachyderm Prince of Light Infantry Regiment | Daily News


 

Kandula: The Pachyderm Prince of Light Infantry Regiment

Elephants have captivated us throughout the history of our nation. They have taken lead roles as defenders in ancient armies, involved in helping haul timber to build dams and magnificent temples and finally stealing the spotlight at all religious parades.

The elephant inspires us as the most majestic of all land creatures. In spite of its large displacement, the elephant has displayed intelligence and emotions causing us to appreciate this majestic animal. The glorious kings of ancient Ceylon had well-structured military combat formations in which the elephant mounted troops featured prominently, in their role as advancing infantry. These elephants were the formidable defence of our ancient infantry battalions, and their presence motivated the soldiers. On the other hand, their approach caused fear to the enemy.

The great chronicle Mahavamsa reveals the influence of an elephant named Kandula. This magnificent animal belonging to the “Saddanthakula” clan of elephants was presented to Prince Gemunu on his birthday. The bold young prince soon developed a close bond with the elephant. Over the years, they both trained in combat manoeuvres and became a formidable team. Kandula is credited with storming the southern gate of the fortress at Vijithanagar along with the powerful warriors, Nandimitta and Suranimala. The elephant garnered support in many battles and was loved by all. Kandula reached the peak of his life when he played a significant role in the encounter where King Dutugemunu subdued King Elara. Thus, Kandula was bestowed with the honour of being the king’s royal mount – mangala hasthi.

The Sri Lanka Light Infantry (formerly Ceylon Light Infantry) is one of the pioneer regiments of the Sri Lanka Army. They have been blessed with an elephant as the mascot of their regiment. On many media assignments to the Panagoda Cantonment, I have been fortunate to meet the elephants which take on the mascot role of “Kandula”. We went to the area where Kandula resides within this large military community. The present Kandula is one of many elephants trained by the Light Infantry since 1961. All the mascots who faithfully served the regiment have stood with dignity and decorum taking part in military parades. The young elephant was in a good mood munching on some kithul branches. His faithful handler, an Army Corporal asked me to come near Kandula. The elephant was friendly and gently extended his trunk toward me, probably expecting a fruit.

Living in a military cantonment requires adhering to a disciplined routine, just like the officers and soldiers. Kandula begins his day by 7 am and goes for his first bath by 7.30. On the way, his presence brings joy to the schoolchildren who live within this community. The gentle elephant then proceeds to pay reverence to the Buddha shrine on site. For decades, it has been the tradition of the regiment’s duty officer to feed Kandula with fruits at the start of each day.

During the morning hours in keeping with military obligations the young elephant exercises by engaging in a four-kilometre walk around the spacious camp. This is a pleasant sight as people acknowledge the gentle giant, as he takes his large strides. After a time of rest and some food, the corporal takes the regiment’s mascot for his second extended bath at noon. Elephants enjoy being in the water, and it was so cute to watch Kandula sprays himself with water and enjoying this refreshing moment. Once the bathing was done, the elephant is given his favourite treat – a combination of apples, watermelon and pineapple. Kandula is shown military respect at every function of the Sri Lanka Light Infantry, when he is offered a customary basket of fruits.

Though not bestowed with an Army rank, the beloved elephant has his own “extra-large” uniform when representing his regiment on parade. He is well accustomed to the band’s music and military commands. The elephant’s costume displays the insignia of a Sergeant Major. Kandula is given a generous allowance for his welfare. He also has the services of a veterinarian when required.

An officer told me of an incident that had taken place some years ago, when another mascot elephant (all are named Kandula) was not fed his breakfast on time. There had been a delay of about 15 minutes. The wise elephant had boldly walked to the office of the regimental commandant and stood there demanding his breakfast. These adorable elephants take turns to serve the Light Infantry Regiment. It is a relay. When they reach the age of musth, they become harder to control and are sent back to Pinnawala. A new junior pachyderm is recruited to stand as the regimental mascot. On leaving the regiment, the outgoing elephant is given a farewell military parade. He is missed by the team of handlers and all the children at Panagoda camp. The new elephant will begin his training and prepare to accept and fulfil the dignified role of Kandula, the Warrior Mascot of the Army.


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