As a malayali, it was a matter of immense shame for me, to say that I've n't watched the Thrissur pooram. But not anymore. After many unsuccessful plans over the last few years, I finally made it this year. And so, we took off from Bangalore on a date that cannot be disclosed(which if disclosed can bring down a pack of lies) in the karnataka state owned airavath volvo, the name of the bus being a nice coincidence. We could always say we went to Thrissur pooram in(on :P ) an Airavath. We were treated to some cheesy romantic talk over the phone by a guy sitting behind us. Wonder how the girl tolerated the 'mangalam vaarika(weekly)' inspired 'panjaara adi'(flirtations). In between, we turned around to look at this specimen and saw a thing wrapped in blanket from head to toe and mysterious voices coming from inside. Ipod saved the rest of the night!
Elephants getting ready for the pooram
Sunrise. All roads lead to Thrissur today. There's a frenzy of activity seen everywhere right from the morning. We headed straight to Raja's uncle's place. Now, here's one guy who has relatives on every corner of earth, every city, every village. And so, finding a place to stay while travelling is never a problem. His uncle being a pooram connoisseur, we got details of the various rituals associated with the festival, and their timings. The house was located close to Thiruvambady temple, one of the temples participating in the festival. The proceedings on pooram day starts from this temple. Elephants bearing the deity of the temple walk out majestically through the temple doors accompanied by chenda melam. The procession goes on through the city and reached Naduvil madam. This is where an important ceremony of the festival happens called 'madathil varavu'. This involves taking the Thiruvambadi devi and krishna deities to Brahmaswom madam. A reasonably long panchavadyam performance takes place in this square. We could see people all around, on top of buildings and trees. The town was fully soaked in the festive mood by now.
Ezhunnallathu(procession) from Thiruvambady temple
Madathil varavu ceremony at Bhrahmaswom madam
The next ceremony being the ezhunnallathu(procession) of the deity from Paramekkavu temple(the second temple partcipating in the festival), we had to walk almost half of the distance around Thrissur round(or thekkinkaadu maithanam). Its in this big ground that the Vadakkumnaathan temple is situated and where the 'Kudamattom', the most important ceremony of the 'Thrissur pooram' takes place. On Pooram day, the whole town converges to this round. We walked towards Paramekkavu temple, stopping to drink sambharam in between. I had an encounter with an old drunk man during that stop.
Old man-"Ithu auto zoom camera aano?" (Is that an autozoom camera?)
Old man-"Oho...Hmm!..evde ninnanu?"(where are you from?)
Old man-"Prem nazeerinte veettinte aduthaano?"(Are you staying near prem nazeer's(an yesteryear popular malayalam actor) house?)
Me-"Alla, athinte 2 veedu appurathanu" (No, 2 blocks away from that)
and he walked away. I was left wondering what the hell is an auto zoom camera and why did he ask about an actor who's long dead and gone and whom I was not sure had a house in Trivandrum. The Paramekkavu procession was grander with 15 elephants lining up in front of the temple and a huge crowd cheering wildly. I perched myself on top of a makeshift stand to get a clearer view over the crowd's head. There are 10 temples participating in Trissur Pooram, out of which the major ones are 'Paramekkavu' and 'Thiruvambady'. The other 8 temples will take out their processions at various times to the Thrissur round. But only these two participate in the 'kudamattom ceremony'.
Ezhunnallathu(procession from Paramekkavu temple)
The first highlight of the afternoon is the 'ilanjithara melam'. Also known as pandimelam, this has a huge fan following. 'Paramekkavu' temple has the right to conduct 'ilanjithara melam'. Padmashree mattannoor shankaran kutti maarar led the melam. It happens inside the 'ilanjithara' in Vadakkumnaathan temple. Getting inside itself was a luxury considering the rush at the temple gates. Once inside, we somehow got ourselves among the crowd listening to the melam just outside the 'pandal'. The pooram fans of Thrissur has this habit of holding their hands up and following the beats of the melam. Its a great sight to see thousands of hands moving in unison with every beat. They are also so proud of their elephants that some of the more famous ones even have fan clubs like film stars do. The expert pooram watchers will even tell you the strengths and weaknesses of each elephant. Once the melam gets over, its time to walk outside through the north gate of the temple. Its in this huge lawns where the legendary 'kudamattom' takes place.
