“What is Thrissur without pooram?” asked Mar Andrews Thazhathu, Archbishop of Catholic Church in Thrissur district of Kerala as he joined protests against the restrictions imposed on the festival.
In a way, the Archbishop couldn’t have put it better.
For people of Thrissur district, the pooram — a mega spectacle involving a large number of caparisoned elephants, numerous temples and giant colourful fireworks — is an obsession, that has only swelled over the years.
Kicked off more than 200 years ago by Shakthan Thampuran, then ruler of Kochi, the festival sees a flurry of people from across the state flowing into the district over the course of a week. On the final day of ‘pooram’, thirty majestic elephants stand on either side of a large ground as lakhs of people sway to the music of drum beats, cymbals and trumpets. The inter-change of colourful sequined parasols on the top of elephants is also a highlight of the event. Even though its a Hindu event, both Christians and Muslims take active part in the festivities and revel in its madness.
And therefore, when environmentalists and social activists suggested the event’s conduct in a minimalist fashion in the light of the terrible firecracker tragedy that took place in Kollam, locals were enraged. People took to social media to vent their anger. When restrictions were imposed on the parading of elephants during day time and the burning of fire crackers after sunset, there was a feeling that there cannot be a Thrissur pooram without elephants and fire-crackers, a deadly mix nevertheless.
But the state government, as expected, jumped in to claim the populist and crowd-pleasing stance. Forest Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan intervened to say the festival must not be separated from its long-standing traditions. The minister’s statement came after the managements (devaswom) of the two main temples threatened that they would restrict the festival to mere rituals if court orders have to be followed, indirectly sending out a message that there is no point in celebrating the festival without the big sparks.
All eyes are now on a High Court bench that would be sitting today, for the first time ever on the state holiday of Vishu, to decide whether firecrackers must be allowed as part of Thrissur Pooram. The key question is whether popular sentiment would be respected or is it going to be a historic ruling focusing on safety.
(With Agency inputs)
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