Elephant festivals of Kerala

Festooned elephants used in temple festivals of Kerala

Malayalis can’t imagine a festival without elephants. These festooned animals are the life and soul of the temple festivals of Kerala

Kerala has some unique temple festivals of its own. Most of these festivals are celebrated in the months of February, March, April and May.

Festooned elephants are the biggest attraction of these festivals. Most temples in the state own elephants. Some temples own scores of them. Rich families often donate elephants to temples. This is considered as a divine practice.

The temples have their own staff to take care of these elephants. The Guruvayur Temple in Kerala now owns 56 elephants. They maintain an elephant sanctuary of their own about 3 kilometers away from the temple. During the annual festival of the temple, one of these elephants will carry the resident deity of the temple. Others join him in a grand procession.

At some temples the festival is celebrated for 10 days. The festivities begin with the hoisting of the festival flag. During the next ten days, the temple will organize various cultural and religious programs. Major festivities are reserved for the tenth day when there will be grand processions involving elephants, traditional temple orchestra (panchavadyam) and fireworks (vetikkettu). These festivals attract tens of thousands of people. Some festivals are so famous that even people from outside of India travel to Kerala on those occasions to enjoy the grand spectacles.

Each temple has its own committee to organize the festival. These festivals are called Pooram in Malayalam.

thrissur pooram

Decorated elephants assembled in front of the Vadukkunnathan Temple in Thrissur

In Kerala, celebrations are usually muted. You won’t find people singing or dancing in the streets. The temple festivals are an exception to this rule. They are magnificent shows that you will never forget in your lifetime. Elephants are dressed in royal costumes and paraded around. They wear gold platted ornaments called Nettipattom on their head. Bells and necklaces complete their looks. Mahouts sitting on top of them will hold colorful parasols called Muthukuda. Each elephant will have three or four people sitting on this back. They will sway Venchamaram (white Yak tail whisks) and Alavattom (a large fan made from peacock feathers). The elephants are used to the noise and the crowds and behave well throughout the festivities which last several hours. They have no difficulty standing in the midst of an ocean of humanity lost in the festive cheer.

Visit Kerala between February and May to witness these festivities. There are numerous festivals. While some festivals are famous all over the world, others are less-known. But just because a festival isn’t famous, doesn’t mean that it is not worth participating in. Each one of these festivals presents glorious sights and sounds you will never forget in a lifetime. They are a visual delight that cannot be explained in words. You can find 2016 calendar of elephant festivals here.

Of all the poorams held in Kerala, Thrissur Pooram is the most famous. Thrissur Pooram played an important role in putting Kerala on the tourist map of the world. Tourists from all over the world visit Kerala in May to see Thrissur Pooram. The festivities are simply delightful and last 36 hours.

Thrissur Pooram is a centuries old tradition. It was started by Raja Rama Verma (Sakthan Thampuran), the then ruler of Kochi about 200 years ago. Sakthan Thampuran wanted to create a single venue for all celebrations. He unified the temples in his territory and organized Thrissur Pooram as a festival where people could come together and enjoy.

Thrissur Pooram

thrissur pooram kutamattam

One of the major attractions of the Thrissur Pooram is the kutamattam. The pooram sees the participation of temples belonging to two sides. Each side will keep changing the parasols held over their elephants. The parasols are changed numerous times to the loud applause of spectators.

Thrissur Pooram is a riot of colors. Each year, the Pooram transforms this small town into a dream land. Thrissur Pooram is held at the Vadukkunnathan Temple in Thrissur. This temple is devoted to Lord Shiva. Festivities last seven days. On the 7th day of Pooram, deities of temples in the surroundings of Thrissur are taken in a grand procession to the Vadukkunnathan Temple to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva.

The two main participants are the Thiruvambadi Sri Krishna Temple and Paramekkavu Bagavathi Temple. These temples are barely 500 meters apart. There are several temples in each group. They all bring their processions to the Vadukkunnathan Temple. Each side wants their festivities and processions to be the best. This friendly rivalry is what makes this festival so interesting. For the people of Thrissur, the Pooram isn’t a festival. It is part of their collective psyche.

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