Tusker Indi Raja ( Lead Tusker of the Sri Dalada Maligawa )

Photo of Tusker Indi Raja

The forgotten story of Indi Raja, the strapper of a majestic tusker who helped bring peace to Sri Lanka and India at a pivotal period. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi donated this Tusker to Sri Lanka, and the government of Sri Lanka donated it to the Sri Dalada Maligawa by means of a Deed of Gift. During tense times between Sri Lanka and India, a peacemaker named Indi Raja arrived on the scene on February 2, 1988, and brought the Tusker down from the ship to Lankan soil.

Though there are three other tuskers who are capable of carrying the Golden Karanduwa, Diyawadana Nilame Dela told this reporter that Indi Raja will be the Lead Tusker. It took two weeks to find this particular Tusker in the Mudumalai Forest Reserve. They spent two weeks searching the Forest Reserve for a Tusker suitable for the Sri Dalada Maligawa, including the former Diyawadana Nilame Neeranjan Wijeyarathne and Professor Vijitha Kuruwita of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Peradeniya. Indi Raja, a beautiful seven-foot-tall tusker, once carried the Golden Karanduwa, the only pageant in the world where such a big number of humans and animals mix without any harm coming to either.

In 1987, President J. R. Jayawardene called an elephant at the Maligawa zoo “the National Treasure,” and the elephant soon fell ill. Professor Vijitha Kuruwita, the vet for the Sri Dalada Maligawa at the time, and the first veterinarian to handle the “Cap Chur” gun after it was donated to the University by Late Dr. Nihal Karunaratne, who had been given it by the inventor, was consulted by the then-Diyawadana Nilame, Niranjan Wijerathne.

Dr. Colin Murdoch of New Zealand The Maligawa required a new Diyawadana. Therefore former Diyawadana Nilame decided to ask Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for help despite the political atmosphere in Sri Lanka at the time. To meet with the Indian head of state, he called the Late Venerable Mapalagama Vipulasara Thera, President of the Mahabodhi Society in India. A meeting between Prime Minister Gandhi and the Venerable Thera was made possible.

A powerful delegation, including the Mahanayake of Asgiri, the Venerable Palipanne Chandananda, the Anunayake of Malwatte, the Venerable Panditha Pahamune Gunanda Thera, a member of the Malwatta Karaka Sangha Sabha, the Venerable Palipanne Sirinivasa Thera, and Professor Kuruwita, accompanied the Diyawadana Nilame. The Sri Lankan team met with Prime Minister Gandhi in New Delhi, as scheduled. In addition to meeting with the Prime Minister of India, the team also visited with the late President of the All Ceylon Buddhist Association, George Ranatunge (the older brother of former Army Commander Cyril Ranatunge).

After much deliberation, the outspoken Ven, Palipanne Chandananda, suggested that the tusker donation from the Indian leader to the Sri Dalada Maligawa would go a long way toward easing tensions between India and Sri Lanka. At one point in the conversation, Rajiv Gandhi gave Niranjan Wijerathne a book on elephants. Right once, the Prime Minister assured the team that he would make arrangements for them to choose a tusker from the Mudumalai Elephant Training Centre, which is located in the valley of Mysore between the states of Karnataka and Ootacamund.

Photo of Tusker Indi Raja
Photo of Tusker Indi Raja

After spending two weeks at the Mudumalai Elephant Training Centre, the then-Diyawadana Nilme and Professor Vijtha Kuruwita chose the Tusker to fulfill the needs of the Sri Dalada Maigawa. They eventually came across Indi Raja, a Tusker who met all the criteria necessary to transport the Golden Karanduwa. As a note, this facility is notable for releasing domesticated elephants into a nearby forest reserve, where they mate with wild elephants. Dr. V. Krishnamoorthy, the center’s veterinarian at the time, looked after the elephants and other animals in the forest reserve.

Indi Raja, who stood at seven feet tall and had a flat back, was deemed suited for the task of strapping the Ransivige with leather belts. Dr. Krisnamoorthy, a veterinarian, helped Professor Kuruvita with the decision. High Commissioner Dixit called Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi so that Neeranjan Wieyarathne could speak with him and ask what name should be given to this Tusker; Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi suggested his mother’s name, Indira Gandhi. As soon as asked, the Prime Minister explained that India had given a present to Sri Lanka in the form of the Sri Dalada Maligawa, which may be interpreted as an act of Indi Raja. Therefore, the title “Indi Raja” was born.


Diyawadana Nilame, Indi Raja’s previous trainer, claims that Seneviratne discovered that Indi Raja is averse to the goad and has, therefore, only been trained with a stick. The staff of Sri Dalada Maligawa recalls the time when Veterinarian Krishnamoorthy visited the Maha Maluwa to see Indi Raja during his stay in Sri Lanka for a symposium. The Tusker identified Dr. Krishnamoorthy simply by hearing his speech; in other words, Indi Raja is fluent in Hindi. After 24 years, Sri Dalada Maligawa finally has a designated Tusker to transport the sacred Golden Karanduwa during the annual rite, eliminating the need for the services of any other Tusker in Sri Lanka.