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Elephants are prominent in Indian culture and symbolism. It's no wonder then that they play an integral role in one of India's most popular festivals.
Thrissur Pooram is a huge event in the Indian state of Kerala. Fireworks and music fill the air with noise and spectacle, while a processional spends hours maneuvering around local temple grounds. Front and center are the elephants, adorned with colorful flowers and elaborate headdresses. While there are plenty of events throughout the festival, the parade of these lumbering beasts is clearly the highlight.
History of Pooram
Thrissur is actually the name of a city, and it is just one of many that celebrates the event of Pooram throughout Kerala. Pooram is an annual festival that occurs at temples shortly after the summer harvest. Its origins and intentions make it one of the more special celebrations around the world.
The state of Kerala has served as a melting pot for various religions, with Christians, Hindus and Muslims all coexisting relatively peacefully for years. Even within Hinduism there is no single faction that stands out above the rest in the region. Pooram is a temple festival that celebrates the common principles and beliefs shared between the different factions of Hinduism, according to "Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals, Solemn Observances and Spiritual Commemorations."
While Thrissur steals much of Pooram's spotlight - in no small part due to its size and its elephants - it is not the first site, nor was it always the largest. Arattupuzha had once been the biggest, but that started to change in the 18th century, when celebrants showed up late to the event after rain delays. When they were denied entrance to the festival, Thrissur organized its own celebration. The Maharaja of Kochi put funds into Thrissur Pooram, transforming it into the mass festival that it is today.
Thrissur and Arattupuzha
The elephants of Thrissur are sent as representatives from the 10 temples that officially participate in the city's Pooram. One of the more captivating events is kudamattam, a competition among mounted riders that involves rhythmically changing brightly colored parasols, according to Kerala's Department of Tourism. Perhaps as impressive as the elephants is Ilanjithara Melam, a percussion ensemble of approximately 250 players, serving as guides for the thousands of attendees.
Arattupuzha, known as the mother of all Pooram festivals, is still a massive event that stretches across an entire week. People gather at the Sree Sastha Temple, which may be more than 3,000 years old. In its last two days, Arattupuzha brings out its own elephants and percussion ensembles, all illuminated by huge flame staffs and traditional lamps. The elephants, having brought deities from nearby temples, line up before sunrise in a rice paddy while music plays. At dawn, everyone heads to the nearby river for a cleansing ceremony.
Despite lack of name recognition, other cities in Kerala put on a good show. The Pariyanampetta temple celebrates via a number of artistic endeavors in addition to elephants and percussion. According to Kerala's Department of Tourism, the main ritual involves drawing depictions of goddesses on the floor of the temple with various colorful powders, all done to the sound of live music. Come evening, celebrants gather to watch a special form of shadow puppetry. There are also effigies displayed in the form of bulls and horses. It is only on the last day that the elephant processional comes out.
The Chinakkathoor Bhagavathi Temple also holds Pooram. It, too, has shadow puppetry as well as the elephants, but its notable difference comes from the traditional Kerala orchestra.
Pooram is a special event in India, but its not the only one come May. For those making an extended stay in the region, it may be worth investigating the Mount Abu summer festival or the Chithirai.
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