heels on fire: Thrissur Pooram – The Mother of all Poorams

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Thrissur Pooram – The Mother of all Poorams

7th May 06

Rest Day

We leapt ahead of our planned running route to take in the sights and sounds of the 'Thrissur Pooram' (meaning festival), Kerala's grandest and best-known temple festival. Thrissur is the cultural capital of Kerala. As a city, it comes across as unassuming and dusty, however it's grandeur emerges head and shoulders above many other towns each year in May during the Thrissur Pooram.

Not really knowing what to expect is probably the best way to approach such a Pooram. The little I did know about the Thrissur Pooram was that it was chaotic and that it is considered the 'Mother of all Poorams in Kerala'.

I also knew that the fireworks show had been cancelled this year. Kerala' s state and district newspapers (of which there are many) have been running stories about the dangers of easily flammable homemade fireworks, often exploding in the day’s heat. Indeed seven people had died in a fireworks related accident on the 5th May.

So the Heels on Fire team headed off decked in sun hats, sun cream and laden with water and cameras. Arriving into Thrissur, we were received by an officious police sergeant who set about asserting his authority until Des turned the situation and charmed his way through the red tape allowing us to park relatively close to the temple.

We walked on the first traffic free roads yet, and what a pleasure it was to be free of constantly having to look out of the corner of your eye for buses, 'Hero Honda' motorbikes and bright yellow rickshaws beeping their piercing horns. Masses of people were milling around everywhere. They were wearing the standard cardboard visors, at times somewhat comically (but very wisely) - one worn as normal and another at the back of the head covering the neck. The vast majority were furiously fanning themselves in the heat. We were slowly melting.

It didn't take long to find some elephants. There they were, the kings and queens of the day basking in the shadows of Banyan trees (one tree per elephant). Caretakers milled around them, pampering and scrubbing them with buckets of water and hand feeding them vast bundles of food.

Whilst looking in wonderment at these fantastic animals I had the good fortune to meet two brothers, Prasad and Prakash Cherpu. Both are full time IT solutions experts and part-time elephant enthusiasts. They were highly knowledgeable about the festival. I learned more from Prasad and Prakash than any guidebook that I had come across.

Elephants - Revered and Beautiful
The brothers gave Rahul and I a tour d' horizon of life and times of an Indian elephant. Did you know the male elephants, which are many more than females in Kerala are called ‘tuskers’? Often they live to ripe ages of 60 or even 70 years. The gestation period - the duration of an elephant’s pregnancy is 22 months. A healthy female elephant can give birth to an average of seven calves in their lifetime. Believe it or not, Kerala has special medical institutions with qualified doctors, veterinarians, handlers and even an insurance scheme for elephants! Despite the fact that elephants are competitively judged, there are no breeding programmes. Indeed most elephants in Kerala are either brought in from Tamil Nadu, or they 'simply come out of the forests' as one moustached gentleman told me.

During the festival the elephants are judged on a number of criteria: the size and shape of their ears (the larger the better); their colour (the darker the better); the number of toe nails (18 or 20 toenails being good to perfection, 17 being ok and 19 being inauspicious); the size of the head; and of course the shape and curvature of the tusks. A beautiful elephant may well perform at between 100-120 festivals of varying sizes throughout the year. Their food will be provided for by each of the festival organisers. I gathered that Prakash and Prasad were keen to see one elephant in particular – one they had heard of but had never seen. Ervaputta Ayappan named after his home village was coming to head the elephant procession for the day. His reputation and beauty preceded him.

So we ventured deep into the temple complex, all six acres of it. According the unwritten records this was either the 201st or 202nd year of the Thrissur Pooram. We walked to the eastern corner of the complex to be confronted by an amazing sight of wall of bare-chested musicians carrying medieval style instruments (horns, clarinets and drums). They stood in front of a line of 15 Elephants dressed in gold, red and luminescent finery. Atop each of the elephants stood three men in orange dhoti's, at various times holding a long poled amazing colourful parasol and yak hair pom-pom. There was a wall of sound as the musicians beat and wailed their way into frenzy. Amidst the noise and movement, the elephants stood calmly. The leader of the pack at the centre of the line was Ervaputta Ayappan. He looked huge and majestic, and somewhat beautiful even to the untrained eye. There is no doubt that Ervaputta Ayappan knew he was the king of the day!

