The Song of the Mahout

NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ADVANCED STUDIES Indian Institute of Science Campus Bengaluru 560012


The NIAS – Exeter University Research Network on The Politics of Performance on the Urban Periphery


The Song of the Mahout: Performances, Interactions, Lives

J K Dobi

J K Jagadeesh

J C Annaiah

Dubare Elephant Camp, Kodagu District, Karnataka

Date and Time:Wednesday, 10 April 2019, 3:30 PM Venue: Lecture Hall, NIAS

Chair: Nishant M Srinivasaiah Animal Behaviour and Cognition Programme, NIAS


Every once in a while, a free-ranging elephant finds its way into captivity in one of the elephant camps in southern India. This wild-caught elephant, which probably viewed human beings as a threat for all good reasons, is then handed over to a very unique set of people, the mahouts, to be tamed and kept. The elephant and the mahout now embark on one of the most interesting journeys of building a relationship, one of trust, but filled with pain and pride, between a human and a nonhuman species that seldom can be explained but only experienced. What is it like to be living with elephants in elephant forests? And how does one express this experience?

In this interaction with elephant caretakers, JK Dobi, JK Jagadeesh and JC Annaiah, we learn about their lives in elephant forests, their bonding with elephants, both captive and wild, and the role of music in expressing their relationship with the untamed wilderness, which continues to live within them.

JK Dobi, JK Jagadeesh and JC Annaiah belong to the Jeenu Kuruba community and are senior mahouts with the Karnataka State Forest Department. They have spent many years looking after elephants, who they consider their family, and wandering the forests, their home.

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