Kesavan – Gajaraj : The Elephant Devotee of Lord Guruvayur

The Elephant Devotee of Lord Guruvayur

One of the most famous elephant serving Lord Guruvayurwas Keshavan, also know as Gajaräja, or “king of the elephants.”

In January 1922, Valiya Raja (King) of Nilambur offered one of his twelve elephants to Lord Guruvayurappa, as a fulfillment of his vow when he got back his entire property intact at the time of the Malabar Mutiny. Aged 10 years, Elephant was named Keshavan. He was noble and kind, yet mischievous and stupid. To remove his lunacy, he was given butter to eat which was first sanctified (made holy) by the Melshanti (Head Priest) – believed to be an effective treatment for stupidity, and then made to perform bhajan by attending all the three siveli (temple functions). All this transformed him into an ideal Deity elephant.

He would bend his front legs only before those who held the Lord’s thidambu (Deity) to enable them to climb on him.  Others who held the umbrella, alavattam etc. had to climb by his behind legs. Very compassionate, he never harmed anybody.  Even when he was inside and outside Guruvayur, he was not destructive; He would proceed to the temple, take a round and occupy his place.

Once he was hurrying to the temple, disobeying the mahouts.  Everybody in the area fled  for fear of being trembled  by it.  Except a poor, helpless leper who could not run away & remained helpless on the path.  As the people watched with fear, they were astonished when they saw that Kesavan had actually lifted the leper with his trunk, placed him safely in a corner, and proceeded straight to the temple.

In 1973, Kesavan was honored with the title of “Gajarajan”(King of elephants) when the temple was for the first time, celebrating the golden Jubilee of the services of an elephant. Keshavan’s unique devotion for his service at Guruvayur will not be forgotten. When Keshavan became the leading elephant in the temple herd, he would no longer tolerate another elephant’s carrying the Deity. Once, when another elephant was selected to carry the Deity in procession, Keshavan became so disturbed that he attacked the other elephant and chased him away. Whenever Keshavan was to carry the Deity, he would demonstrate his great eagerness to perform his service by pulling at the chains that bound his feet.

For more than fifty years Keshavan served Lord Krishna at Guruvayur. During one festival,(On the fateful day December 2nd, 1976 on the famous  GuruvayurEkadasi day)  however, he became ill, just at the time of the Deity procession. His huge body began to tremble, and he was removed from the procession and taken to a nearby stable, where he fasted throughout the night. The next evening, when the conchshell blew to announce the appearance of the Deity, Keshavan bowed before the temple, and amid thousands of devotees chanting and playing on musical instruments, his soul departed from his body to attain the eternal realm of Vaikuntha.

A 12 – feet high concrete statue of the elephant Kesavan has been executed by the temple members at the spot in front of the Panchajanyam Rest House – a fitting memorial indeed for a unique devotee

When pilgrims arrive at Guruvayur, they are reminded of Keshavan by his tusks and portrait displayed above the main entrance to the Deity chamber. And throughout the city many shops sell colorful paintings of Keshavan.


At Guruvayur, whether on the days of great festivals or in the moments before the evening procession, when ten thousand oil lamps are being lit, or while hearing about Keshavan, the king of the elephants, the pilgrim naturally feels a growing desire to glorify the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna.