There is only one image that pops up in my mind when I hear, “Keshavan”. An elephant. And it happened today when a Japanese student saw a painting on a bamboo canvas of an elephant in my room and asked me if there was something special about the picture. The painting was of Keshavan. To the Kerala citizens, he is popularly known as Guruvayoor Keshavan (Guruvayoor is a Sri Krishna Temple in Thrissur, Kerala) who passed away at the grand age of 72.
I first heard about Keshavan from my dear uncle, perhaps when I was 5. He was totally in love with him. He had wall pictures, wooden carvings, a calendar, necklace locket, newspaper cuttings whatever of Keshavan, the elephant. This is not surprising. Almost everyone in Kerala knows who Keshavan the Elephant is. There will atleast be a picture of him somewhere in the house. Such was the respect given to him. But he is known more for his devotional service during his life time. Here is a summary that I collected from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guruvayur_Keshavan)
“Gajarajan Guruvayoor Kesavan (1904 – December 2, 1976) is perhaps the most famous and celebrated Elephant of Kerala, South India. Kesavan was donated to the Guruvayoor Hindu temple by the royal family of Nilambur in 1916 when he was about 10 years old. It is a common custom in Kerala to donate elephants to the deity of the temple as an offering.
Standing over 3.2 meters tall, Kesavan was known for his devout behavior. Kesavan died on “Guruvayur Ekadasi,” considered a very auspicious day. He fasted for the entire day and dropped down facing the direction of the temple with his trunk raised as a mark of prostration. The anniversary of his death is still celebrated in Guruvauyur. Hundreds of elephants line up before the statue and the chief elephant garlands it. Kesavan was conferred the unique title “Gajarajan” (Elephant King), by the Guruvayoor Devaswom.
The Guruvayoor Devaswom erected a life-size statue of Keshavan in its precincts as tribute to the services he rendered to the presiding deity of the temple. His tusks, along with a majestic portrait of the elephant, can be still seen adorning the entrance to the main temple enclosure. His life is the subject of an Malayalam feature film which bears his name.”
There are many, many true stories of Keshavan’s devotion to Sri Krishna that people recollect even now. You may find them on the net. After recollecting my own fond memories of listening to Keshavan’s time from my uncle and his uncles as a kid, I was even more motivated to be steadfast in my Krishna Consciousness efforts.