Aalavattom and Venchamaram
As we walked down, I could see the media pavilion raised up right at the middle of the lawn. This wil provide a vantage view and lets you see the kudamattom happening at both ends of 'paramekkavu' and 'thiruvambady'. As I walked towards it, the policeman asked for media pass and then tried to drive me away. Without a media pass, my only hope was some kindness from the media guys sitting on top. I looked at them with pleading eyes and voila! they asked me to come up. Within seconds, I was on top, just in time to see the 15 elephants of 'paramekkavu' walking out from the northern door of the temple. They walked quite close to the pavilion, so much so that I could've jumped on top of the one going through the side. As they reached the other end of the lawn, there was this great surge of people from both sides and the whole ground was filled up. And then, the 15 elephants of 'thiruvambady' also walked out through the northern gate. It was a sight to behold! 15 elephants on each side facing each other and a sea of humanity in between them and around them. Treetops, building tops, hoardings, all were filled with people. The men on top of the elephants started their performances with 'aalavattom' and 'venchamaram'. And then started the 'kudamaattom' ceremony. Colourful jewel clad umbrellas were paraded on top of the elephants. Its a competition between the two sides on who shows the best design. There were double umbrellas, lighted umbrellas and umbrellas adorned with deities. As the kudamattom goes on for an hour, the supporters of each group cheer for each umbrella change. Its a healthy competition on view. Though to be honest, what excited me more is that huge gathering of people of various religions, castes and languages than the actual ceremony of 'kudamattom'. Few things can match the spirit that a Thrissurkaaran (native of Thrissur) has towards the Thrissur pooram. As dusk set in, the 'Kudamattom' was over and people started walking back to gear up for that early morning treat-'The pooram vedikkettu'[Fireworks].
The elephants of Paramekkavu walk out through the northern gate for Kudamattom
The melam which accompanied the paramekkavu elephants
The crowd fills up the space as the paramekkavu elephants passes the centre of the ground
crowd goes into a frenzy during kudamattom
There were people all around...here, on top of a lorry
Thiruvambady elephants lined up in front of the northern gate of Vadakkumnathan temple
standing tall..two guys who managed to prop themselves up above the crowd during kudamattom
We went for a walk around the round at midnight and the place was still very much alive. The melams were still going strong and there were people everywhere. Many where sleeping on the streets, a much needed rest before the fireworks starts. There were the highly drunk walking around too, singing double meaning laden parodies of 'naadan paattukal' [country songs]. One among those asked me, "Athu thokkano chetta?"[Is that a gun?], seeing my tripod. We went back and took a quick nap. By 3 AM, we were back on the round. Our legs were paining by this time, having walked close to 15 km altogether on this day. Even the pooram vedikkettu[fireworks] is a competition between 'paramekkavu' and 'Thiruvambady'. We had heard a lot about the fireworks, but nothing prepared us for the sheer power of this one. Rather than the visual element, it is the physical element which strikes you. What I meant by 'physical' is that thumping feeling that you get on your chest while those mammoth bombs goes off. It can be a shocking as well as exhilarating experience for a first timer, which I was. And then the aural element. 'Defeaning', will be an understatement. Then I realised, why 'Thrissur pooram vedikkettu' is known as the greatest fireworks experience in this part of the world.
This is what Thrissur Pooram vedikkettu[fireworks] can do to you...you shield your ears, you cringe, you open your mouth in amazement...you are truely overwhelmed
(Check the big 'gundu' on right side top)
The next day was the day of the 'Pakal pooram'[Pooram fest in the daytime]. This is when all the ladies and families attend the festival. By this time, the outside visitors and the huge crowd would've left Thrissur. The same ceremonies of yesterday are repeated. We saw the remnants of last day's fireworks lying around in the ground. They had already dug up more holes for the concluding fireworks. Two men each were carrying huge bomb like things and putting it carefully in each of these holes. Then we knew where that thumping in the chest was coming from. The whole ground was evacuated and the fireworks started, for one last time this year. Now, this was more shocking than the night's fireworks. The thumping in the chest changed to a deep kick. The pooram ended with the loudest and meanest of fireworks! We missed the 'vida chollal[goodbye] ceremony wherein the 2 main elephants of 'paramekkavu' and 'thiruvambady' bearing the deities come face to face in front of the vadakkumnaathan temple entrance and bow to each other. Its a kind of goodbye and a hope that we'll meet next year too...
That was our great pooram experience which ended in a 'chaayakkada'[tea shop] near the Thrissur bus stand.
PS-Check here my old post on the temples and palaces of Thrissur with more info and pics of these temples - Temples and palaces of Thrissur