The entire Pooram features about 96 elephants(according to a newspaper article but I believe there were a lot more) and is a sort of a friendly competition between two temples - The Thiruvambady Bhagavathi and Paramekkavu Bhagavathi with the Sree Vadakumnathan Temple playing a role almost equivalent to a mediator. The festival is not just important in the Hindu calendar and even churches take place in this gala event. Apart from the events at the temples mentioned, there are numerous smaller events that take place at the other temples in Thrissur and also at various other smaller gatherings throughout the city.
The Pooram is almost an 8 hour music festival with various instruments, such as the Chenda, Thimila, Edakka, Kombu, Elathalam, Sanghu, Kurumukuzhal being used. Every event at the festival is accompanied by music played by local maestros. Every event is presided by the elephants of the two major temples carrying golden plaques depicting the Gods of the respective temples. For most of the events these elephants are flanked by as many as 14 other elephants. Each one of the elephants has an umbrella, fans made out of peacock feathers and a bunch of yak tail which are held by people seated on the elephant. These are swayed rhythmically to the music played around the procession of elephants.
We reached Thrissur on the day of the Pooram at about 7:00 AM and as a result missed out the "Arattu" at both the Thiruvambady and Paramekkavu Temples. However we were just in time to catch the main elephants leaving the Thiruvambady Temple and accompanied the elephants for a small distance during the Poorapara, which is when various households offer their donation to God, such as rice, bananas, flowers, etc.
We then headed back to get a bite to eat before slipping out again to catch the Madathil Varavu at the Vadakumnathan Temple Grounds. Three elephants had left from the Thiruvambady Temple and had been joined by two elephants at regular intervals and when the procession reached the Vadakumnathan Temple, the count had become 15. 15 elephants had also arrived at the same grounds from the Paramekkavu Temple. When the elephants reach the grounds, the artists that have accompanied them play the Panchavadhyam. This display was especially entertaining for Praveen, Raja and Me as the artists seemed to be headbanging while playing a few sections of their set.
We then hung around near the grounds for a while. We caught glimpses of the elephants taking bath which was a pretty cool sight. The elephants were spraying water all over themselves and over a few of the people that surrounded them as well. There were elephants all around us and when sometimes some elephants even crept up behind us. [:P]
The Elanjithara Melam was next at about 2:00 PM. This was a musical display by some of the most experienced musicians of Thrissur and the neighboring cities. The entire display is divided into 3 kalams, based on the speed. As goes unsaid, the 3rd being the fastest was the most explosive in nature.
We went back for lunch and had a bit of rest before we headed to the Vadakumnathan Temple for the Pandi Melam. This was where we got our first taste of the huge crowd. On the way into the temple, we each got about five blows to our rib cage each and it was a sheer miracle that a stampede didn’t break out. We eventually got inside the temple and Praveen and I tried our best to get to the front row (because of our concert mentality). We did get peppered with blows but we did catch a glimpse of the musicians who were performing. The music was pretty good. My favourite part from this set was the Chenda. The format of the Pandi Melam was very interesting to me. The tempo is increased to a certain level slowly then the tempo drops a few notches and then increases again to a higher tempo than the previous time. Ultimately it reaches a very explosive tempo. The entire set is similar to climbing a stairway in the following order – two steps up and one step down – and repeating this cycle until you reach the top of the stairway.
Immediately after this was the Kudamattom. This is a competition between the two temples. There are about 15 elephants from each temple that face each other at the Vadakumnathan Temple Grounds and they change the umbrellas that are mounted on the elephants. The umbrellas are all made out of silk and are beautifully decorated. There were over 40 umbrellas that were mounted on the elephants, one after the other. This is the main event of the Thrissur Pooram and about a 100,000 people witnessed this live at the grounds (and we were right in the middle of it all) and many more saw the entire spectacle on their television set. Each time the umbrellas were changed the crowd went into a bout of madness. Some of the umbrellas were very unique and colourful. Many had intricate designs on them which made them look very beautiful.
During the night many of the events were repeated again. We picked up my sister, Gauri, and headed to the grounds and caught the Panchavadhyam once again. However there wasn’t much of headbanging this time around. But it was fun nonetheless. We strolled around the grounds for a while and saw numerous people lying around on the streets waiting for the Vedikattu, the pyrotechnic show.
The Vedikattu was at 3:00 AM and was literally explosive. The fireworks were amazing and the colours that filled the sky were beautiful. According to a website, the Pooram committee had employed a chemist, Dr T.C. Krishnamenon, to bring about the right combination of colours, such as Calcium Chloride for the Orange colour and so on.
After just a few hours of sleep, we woke up for the Pagal Pooram which consisted of a repeat of the Kudamattom and another dose of the Vedikattu. The Kudamattom this time was attended by many families and not just the men. Half way through the event, a few men of the committee came and buried huge containers in the ground. They contained about 10 kgs of gunpowder I’m assuming. We were all asked to clear the ground and we stood on the road waiting for the Vedikattu. This time there were no colours involved, just noise. And the noise was deafening, to say the very least. The entire Vedikattu lasted for about 15 minutes and there were people of all ages standing and trying to cover their ears.
The two main elephants from the two temples then made their way to the Vadakumnathan Grounds. The two elephants faced each other in front of the Vadakumnathan Temple deity, Lord Shiva, and raised their trunks to one another. This symbolized the end of this year’s Pooram events. It was like the two elephants were bidding adieu until next year. We unfortunately couldn’t catch this magnificent event live and had to satisfy ourselves by watching it on television.
Later on in the day, we visited the Thrissur Pooram exhibition, which wasn’t very interesting but fun due to the company. The best part of the Pooram exhibition is the display of the Anna Chamayam, which are the adornments that are placed on the elephants. However, this display is removed a day before the pooram and hence we couldn’t see it.
The Anna Chamayam
Finally, a few warnings for those that desire to catch this magnificent treat. The entire event will sap all of your energy due to the excruciating heat. Next, be prepared to catch a few blows and also don’t be afraid to GIVE a few blows if you want to get a good view of the things happening. And never miss out the free drinks that the people give out on the roads. Those are probably the only way you'll get through the entire day.
However having said that, neither the heat nor the blows can stop anyone from having the best time of their lives in THRISSUR – GODS OWN CITY, during the Pooram! For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to catch this magnificent festival yet, please do so as soon as possible. I can guarantee that you will have the TIME OF YOUR LIVES here!
p.s. Special Thanks to Praveen, Hari Menon, Manorama for the Photographs.
amajaniac n so r u