So the Pooram was celebrated in its traditional magnificence and splendour with a series of military like movements and processions that culminated in a battlefield scene reminiscent of Waterloo. Two rows of brightly decked elephants stood in long lines facing each other from a distance of 150-200 metres. The eclectic musicians (or Marars as they are known) banged their drums in front of their elephant generals. In the space between the two mighty forces, a mass of what looked and felt like some 50,000 – 100,000 people shook their hands in the air with increasingly frenzied excitement (the ancient Indian technique of head-banging). Those atop the elephants regularly changed their increasingly enchanting and colourful umbrellas (different umbrellas are made by different villages). With each changeover the music built, the crowds got louder and the atmosphere intensified. It built and built to a crescendo worthy of Mozart. Bodies writhed, sweat spilled and umbrella manoeuvred, and then just at the crescendo, it all pulled back from the abyss.

Never in my all my years on earth have I ever seen such a sight. Throughout the day, all of our mouths remained agape at the sights on offer. Our senses rolled and shimmied in delight. Truly the Thrissur Pooram is a sight to behold and experience. I recommend it to each and every one of you.

Post Script
The religious meaning behind the festival is worthy of another article. I hope that the images and descriptions do some justice to the Thrissur Pooram before that article is completed.



At Thu May 11, 03:50:00 AM 2006, Blogger viswanath r.swamy said...

Hi Pete,
Its heartening to hear that you are running the lenght of Kerala. i really hope your endeavour will help the mallus (malayalees)to led fall off their inhibitions or say their shyness to undertake endeavours of this magnitude. You praise the mallus a lot, being myself a mallu it satisfies my ego, but in reality the mallus have to grow mentally, socially, economically, and of course linguistically a lot. The mallu mindset is too negative and reluctant to embrace any thing new. The leaders of kerala compete among themselves to drive away investments whether FDI or institutional. Pete, how many of the mallus who ran with you could communicate with you efficiently.....the pathetic point lies there. We, the mallus lack quality education though we boast of 100% literacy. The mallus have a very inflated ego that needs to be busted. All the best Pete...May God bless you..... have a nice time.
viswanath r.swamy

At Thu May 11, 04:14:00 AM 2006, Blogger viswanath r.swamy said...

Kerala is an elephant crazy country. Probably this is the only place in the universe where you may find elephant lovers clubs. many a number of elephants got own fan clubs!!!!!!. A prominent tv channel shows a weekly elephant show which is a great hit. No temple festival is complete with out elephants. You may own a dozen Ferraris which could go very well un noticed or even ignored but not the elephant. so own an elephant.....

At Thu May 11, 10:34:00 AM 2006, Anonymous Venkat said...

Hats off to Peter, Desmond and Rahul
This is a real good and the best way to enjoy Life.

You can breathe Kerala with full lungs only when you can run this way.

Kerala is God’s own country and it is the Heaven on Earth, so you can enjoy
Heaven in Kerala by running across the country.

The world follows you and run along with you one day later from your updates in Heels on Fire.

Keep running to Live Life

At Thu May 11, 04:19:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kind thanks Venkat. Your comments are appreciated. Today as we ran down a huge mountain in Silent Valley it felt like Gods Own Country... that is until a wolf like creature kept popping his head up from the jungle to check us out. We ran for a km or so armed with a few rocks and sticks. Thankfully our furry friend turned out to be more intrigued than aggressive!

The people are amazingly friendly and that landscape continues to take our breath away (quite literally).


At Thu May 11, 04:23:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Viswanath... great to read your comments and to learn more about elephants (I am an elephant addict these days).

Take care and meet you in the discussion section of the website. Spread the word.

Pete, Rahul and Des.

