Explore the pure traditions and festivals of Kerala
1. Attukal Pongala
A 10-day Hindu festival in the month of March, Attukal Pongala is marked as the largest annual gathering of women by The Guinness Book of World Records. A flurry of women throngs the streets of Attukal Devi temple, in the heart of Thiruvananthapuram city on the last day of the festival that culminates with an offering of Pongala to the deity. The story of the deity, Kannagi, originates from the temple town of Madurai in Tamil Nadu from where she’s believed to have reached the banks of Killiyar River in Kerala after setting Madurai on flames avenging her husband’s death. Pongala is rice cooked in earthen pots, and just for that one day, the pavements around the temple stretching to over 22 km become makeshift abodes where steaming pots of rice meet with magnetic spiritual energy. Women from around the globe reach the capital city to perform the ritual.
2. Onam festival
Onam is the time to celebrate in Kerala. As a festival that marks an agrarian high point every year, people of all religions rejoice in it. Onam also has a link with a Hindu legend; it celebrates the homecoming of King Mahabali, a virtuous ruler who was sent to the nether world because the Gods were envious of him. The coming together of both these factors makes for revelries that last for ten days. Onam falls in the month of Chingam on the Malayalam calendar, sometime in August-September. The first day of Onam sees the grand Athachamayam, a procession that exhibits Kerala’s art forms with caparisoned elephants and performances with thousands of spectators. Puli Kali, or the leopard dance, is a recreational performance by artists who paint their bodies and dance on the streets. There are snake boat races, Theyyam performances, Kummatti Kali and many such events. Homes make flower carpets every day, and an exceptional feast marks the end of festivities.
3. Thrissur Pooram
Thrissur Pooram is the awe-inspiring event that brings the district of Thrissur to a reverential standstill. With multi-coloured umbrellas, caparisoned elephants and pulsating percussion music, this annual Hindu festival is held at Vadakkunnathan Temple in Thrissur, and falls in the month of April or May. Considered the mother of all ‘poorams’ (festivals), it was the initiative of Shakthan Thampuran, the Maharaja of erstwhile Kochi State. He had arranged for 10 different temples to assemble at one venue for a friendly face-off of sorts. He ordained the temples into two groups ”Paramekkavu side and Thiruvambady side. The ‘Kudamattom’ ceremony with a spectacular line-up of bejeweled elephants is the cynosure of all eyes where the swift changing of sequined parasols hoisted upon the elephant and the deity is the highlight. The fireworks, over 200 musicians performing on indigenous instruments and customary practices make for a tradition that’s not missed by tourists who mark the event on their calendar.
4. Kalpathy Ratholsavam
When the summers cool off and rainscatch a break, Kerala becomes pleasantly warm and ready for the vibrant chariot festival that takes place in Kalpathyvillage in Palakkad. A riot of colour, vigour and festivities, the annual ‘Ratholsavam’ takes place in November at SreeViswanatha Swamy Temple. Located in the southern bank of Neela Bhagirathi River, the temple is over 700 years old and has a distinctive legacy of its own. The echo of Vedic recitals in the air,and brimming with cultural events, the 10-day festival concludes with five huge chariots taking to the streets with thousands of devotees thronging the roads. The chariot convergence is called ‘Deva-ratha-sangamam,’ or ‘confluence of Gods who are carried in the chariots.’ A rare spiritual energy engulfs the streets as thousands of people attend the festivities; some pull the chariots, others walkor dance in rhythm to the lively percussion.
5.Cochin Carnival (Festival)
The Cochin Carnival is no suave Times Square New Year celebration, but it has a rustic edge to it with the charm of a folklore that elevates the buzz around it. The last three weeks of December will see Fort Kochi come alive with mounting revelry; cultural activities at the Vasco da Gama Square get the gala started, followed by sporting events on the beach, street plays, bike races, rallys, folk performances, percussion and music, and much more. The culmination of the fiesta sees the effigy of an old man named ‘Pappanji,’ standing 35 feet tall, being set to flames at zero hour, bidding adieu to the past and welcoming the New Year. ‘Pappanji’ in Portuguese means ‘grandfather’ and the ritual, unique to Fort Kochi, has its roots in the colonial history of the ancient port town. If you’re in the vicinity around the time, here’s to a sparkly New Year!
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