Most of the larger temples have their own elephant. In this case the elephant is quite young and works at the Saturn Temple at Tirunallar in south Tamil Nadu. The tradition is that you buy some food for the elephant (a special variety of grass) and offer it to him. He takes it very delicately with his trunk and then he blesses you by touching the top of your head. Then you hand him a 20 rupee note which he passes to his trainer. It is a really nice tradition.
I visited Srirangam, further south in Tamil Nadu, a number of times with my friend Narasimha. His father was chief priest at the large Ranganatha temple there and the family lived very close to the temple. The temple elephant is now, what I suppose is middle age for an elephant. When he was young, they would take him through the streets for various festivals with the deity on his back. As the procession made its way through the streets, they’d stop at Narasimha’s house where his mother would feed warm milk and coffee to the priests and to the elephant as well.
Apparently the elephant got used to this and as he grew older, whenever he went by the house, he’d stop and not go any further until he had his coffee. And being bigger than anyone else, when he wanted coffee, there was no budging him!
It was interesting to visit the elephant’s house in Srirangam. There is a really big door for the elephant opening into a very large room. Off to the side is the trainer’s desk and a few chairs. It was quite unusual to sit having some tea with an elephant right there in the living room! Put an elephant in a house and you quickly realize how large they are.