Colourful umbrellas, bedecked elephant trunks, twinkling lights. Walking down the lobby of Vasundhara Sarovar Premiere brought back memories of a day I had long forgotten. It was probably half a decade since I had visited Thrissur, and this unexpected encounter with a row of of elephant trunks in a shiny hotel lobby, transported me back to a hot, noisy day in May five years ago.
The city of Thrissur, which is built around a hillock known as the Thekkinadu Maidan, is known world over for Thrissur Pooram, one of the most lavish festivals Kerala celebrates. And ten years ago, backpacking around the state as a twenty-something college-goer, I found myself in the midst of the year’s Thrissur Pooram.
The Thrissur Pooram dates back to 1798. Legend has it that when Raja Rama Varma and his temple weren’t allowed to participate in the Pooram of Arattupuzha, the Maharaja channeled his energies into creating a new festival in Thrissur. Elephants, deities, people and fireworks — over the years the Thrissur Pooram became one of the biggest and the most well-known festivals of Kerala, the pooram of poorams. Every year, thousands visit Thrissur. Sometimes out of pure devotion, sometimes out of curiosity, and sometimes, like me, by chance.
The festival, which takes place in the Malayalam month of Medam (April-May) starts with a procession of two deities (Goddess Bhagawati of Paramekkavu temples and Lord Krishna of Thiruvanbadi temple). They travel on the backs of caparisoned elephants to the hillock of Thekkinadu Maidan, which is the seat of the presiding deity of Thrissur, Vadakkumnathan (Lord Shiva). While the major festivities happen at the hillock, the journey (which I unfortunately missed) till there is a spectacle in itself as more than thirty pachyderms, flanked by people, umbrellas and musical instruments, head to the Vadakkunnathan Temple.
At Thekkinadu Maidan, it seemed like all of Thrissur (or maybe the world!) was milling around the Vadakkunnathan Temple. It was loud, it was extravagant, it was evidently a very big deal. I climbed onto a makeshift stand to get a clearer view above the sea of swimming heads and raised hands clutching phone cameras. At last I could see the action. Two rows of elephants faced each other, with men sitting atop them holding glittering umbrellas (muthukuddas) and sequinned fans. A group of men were busy beating their drums and as the music rose to a crescendo, the unfurling of umbrellas (two-tiered, lit up, and adorned with deities) began. I soon realised that the two sides were in competition, doing their best to outdo each other as the crowd wildly clapped with each antic. I later learned that this “competition” between the temples was an important ritual of Thrissur Pooram and called the Kudamattom (changing of parasols).
It was almost dusk when the Kudamattom got over but it was certainly a while before the crowd showed any signs of wanting to go home. But as night began to fall, the fireworks (Thrissur pooram vedikkettu) began. And what a show it was. The sky changed from golden to red to yellow, and I remember standing there wondering to myself whether I was really in Kerala. In my month long sojourn in the state, I never came across anything even remotely showy or extravagant. But that day it was all about competition, about indulgence, about fanfare. It was about going all out. And it was beautiful.
As the next morning dawned, I took a walk back to the Thekkinadu Maidan. The roads lay deserted and quiet, remnants of the previous day’s festivities, conspicuously strewn along the path. I looked at the treetops and terraces of the surrounding houses. They looked strangely bare and I realized why — it was only a few hours ago, that every inch of every parapet, window sill, and tree branch was occupied by men, women, girls and boys, who had all gathered there to watch the Thrissur Pooram together.
Every year, comes a day in Arpril or May, where all roads lead to Thrissur. At some point in your life, make sure you’re on it.
Pooram : a generic term implying festivities.
Medam : April-May, according to the Malayalam calendar.
Muthukuddas : umbrellas
Kudamattom : the exchange of parasols, an important part of Thrissur Pooram.
Thrissur pooram vedikkettu : fireworks