THRISSUR Pooram is one of the most spectacular festivals in the world. It is also the biggest and most colourful temple festival of Kerala. The word Pooram means a group or a meeting but there is no match for it in terms of visual splendour, the grand assembly of caparisoned elephants, amazing pyrotechnic displays and spell-binding ensembles of percussion instruments. Thousands of enthusiastic crouds irrespective of caste, colour or religion converge at Thrissur to take part in the festivities. It is believed that the gods and goddesses meet each other annually on this occasion. This year, the festival is being celebrated on April 24. Sakthan Thampuran (1775-1790), Maharaja of the erstwhile Cochin State was responsible for introducing this festival. The celebrations start in the early hours of the morning and last till the break of dawn on the next day.
Thrissur is situated in the centre of Kerala and is known as the cultural capital of the State. It spans an area of about 66.15 sq. km. and is built around a hillock overlooking the city. The centre of the city has one of the largest roundabouts in the world. The name Thrissur is derived from Thiru-Shiva-Perur, which literally means the city of the Sacred Siva. In ancient days, Thrissur was also known as Vrishachala (Vrisha means Nandikeswara) and as Kailasam, the abode of Lord Siva in the South.
Thrissur is known as the land of Poorams (festivals) and Thrissur Pooram is referred to as the festival of all festivals and is celebrated at the famous Vadakkunnathan Temple. Thrissur has two other well-known temples including Thiruvambadi and Paramekkavu temples. Vadakkunnathan temple is believed to have been founded by Lord Parasurama. The main temple complex is spread over nine acres encircled by 64 acres of land called Thekkinkadu or forest of teakwoods, though there is no forest there now. The four Gopurams (gateways) of the temple are beautifully carved out of wooden pillars incorporating rare architectural techniques. The temple has been declared a national monument by the Union Government under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act. According to legend, the parents of Adi Shankaracharya came to Thrissur and observed bhajan for 41 days and as a result Vadakkunnathan was born to them as Shankara. Adi Shankaracharya himself, after his earthly mission, is said to have shed his mortal body here.
The festival commences with the procession (ezhunellippu) of the Kanimangalam Shasta in the morning. The procession is a custom that signifies the visit of goddess from the Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi temples. Apart from the two major temples, eight minor temples also participate in the Pooram. It must be noted that Vadukunnathan Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, remains a spectator during the festival granting the premises and convenience for the festival. No offering is received nor is any expenditure incurred by the temple in connection with the Pooram. Not even a special puja is offered on the occasion.
The festival highlights include a spectacular pageant of 30 caparisoned elephants brought from various temples of Kerala and a competition in the swift rhythmic changing of brightly coloured and sequined parasols (Kudamattom). In the Kudamattom, the two sides engage in a competitive display of colourful umbrellas of various designs. The procession of the caparisoned elephants is commonly known as ‘Aana Chamayal Pradarsana.
The traditional percussion ensembles such as Pancharimelam, Pandimelam and Panchavadyam provide a extremely appropriate accompaniment to the visual treats. Glittering fireworks light up the sky to provide a grand finale to the classic entertainment. The excitement reaches its pinnacle when the processions of the Thiruvambady Sri Krishna and Paramekkavu Devi temples face each other. The festival ends with a farewell programme for the deities of the Thiruvambadi and Paramekkavu Devaswams. This festival is probably the only festival in Kerala that attracts such large masses of people to a single event.
(The author is a freelance journalist and social activist. He is director of Indo-Gulf Consulting and can be contacted at [email protected]).