The village of Hampi is one of the most important religious sites in India, located within the ruins of the capital of the former Vijayanagara Empire. Dozens of historic Hindu temples are spread out over a few miles, and Hampi is as important for Hindus as Mecca is for Muslims – every Hindu is bound to visit Hampi at least once in their lifetime, and pilgrims arrive from every corner of the country to Hampi every day. The impressive Virupaksha Temple is not only the oldest temple in Hampi, but it is also the only one here that has its own temple elephant.
Her name is Lakshmi, and she blesses the pilgrims by placing her trunk on their head. It was incredible to watch her, giant and so sweet, as she blessed everyone, but also, we were lucky enough to see her as she was scrubbed in the river for over an hour by her caretakers alongside the local villagers who also bathe and brush their teeth right along side the elephants everyday.
While she seemed to enjoy the bathing, as I watched her standing in the temple for what must be hours every day, I couldn’t help but ask myself if she is happy standing there day after day, fulfilling her responsibilities as the temple elephant instead of frolicking through the jungle.