At Sun May 14, 10:47:00 AM 2006, Blogger mommybazz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Mon May 15, 03:56:00 PM 2006, Blogger mommybazz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Mon May 15, 06:40:00 PM 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really, this Dutch stuff is really much does this cost a smoke?

At Tue May 16, 02:40:00 AM 2006, Blogger mommybazz said...

A word to all hostages of poverty.

Dear beautiful people,

Dare to believe in your own authentic power, your own authentic self, ..dare to believe. Don’t be passive, take actions, be strong, be pro-active. Don’t sit and wait till someone else out there somewhere perhaps will come and rescue u, to perhaps some day, - perhaps never - will make it all happen for you.

Don’t be passive, overcome powerlessness, be aggressive, and creative, call in ‘Poverty Police’ on every district corner.

Poverty my friends is SO damn uncool, it’s a crime that deserves no sympathy, nor mercy or respect. Shoot, destroy and Kill!

Why tolerate poverty to ruin your life, the precious life of your first or new born, the life of your daughter, your son.. Fight, rage, scream, open your eyes, call the police!’.

Whatever you do, Don’t ever surrender to poverty, will only make you suffer.


To all good folks..

This is just an attempt to invite you into a debate concerning development issues. (not an attempt to evoke vulgar personal attacking).

Dazed by the immense unemployment and poverty in India, I was moved to read up on this issue, wondering about related debates in the Netherlands.

The similarity is amazing. The writer (T.H.A.M Cool) is quite a passionate character and extremely brilliant and therefore chosen to fuel the debate that hopefully follows.

You may agree, or disagree, and most interesting why agree or disagree.. Ready? Then read on!


- Politicians are only human, not saints. It’s about human work. This is not an insignificant statement.We need to remember that people are not perfect. This demands our understanding.
- From political angle the previous underlines the importance of the public debate. Especially public debate can somewhat massages away human deficiency.
- Next it is the task of the public debate to clear up what we know. This could well mean: clearing up ignorance and human failure
- Debate serves as a way to learn from this. It is only in cases of blown up ego en pretension when highlighting failure becomes painful, but in most cases the joy of the larger insight will conquer.
- In public debate, moreover the interlocuter deserves respect.

Formulation of a problem:

- Many people think that there is nothing to do about unemployment. They consider it a sort of natural disaster one must learn to live with. This is a fairly unfortunate misunderstanding.
- In fact you could see unemployment as an indicator of the quality of the local government.When there is unemployment, apparently there is something wrong about the governing board. With regard to politics the scientific premisse that nothing is the matter is rather naïve.
- People have an influence upon their surroundings. People who feel weak and powerless are served with the perspective that they are even worse off when they sit down in despair. (I was inspired by this insight (and viswanath r.swamy, plus a little by Bazz Luhrman..) whilst writing ‘a word to all hostages of poverty’.., I must admit, it is quite expressive and somewhat goofy, but the intention is all good..).


“I comfort myself with the idea that there is no nature law, which prescribes that there can be only X millions jobs. If there is no more than X millions jobs, that’s because together we are not able to organise the society in such way so there will be more regular jobs.”


P1. That international conjuncture and world trade would cause unemployment, denies the dominant structural problem, and denies the internal possibilities.

P2. That immigrants would cause unemployment does not convince. It is true that the lowest paid group of workers have to compete with immigrants, but both groups are victims of governing boards problem.

P3. That academicians and the like too are unemployed, denies the specific arguments which applies here.

P4. All kinds of alternative factors thus play an important part, but it is incorrect to turn one of it into cause .

P5. Unemployment remain existence, when the political does nothing. Of more everyday policy we expect little salvation.


At Wed May 24, 03:54:00 PM 2006, Blogger Jo said...

Oh, you guys were here?? That's cool!!

At Tue Aug 01, 02:37:00 PM 2006, Blogger zach ivan said...

really a good narration about the thrissur pooram.hats off to u guys.i myself a thrichurite was stunned abt the fact that u outsiders really understand the importance of thrissur pooram and how u managed to collect the details...i guess u guys ahve travelled alot more than many of the keralites here who doesnt understand the importance of their own land n instead go searching other places for trip


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