If Kerala is on your wish list, plan your visit in February, March or April. Summer has already started in Kerala, but you will forget the heat when you are in this land of lush greens and exotic festivals.
If you are keen on watching a pooram with an elephant pageant, head to the district of Palakkad or Thrissur. These districts are in the northern part of the state. A Temple festival in this part of the state is called a Pooram or a Vela. Both words mean ‘festival’ in Malayalam.
A pooram could be a one-day festival or a 10-day festival. A typical pooram will have a colorful parade of festooned elephants, processions of bull or horse effigies, percussion orchestra and ritualistic performances by traditional artists.
A pooram has a strong religious theme. It is the annual festival of the temple where it is going to be held. If the pooram is a 10-day festival, the major festivities are reserved for the 10th day. During the first 9 days, the temple will organize various cultural and religious programs for devotees. On the 10th day, the festivities will typically start in the afternoon and conclude by midnight with colorful fireworks. In smaller temples, the pooram is a 1-day festival. It should be remembered that not all poorams include an elephant parade. If elephants are absent, there will be processions of bull effigies or horse effigies. Generally speaking, temples that own elephants or that can afford to hire elephants will have a festival consisting of them. Some extremely popular elephant festivals are the Thrissur Pooram and Nenmara-Vallangi Vela.
If you are keen on watching an elephant pageant, you need to ensure that they are part of the festivities. That said, the absence of elephants does not make a pooram any less interesting. The decorated effigies of bulls and horses will easily make up for their absence. Some festivals have all of these. Of course, they are the most interesting ones.
In Kerala, only Hindus can enter the temples and offer prayers. Poorams are not held inside the temples. They are held in the land adjoining the temple. Temples are rich bodies that own large parcels of land. Anyone can enter these places and enjoy the festivities.
Temple festivals of Kerala are unique in many ways. You will not find similar celebrations in other parts of the country. They are a riot of colors, sights and sounds. The size and scale of these events make them a bit of an oddity in a state where celebration is all about sitting in front of the TV. On the day of pooram, however, the laidback Malayali will step out of his comfort zone and indulge in some revelry in the streets. No, you will still not find them dancing in the streets. This is not something Malayalis will do.
Poorams are becoming bigger. Unlike Diwali or Navaratri, a pooram isn’t a state-wide or nation-wide celebration. It is a local celebration held in honor of a local deity. You can read about most popular Hindu deities here. People who attend these festivals are the residents of the locality. However, now some poorams attract people from all over the world because of their magnificence and size. Poorams are becoming grander year after year because of the friendly rivalry between the participating villages. A pooram sees the participation of several small temples in the neighborhood. All of them will send their processions to the main temple where the festival is celebrated and each one wants theirs to be the better. Actually, as soon as one pooram gets over, people will start making preparations for the next.