| Kerala, a land of scenic beauty, is also celebrated
for its temples and their festivals. There are 10,000 and odd temples in Kerala
and each one of them observes a major festival annually. Local tastes and convenience
normally dictate these festivals but transcending local barriers is the "Thrissur
Pooram", which attracts thousands of people from far and near. During this festival,
lasting 36 hours, the entire town of Thrissur wears a look of festivity with surging
crowds of men, women and children.
Thrissur, a typical South Indian town, is called the "Southern Kailas" and its
name is derived from its ancient name, Sri Shiva Perur - a place hallowed by the
name of Lord Shiva. "Pooram" is the festival of two consorts of the Thrissur temples
- the "Paramekkavu Devi" called "Bhagavathi" from the east and "Thiruvambadi Devi"
from the north.
The "Pooram" festival is held in the month of either April or May. This name has
originated from the constellation of stars. The scene of "Pooram" activity is
the "Thekkam Kad" ground (an erstwhile teak forest) which is indeed a circular
hillock, about 60 acres in extent with a fairly wide road encircling it. In the
center of the mound is the magnificent "Saivite" temple called "Vadakkunathan",
the Lord of North, who plays only the role of a spectator during these festivities.
The goddess, "Paramekkavu Devi", said to be the daughter of Lord Shiva was once
residing under an "elanji" tree. When some devotees decided to construct a temple
for Bhagwathy, they shifted her to the new precincts. "Elanji" continues to be
the sacred tree of the temple. According to legend, Bhagwathy had an elder sister
in "Thiruvambadi Devi" of the Sri Krishna temple. According to some, "Pooram"
is a veritable competition in offering worship and celebrations for a year of
festival is credited to Raja Ravi Varma, also known as "Sakthan Thamburan" (powerful
king) who ruled over Thrissur and its adjoining areas in 1790 AD. Prior to his
reign, "Pooram" was held in Arattapuzha, 15 km away. It was held on a grand scale
at this place hosting 108 deities. For some inexplicable reason, a few of the
temples broke away from this joint observance of "Pooram" and started on their
own. However, the Thrissur deities, on one or two occasions, perhaps could or
did not participate at Arattapuzha due to heavy floods. This led the "Saktan Thamburan"
to celebrate "Pooram" at "Thrissur" itself. Hence, he had the "Thekkan Maidan"
cleared of teak for observing "Pooram" year after year on a grand scale. Apart
from "Bhagwathy" and "Thiruvambadi Devi" temples, other deities of smaller temples
called ôSiru Pooram" also participate.
The festival begins with the flag-hoisting ceremony called "Kodiyettam". This
is observed in all participating temples. On the eve of "Pooram" day, the committed
(devaswoms) in charge of the two temples, exhibit shimmering and colorful ornaments
that will decorate the elephants on the next day in the halls adjoining these
temples. This attracts a large crowd.
| The day prior to the "Pooram" also witnesses the
arrival of the "celebrities" of the festival - the prodigious tuskers! A "mahout"
and a "kavadi" attendant escort each elephant. The "Paramakkavu" and "Thiruvambadi"
temples put up 15 tuskers each while the "Siru Poorams" organize five to six elephants.
Though the temples may own one or two elephants, the rest are hired for the duration
of the festival. In fact, at one point, this engendered a tense rivalry between
the "Paramakkavu" and "Thiruvambadi" devaswoms because of their keenness to hire
the tallest tuskers at much higher rates! This rivalry was happily put to an end
with the two devaswoms agreeing to hire the best elephants, dividing them into
two sets of 15 and using the two sets by turn.