A visit to Thrissur, the cultural capital of God's own Country – Kerala – is incomplete without witnessing the famous Thrissur Pooram, which is one of the most spectacular festival events on planet earth. Conducted every year in the Malayam calendar month of Medam (falling either in last week of April or First week of May), it is a magnificent show which should find a place in your bucket list if you are a cultural enthusiast. The Pooram is a unique festival in which the main deity of a Hindu temple is taken out for a procession on elephant back, which comprises of parading of several elephants gorgeously decorated with various caparisons and elegant traditional costumes, along with ensembles of well synchronised percussions (Chenda, madalam, Idakka), and other traditional musical instruments such as Kombu (long semi-circular wind instrument), Kurumkuzhal (double reed wind instrument), Ilathalam (cymbals) etc.
The most popular legend says that the Thrissur Pooram was started by the erstwhile ruler of Kochi province, 'Shri Raja Rama Varma,' more popularly known as the "Sakthan Thampuran," in the 17th century. Prior to that, the prominent Pooram was the Arattupuzha pooram conducted in a local temple situated 10 km south of Thrissur town. But once it so happened that some people from Thrissur could not attend the festival as they got delayed in reaching the venue due to incessant rain. Subsequently, people complained to Sakthan Thampuran who found a solution by evolving the concept of Thrissur Pooram, wherein he ordered all the local Poorams converge and culminate into one major extravaganza or Pooram at Thrissur in the premises of Vakakkunathan temple. For this, he cleared the forested area around the temple, making a huge circular ground for the conduct of the Pooram. Gradually, Thrissur pooram turned out to be the mother of all Poorams. The Thrissur Pooram is built around the Vadakkunathan temple, situated exactly in the centre of Thrissur town, whose deity is Lord Shiva. Over the years, two prominent groups have emerged as mutual competitors – namely, Thiruvambady, whose deity is lord Krishna and Paramekkavu, whose deity is Bhagawaty. In modern times, the real essence of Thrissur Pooram appears to be its major sports tournament and frenzy and spirit associated with the two competing teams in all Pooram related festivities.
The Pooram festivities kickstart with Kodiyettam, or the flag hoisting ceremony, seven days prior to the main day. The following days witness some rituals in the temples participating in the Pooram and the town gears up by decorating the temples and erecting beautifully lit Panthals (temporary towers) around the Pooram venue. The next major event is on the fourth day's evening, known as the Sample Vedikettu, which is essentially an eye catching pyrotechnic display in varies hues, shapes and designs. It lasts for about an hour and is not about decibel magnitude but more about colourful displays by both the competing Thiruvambady and Paramekkavu groups. On the fifth day, the main event is the Aana Chamayam or the elephant caparison /accessories display, when the Nettipattam (golden head ornament), and Kolam / Thidambu (large golden shield on which deity is carried), are displayed in a dazzling arrangement, along with other accoutrements such as Aalavattaom (ornamental fan with peacock feather), Venchamaram (white hairy royal fan), golden bells, decorative umbrellas etc. Once again the two competing teams try to outplay one another even in this event.
The main Pooram starts on the sixth day, early in the morning at 3 am, whereby all small Poorams from other temples simultaneously commence. Altogether, about 50 fully decorated elephants from 10 temples take part in Poorams on the day. At 2 pm in the afternoon, there is a special musical ensemble named Illanjithara melam, which the locals celebrate with fervour. The other two prominent ensembles are Panchavadyam and Pandymelam. Thereafter, the main teams, Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi, enter the main temple through the western gate, pay obeisance to the main deity Vadakkunathan and then exit through the southern gate and array themselves with 15 elephants each, on either side of the Pooram ground, face to face at a distance of about 100 metres. Space in between the teams is occupied by a frenzied ocean of people. This face-off is the most spectacular part of the Pooram, known as Kudamattam, meaning change of umbrellas. During this closely fought competition, each team displays a variety of designs of decorated parasols on the elephants' backs, at an approximate interval of 5 minutes. The magnificent event lasts for about an hour. This well orchestrated display is witnessed by ecstatic and cheering crowd and is, in fact, the culmination of several months of secret planning and designing of the umbrellas by both teams, making it a must watch in the itinerary of Thrissur Pooram.
After this, all the Poorams conclude but the crowd lingers for the next big spectacle early next morning, which is the main Vedikettu (fireworks) which boasts of its own special character, and high blast magnitude. It starts at 3 am and ends after an hour. Both Thiruvambady and Paramekkavu temples compete vigorously with one another to grab the headlines next day. Unlike the Sample Vedikettu, these fireworks are thunderous and can be heard and tremors felt from miles away. The actual feel cannot be explained in words, but has to be experienced. The seventh day is the last day of Pooram, which concludes with the Pakal Pooram, which is less crowded and is meant for those who missed the main Poorams. It is also the farewell ceremony of the Pooram.
The mega festival then comes to an end with a display of small fireworks known as Pakal Vedikkettu. A major exhibition is also an integral part of Pooram celebrations which showcases several exhibitions from various socio-economic fields, besides commercial shopping stalls from across India. One striking characteristic of the Thrissur Pooram is its secular nature, and the festival is participated in with fervour by all Thrissurians, no matter what religion, caste, creed or class they belong to. This year, the Thrissur Pooram was held on May 5.
Thrissur is at a distance of about 50 Km from Cochin International Airport (CIAL) and is easily accessible.