COIMBATORE: A Karim Sait, 46, mahout of 18-year-old female elephant Aathinayaki, is the only Muslim among the mahouts. Every morning, he takes the elephant for a bath near the Bhavani river, and draws the ‘namam’ with sandal paste on the animal’s forehead and ears.

Aathinayaki belongs to the Aathinaathar temple at Alwarthirunagari. Sait, a native of Alwarthirunagari told TOI that three generations of his family worked as mahouts. “Our family owned more than five female elephants in Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli and Virudhunagar districts. My grandfather and a few of my relatives worked as mahouts in Ettayapuram and Singampatti, both princely states. Now my son Abbas, 22, also works as mahout for a temple elephant named Kumudavalli,” he said.

He stopped his education after he completed fifth grade. “When I was growing up, more than five elephants lived in my house. I soon quit my studies and followed the elephants as they visited temples and marriage functions. I began learning how to control them,” he said.

Aathinayaki was brought to the elephant in Thekkampatti on February 9. “After I bathe the elephant, I draw a ‘namam’ on his forehead, a conch on his left ear and wheel on his right ear,” said Karim.

“There is no religious discrimination at the camp. I love the animal and decorate it every day morning. I have been with Aathinayaki for the past 16 years and she is part of the family,” said Karim.