I’m sure that as a Keralite, you’ve heard of the Thrissur Pooram. You might have even been to the Pooram a couple of times. But do you know how it started? Do you know how many temples participate? Do you know the role that elephants play in the Pooram? There’s a lot that makes our Thrissur Pooram one of the grandest festivals of India.
Here’s our list of 5 things that every Malayali should know about the Thrissur Pooram.
Wasn’t always the biggest pooram in Kerala
People from all over the globe flock to witness the Thrissur Pooram. It is the biggest and probably the most popular among the poorams in Kerala. But this wasn’t always the case. The Arattupuzha Pooram held this title for quite some time. In fact, the temples from Thrissur participated in the Arattupuzha Pooram up until they were denied entry for arriving late. This is said to have happened in 1798. In retaliation, the Thrissur Naduvazhi, the chief of Vadakunnathan, known as Yogadiripad and Kuttanellur Naduvazhi organised a pooram in Thrissur.
But this isn’t the end of the story. Kuttanellur Naduvazhi withdrew his support and the pooram started to lose its charm. This is when Shaktan Thampuran (His Highness Ramavarma Raja), the then Maharaja of Kochi, stepped in to unite 10 temples around the Vadakumnathan temple and turn the pooram into the Thrissur Pooram we know today.
Temples that participate in the pooram
It is said that Shaktan Thampuran classified the 10 temples around Vadakunnathan into the two groups that they are today – the Western group (Thiruvambady side) and the Eastern group (Paramekkavu side).
The western group consists of Thiruvambadi Sri Krishna Temple, Kanimangalam Sastha Temple, Laloor Bhagavathy Temple, Sree Karthyayani Temple at Ayyanthole, and Nethilakkavu Baghavathy Temple.
The Eastern group consists of Paramekkavu Bagavathi Temple, Chembukkavu Bhagavathy Temple, Panamukkumpally Sastha Temple, Choorakkottukavu Bhagavathy Temple, and Pookattikkara – Karamukku Baghavathy Temple.
Not one but seven days
The Pooram is a seven-day festival that starts with the Kodiyettam. This is followed by various religious ceremonies within the Vadakkunathan Temple. On the fourth day, you have the sample vedikkettu.
On the 6th day, the Pooram day of Medam month, you have major events like Ilanjithara Melam, Madathil Varavu, and Kudamattam, conducted in and around the Thekkinkadu maidan. The Ilanjithara Melam starts in the afternoon and lasts three hours. Following this, you have the colourful showdown between the Thiruvambady side and the Paramekkavu side – 15 elephants on each side with nettipattam, aalavattam, venchamaram, and muthukuda. And on the seventh day, the festival ends with a bang – the vedikettu!
New designs every year
You might already know that every year the chamayam articles – the nettipattam, aalavattam, venchamaram, and decorative umbrellas (muthukuda) – are made from scratch. But did you know that the Devasom Board has a team that goes through the designs to ensure that designs from the past are not repeated?
The need for new designs every year means that new articles have to be created every year. And it takes many manhours to make them. It takes 10 days to make one nettipattam and 5 days to make a pair alavattam. I’m sure you can imagine how much time it would take to create the 55 sets of umbrellas made in 55 different patterns!
And let’s not get started about the raw materials involved. For example, the venchamarams are created out of hair from the tail of the Himalayan yak and every year fresh batches are brought for the Pooram!
Celebrity elephants, celebrity percussionists, and loud fireworks
That about sums it up, doesn’t it? Elephants have been a major draw for Pooram enthusiasts. With 30 elephants as a part of the main Pooram festivities and 60-70 tuskers participating in the smaller processions, the Pooram is the place to be if you’re an “aana premi” aka an elephant lover. There was quite a controversy this year over the ban on Thechikottukavu Ramachandran, the tallest elephant in Kerala. But with the ban revoked, you can spot this celebrity elephant in the procession.
The second attraction of the Thrissur Pooram is the percussion ensemble. Why wouldn’t it be? It is said to be the largest percussion assembly in the world. Panchavadyam and pancharimelam echo in the warm summer air as over 200 artists play in unison to deliver a spellbinding performance. Among the popular percussionists who play at the Pooram, Peruvanam Kuttan Marar could be called the most famous as he has been the ‘Pramanam’ (leader of the ensemble) for the past two decades.
And then there are the fireworks. We’ve all heard of the controversies around the air and noise pollution caused by the vedikettu. But the appeal is very hard to withstand. I remember buying passes to the roof of buildings, staying up with my friends, and challenging each other to witness the spectacle without covering our ears. It is said that a member of the Pooram committee witnessed a Chinese firework display during his visit to the Park Fare Exhibition at Madras about 80 years ago. He was impressed and brought some fireworks home that started the whole pyrotechnic display that we see today.