While going through a reading on the foray of elephants into the villages of West Bengal way back in 1994 brought back to me the memory of the famous Vadhyar(priest) of our village who assumed various roles. During pooram (temple festivals) he would be fully engaged in aanapuram keral (riding on the elephant) for holding the decorated umbrella, alavattom or vencharam at different temples. He had created a record by doing this feat for nearly half a century.
He had a number of other elephantine accomplishments. When he was riding atop the elephant once, it turned wild and had started running through the length and breadth of the village for more than eight hours. All the while, he clung on to its back. When the jumbo grew tired and stood near a rice field, the priest somehow jumped down and escaped unhurt.
On another occasion an elephant was returning from the festival with thengu pattai(palm leaves) in its mouth. Vadhyar who was coming from the opposite direction didn't see the elephant till he took a turn along a bend and came face to face with the mammoth mammal. The elephant hit him with the tusk and he fell down and did a few somersaults. Fortunately, once again he escaped unhurt except for some bruises here and there.
The old-timers used to say that the Ganapati homam which he performed daily saved him every time. Because of the constant proximity with the elephants,Vadhyar always emitted a smell peculiar to the elephant. Jokingly and for easy identification he was referred to as Anapuram Vadhyar (priest on elephant back).
He had learnt Vedas from his father, a priest himself. Vadhyar was stingy throughout his life, not spending money even for treating his illness. Strangely, he was not really after money since, unlike other priests, he never demandeddakshina (compensation) for officiating at ceremonies but accepted whatever was offered to him. But he would never leave the place without getting enough food. His hosts didn't mind for he kept his word, reached the place well before time, performed the ceremonies to perfection and thus endeared him to the whole village.
His daughter was given in marriage for which he had to spend a sizable sum ' most of which he had saved, and part generously contributed by friendly families. Since he had a hard life with a meager income, he saw to it that his son didn't take up his profession and suffer for life. His well educated son migrated to Kolkata for a job, married a girl and settled down there. Vadhyar never heard of him thereafter. Even during his old age when he was sick, bed-ridden and till he breathed his last in a government hospital, he had to fend for himself.