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Thrissur is best known for its mammoth Pooram Festival, which is the most colourful and spectacular temple festival of Kerala. The legends and myths behind each festival of Kerala are many, varied and equally interesting. Since the word pooram literally means a group or a meeting, it was believed that every year the dynastic gods and goddesses of neighbouring province met together for a day of celebration. This usually happened on the pooram asterism of one of the spring months.
Pooram is the festival of festivals. It is conducted at the great Vadakkunnatha temple of Trissur. The Vadakkunnatha temple, which resembles a Japanese Shrine, is built in the ancient Kerala style with sanded courts, stone sculptures, a traditional auditorium and multi level roofs. In the evening of Pooram day, two lines of 13 elephants face each other, on the ground south to the temple. Each Pachyderm bears an umbrella holder, a peacock fan carrier and a yak-tail fly whisk wielder. Between the two lines of elephants stand percussion and wind orchestras. As each orchestra reaches a crescendo, a new display of brilliant ceremonial umbrellas blossoms over the elephants and the supporting crowd applauds. This continues till sunset when the elephants depart and late at night, the darkness explodes with a magnificent fireworks display.
Thrissurpooram was introduced by Sakthan Thampuran (1775- 1790), , the Maharaja of erstwhile Kochi state. The Pooram festival is also well-known for the magnificent display of fireworks. It is celebrated by two rival groups representing the two divisions of Thrissur Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi vying with each other in making the display of fireworks grander and more colourful. Each group is allowed to display a maximum of fifteen elephants and all efforts are made by each party to secure the best elephants in South India and the most artistic parasols, several kind which are raised on the elephants during the display. The commissioning of elephants and parasols is done in the utmost secrecy by each party to excel the other. Commencing in the early hours of the morning, the celebrations last till the break of dawn, the next day.
Of the rival groups participating in the Pooram, the most important ones are those from Pramekkavu and Thiruvambadi. At the close of the Pooram both these groups enter the temple through the western gate and come out through the southern gate to array themselves, face to face, one from the round and other form the Municipal Office road. This spectacle is highly enchanting. Although this grand festival is known as Thrissur Pooram, it is in fact the conclusion of the eight -day Utsavam of nine temples.The procession of the Thiruvambadi Pooram to the grounds of Vadakkunnatha Temple and back is not only important, but also quite enlivening. The marvelous as well as magical effect of the Panchavadyam, a combination of five percussion and wind instruments, is to be felt and enjoyed.
Thousands of people from all walks of life gather at the Thekinkadu maidanam at Thrissur to celebrate the pooram or festival. The festival highlights include among other things a spectacular pageant of 30 caparisoned elephants and Kudamattom, a competition in the swift rhythmic changing of brightly coloured and sequined parasols. Dazzling fireworks, and a variety of musical performances including the Chendamelam and the indispensable Panchavadyam are also conducted. The Thrissur pooram, arguably the most famous festival of Kerala, is a heady mixture of pomp and pageantry.
Christmas in Kerala
Kerala is not just a narrow strip of land in the south western tip of India. It is the fore runner among Indian states in education, living standard, and secular life style. The mutual affection and co operation among different communities has percolated in to jointly celebrating of each other’s festivals also.
The entire people of Kerala without the difference of caste and creed celebrate Christmas. The fervor and gaiety visible through out Kerala is standing testimony to that. Difference in religious belief does not stand in their way in welcoming the birth of Christ. Business men have a hay day as sales of every thing reaches in it feverish pitch.
The word Christmas had been derived from the old English “Christes Maesse” meaning the mass of Christ. This was primarily a heathen (not pertaining to Christianity) festival, observed by the rural folks of Europe from time immemorial. Later with the advent of Christianity it some how got related to the birth of Jesus Christ. The considerable percentage of Christians in Kerala, made Christmas a universal celebration for this state of Kerala.
People of Kerala make advance arrangements to welcome this day which fall invariably on December 25th. About ten days before Keralites make hexagonal star shaped frame from bamboo log pieces and cover it with translucent color paper. A lighted lamp is placed in it at night. This star is hung high on the branch of a tree in front of the house.
The colorful stars dangling in front of every house announce the arrival of a good event. Now a days factory made stars have stolen the show, robbing the old delight of improvising one. Making of a Christmas star was the thrill to the children of that time now shopping one has become the trend.
Sending of greeting cards prior to Christmas is so popular in Kerala that usually the post offices get clogged out during this season. All people barring communities send greeting card to those who are dear and near. Recently it has become an expensive affair as the cards of the latest models have become very costly. This trend does much damage to the simple ways of celebrating a holy event, which was prevalent until recently.
During Christmas time children of the neighborhood form local carol troops and start learning to sing songs and dancing. They visit neighborhood homes and get their permission for the performance in their courtyards. The largest among them make up for the Santa Claus. Small girls in beautiful dresses dance as boys sing and play musical instruments. Christmas Eve is really for these children as they enjoy it the most. The party performs the show from house to house. The gifts received from the houses are shared among the children. That is used as the pocket money for them to celebrate.
Each and every Christian home set the crib (pul koodu- nest made of dry grass) in which the images of infant Jesus along with cute dolls representing angels’ shepherds’ lambs’ etc. and other beautiful items are placed. The crib is decorated as beautifully as they can. Here also children have the main roles as mama and papa are mere facilitators or onlookers. The Christmas tree is rather a recently introduced one. The children generally go out in groups climb on trees (generally casuarinas) and cut the branches bring it home. This branch known as the Christmas tree is decorated with color papers and balloons. The Christmas cards received are also used for this decoration. For the great misfortune here also ready made Christmas trees have arrived! Just shop and don’t take pain to make one. The pleasure of jointly making one, just gone with the wind!
Masses are held during Christmas Eve in the churches. Before the mass, the priest brings out the image of Infant Jesus accompanied by group of children. In a solemn ceremony the image is placed in the well decorated crib, which would be beautifully decorated and kept behind a curtain. At the time of lifting the curtain and placing the image in the crib, the entire assembly says prayers loud making the atmosphere surcharged with devotion. By midnight the mass will be over and people return home, it is celebration time there after. Children hardly sleep in the night and wake up early. Soon after the call at the church they just don’t walk but run to home. Delicious cakes when wait to be devoured can any child say no!
Previously cakes and wines were made at home prior to Christmas. Ladies of Christian homes were well known for their culinary skills. The wines they made excelled the caviars the bakery made cakes are mere trash when compared to the creations of our home made ones. Fish molly, karimeen pappas (a local fish delicacy) with appams (round rice bread with soft middle and laced edge) was a combination par excellent. The five course dinner at noon is a real treat. Wine with cake, bread with fish molly, appam with beef curry, rice with all sorts of side dishes and to cap it all final serve of pudding are the standard diet. Those without diabetes and blood pressure are twice blessed!
During Christmas time relatives living apart assemble in their ancestral house. These happy reunions set a perfect stage of women to share their concerns and intimate problems. Men folk generally assemble in secured corners to enjoy the bottle that cheers. Their concerns are of far more serious ones, like insurgency in Necara gua or poor Fidel Castro’s health! However for children they get the glimpse of their ancestral home, their close and distant relatives, tasty food, good colorful dresses, last and the most important freedom from the studies and home work. The experiences associated with Christmas celebrations in their child hood are for them some thing more cherished than a treasure.
The Christmas is round the corner, proceed for your ancestral home take women and children along, and experience the pleasures of togetherness. Let the women to meet and interact with nears and dears. And to children, gift them unforgettable memories to cherish all through their life. Happy Christmas!