As men scooped out soil to make the pits perfect to position the cylinders carrying amittu, a kind of firecracker, at Thekkinkadu maithan in Thrissur, policemen stood guard at makeshift asbestos-roofed sheds nearby. Those sheds stock huge quantities of fireworks, which will be lit up late Sunday night, before the week-long Thrissur pooram — by all accounts an amazing show of light, sound and visuals held annually in Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala — winds up on Monday.
Coming exactly a week since the festivities in Kollam turned tragic, with explosions sparked by the fireworks display leaving 108 people dead, and many more maimed and injured, the Thrissur festival is being closely watched this year. That hasn’t managed to douse the enthusiasm, however.
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While the High Court had, in the aftermath of the Kollam accident, banned use of noisy crackers at night, on Thursday the court gave conditional permissions to the organisers — Thiruvambady and Paramekkavu temples.
Bringing further relief for pooram enthusiasts, the state Forest Department, which had introduced restrictions on parading elephants at day during the week-long festival, was forced to step back in face of protests from various quarters. Admitting that the restrictions have “created resentment and unhappiness”, Kerala’s Chief Wildlife Warden, G Harikumar, said, “The Forest Department does not want to hurt any religious sentiment and will provide all cooperation…”
The parade of elephants and drummers have been an integral part of the pooram, which, according to legend, was started in 1803 by the then king of Kochi state, Sakthan Thampuram. While Heritage Animal Task Force secretary V K Venkitachalam said the parade is cruel towards the elephants, which have to “stand for nearly 36 hours, and there have been incidents in which animals had collapsed” in the heat, devotees said there would be a huge uproar if decibel levels of fireworks are reduced or people kept away from the elephants on parade.
As per customs, a “divine durbar” will be held on Saturday evening on the ramparts of southern gopuram of Sree Vadakkunnathan temple, in which 15 decorated elephants of the two organisers will stand face to face, 100 meters apart, amid an ocean of people. Explaining the excitement, Sudhir Kumar, who works in Doha and has flown down to Thrissur to take part in the festival by “syncing my annual leave to this season”, said the silk parasols (shades) on the elephants are changed every minute with one of a different hue, the peacock feather fans are held aloft and yak tail bunches waved to the tunes of accompanying orchestra — “these are scenes one cannot find anywhere else.”
Pooram competitions are divided between Thiruvambady and Paramekkavu temples.
For the first time, the government has put a ceiling on quantity of explosives to be used. In the past, the two devasowms (temple trusts) would each use nearly 7,000 kg explosives. This time, they have been asked to use 2,000 kg each, government officials have taken control of the storage places for firecrackers, and security has been stepped up at Thekkinkadu ground, venue for the fireworks pyrotechnics.
Thiruvambadi Devaswom Board president Prof Madhavan Kutty, however, said, “The government has issued certain guidelines, which we don’t want to term as restrictions. There are rules…(but) these rules will not take the sheen out of the pooram.”
He said the the two temple boards will stick to the government’s permitted use of explosives, and will ensure safety and ample water supply for the elephants.