Amid row over lions named 'Sita' and 'Akbar', here's an elephant named after PM Modi

Puthenkulam Modi is a 36-year-old elephant in Kollam, Kerala

modi-elephant (File) A 2010 photo of Puthenkulam Shaji feeding one of his elephants | Rajan M. Thomas; Puthenkulam Modi

The Jalpaiguri Circuit Bench of the Calcutta High Court recently expressed strong views on the 'controversial names' assigned to animals. The court was hearing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's writ petition against naming a lioness Sita and a lion Akbar at the North Bengal Wild Animals Park in Siliguri. The VHP's plea termed it “irrational,” “illogical” and “tantamount to blasphemy”.

During the proceedings, Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya orally urged the State to consider renaming the lioness. The court conveyed to the Additional Advocate General that animals should not be named after revered figures. Justice Bhattacharyya, reportedly, remarked, “I was contemplating whether any animal can be bestowed with a name after a god, mythological hero, freedom fighter, or Nobel laureate. You are a welfare state, and it is a secular state. Why should you court controversy by naming a lion after Sita and Akbar? This controversy should have been avoided. Not only Sita, but I also do not support naming a lion Akbar. He was a very efficient and noble Mughal emperor, a very successful and secular one. If it is already named, the state authority should abandon it and avoid it. West Bengal should have contested the names given.”

Interestingly, down south, it's not the gods or emperor but the prime minister himself who is in the middle of a similar 'elephantine' problem! Kerala, known for having one of the largest populations of domestic elephants in India, which are owned by temples and individuals and used for religious ceremonies in temples, churches, as well as in timber yards, has numerous elephants named after gods and “revered figures”.

One of them, which was adopted by Puthenkulam Shaji, a Gulf-returnee-turned-businessman with a profound passion for elephants, is named after Modi. The 36-year-old elephant was brought to Kerala in 2016 from Jharkhand. “In Jharkhand, his name was Bhola. When I adopted him, I named him Puthenkulam Modi,” Shaji said. “I named him after the prime minister because of my admiration for him.”

Puthenkulam is in Poothakulam panchayat in Kollam district, and claims to be the panchayat with the greatest number of domestic elephants. Several visitors come to the village to see elephants—among them Puthenkulam Modi is arguably the star attraction these days. Shaji has turned his elephant camp into a full-fledged safari park.

He has owned elephants for many decades, and has received awards for his efforts in protecting elephants. He has encountered legal challenges, too, due to his passion for elephants, but he continues to care for eight elephants.


Join our WhatsApp Channel to get the latest news, exclusives and videos on WhatsApp