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Thrissur Pooram

After many many years, I witnessed the Thrissur Pooram again this summer.  Pooram is the Malayalam local lingo for almost any temple festival— and the one held in the town of Thrissur is supposed to be the grandest of them all. It is usually held between mid April & mid-May at the Vadukkunnathan temple in the town center.  Thrissur Pooram is especially famous for its gathering of richly decorated elephants sponsoredDSC_7022mainly by the two neighbouring temples of Parmekkavu and Thiruvambady who indulge in a friendly rivalry displaying colorful parasols or umbrellas. This is both preceded and followed by a stupendous musical display and some really amazing fireworks.  Thousands of people descend in Thrissur for the 2-3 days of the pooram to witness this spectacle creating a humongous crowd—possibly the largest public gathering of people that I have ever been a part of.

When I was in India, I spent every summer in Thrissur with my cousins. Pooram was a big part of my vacation.  Although the actual pooram lasts only for a couple of days, the excitement starts atleast a month back when the Pooram Exhibition opens. The pooram exhibition is a like a “mela” + expo where there are stalls from the smallest shopowner to relative big shots like the Railways and the big publication houses. I recall that a couple of times there was also a stall where the nearby medical college exhibited their jar of organ specimens from their labs.  In the pre-mall era, the exhibition and the shops was a big draw for all of us kids and we usually spent a couple of our vacation days and almost all our pocket money buying small knickknacks such as earrings, necklaces , bangles for the year. We would then eat some cotton candy, ride the giant wheel and religiously roam the entire grounds before strolling back home—happy & satisfied.

The pooram really kicks off with the sample vedikattu or the sample fireworks held two nights before the real pooram night. The sample fireworks is exactly what is sounds like : a preview of the fireworks to be held on the main night. By the day before the pooram, over 60-70 elephants have gathered in Thrissur although only about 30 will be used for the final procession. Many people go to see the elephants—where else can you see so many elephants.  For some the elephants are an obsession and they can identify any elephant by sight and give you details about its pedigree, the owner & the previous poorams the elephant participated in. DSC_6974For me, it invokes mixed emotions— awe at the sight of the huge but graceful elephants, pity for their wretched state of being shackled in chains and fear that one of these may be pushed over the edge & go beserk by the combination of the heat, the chains, the noise and the crowd. On the night before the pooram, there is the “Aana Chamayam” – where the elephant decorations are displayed for the public. The decoration consists of the nettipattam , gold(en) covered piece of cloth worn, on the forehead and covers about half way to the trunk, the colorful & stylish silk parasols (koda) , a circular fan made of closely packed peacock feathers (alavattom) and flowing pony tail shaped fans (venjamaram) and other ornaments that adorn the deity. A lot of this is gold plated or pure gold and it is all very colorful creating a sumptuous display.

DSC_6979On the day of the main pooram, there are elephant processions start early in the morning from the their respective temples accompanied by the orchestra. The processions starts with 3 or 5 elephants and as the day proceeds, it is increased to 15 elephants. The main elephant carries the temple deity and is flanked on either side by 7 elephants. At various times of the day as the elephant procession continues, there are special kind of musical orchestra—such as the panchavadyam( consisting of 5 instruments), elanjithara melam and the pandimelam (predominantly drums). The melams are truly the original rock concerts— thousands of people swayingg to the same music, hands in the air as the move in rhythm to the sound of music performed by some of the legends in the field. The procession culminates in the “round in fron to fthe Vadukknathan temple where 15 elephants from each temple form a line at each end of the Round. Between them are gathered about tens of thousands of people packed together—eager to see the “kudamattom”.  This is an overwhelming experience. The kudamattom begins with each group changing their parasols in quick successions , umbrellas of different colors, pattern (double decker and triple decker umbrellas), design (lavish gold embroidered patterns) make their appearance in a show of friendly one-upmanship.

DSC_7094It is hot (the peak of the summer sun), noisy, crowded and you are completely overwhelmed by the sight & sounds and the sea of humanity converging on you from all sides. I don’t believe women see the actual pooram for primarily safety reasons. Eve teasing is a terrible problem in Thrissur on most days, it is worse on days where million strong crowd gathers. When we were kids, my brother’s used to create a protective circle by lining hands and my cousin sisters use to see the pooram from inside this circle. At that time, I was not overtly impressed. Also I earned the ire of my brothers my asking “ so who won the umbrella competition?”, which apparently embarrassed them beyond words.  I was to learn later that it was a question never to be asked…there are no winners although the locals are always prejudiced in favour of their own “teams” so to speak!!

The entire procession is repeated again at night in reverse before the idol is taken back to the respective temples.  The grand finale is the real fireworks display late night (almost early morning) which is a treat for the eyes and colorful “amittams” light up the sky in one colorful burst after another creating wonderful designs in the sky. People gather on rooftops, open places –anywhere they can to see the firworks—again a friendly competitive display between Thiruvambady and Parmekkavu.

This year we only had an afternoon to see the pooram between visiting all our relatives— so we decided to see the Thiruvambady elephants. This was Seejo’s first pooram so he was thrilled about taking photographs of so many elephants. We briefly heard the elanjithara melam, marveled at the sight of 15 decorated elephants as they stood in a single line to enter the temple, enjoyed the sights of the street side hawkers selling colorful balloons, fans, various food items and much needed cold drinks. It wasn’t the entire pooram but for a short time, it felt like going back in time.

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