Thrissur Pooram 2019 Highlights: It’s a fitting end to this year’s festivities

Thrissur Pooram 2019 Highlights: It’s a fitting end to this year’s festivities

Thrissur Pooram 2019 Kerala Highlights: The central attraction of Thrissur Pooram 2019 is the Elanjithara Melam, considered the world's largest live orchestra of percussionists known for its technical brilliance.

Thrissur Pooram 2019 Live updates: The procession of the Paramekkavu Temple, one of the two main participants in the festival

Thrissur Pooram 2019 Highlights: The 2019 edition of the Thrissur Pooram, an extravagant temple festival in Kerala involving scores of elephants, traditional percussionists and high-voltage fireworks, will conclude tonight. Earlier today, the entire town of Thrissur in central Kerala came to a standstill as lakhs of people assembled around the Thekkinkadu Maidanam braving the hot sun and humid weather to participate in the festivities. The central attraction of the festival was the Elanjithara Melam, considered the world’s largest live orchestra of percussionists known for its technical brilliance. In the evening, 30 caparisoned elephants, with 15 on either side, stood facing each other in a wonderful ceremony called the ‘Kudamattam’.

Like every year, this edition of the festival has not been without controversies. Thechikottukavu Ramachandran, Kerala’s tallest tusker and a permanent fixture of the Pooram, was banned in February by the Chief Wildlife Warden after it trampled two people in Guruvayur town. But a massive public outcry, with equal pressure applied by the chief political parties, resulted in the district administration relaxing the ban for an hour so that the tusker could participate in the festivities. On Sunday morning, Ramachandran came as usual, ferried in a truck, followed by bursting through the southern door of the Vadakumnathan Temple to indicate the start to the festivities.

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Thrissur Pooram 2019, Kerala's largest temple festival began today. Follow LIVE updates on the celebration in Malayalam 

Kudamattam concludes.

And with that, it's a beautiful end to this year's Kudamattam ceremony. Both the Paramekkavu and Thiruvambady temple administrations brought all that they had in their arsenal - illuminated umbrellas, printed umbrellas, double-decked and triple-decked umbrellas. It was widely seen as a highly competitive round of exchange of parasols. With this, the main round of festivities of Pooram have winded up. Later tonight, we will see the night processions of various temples along with the massive firework display. That's all from our side. Thank you for staying with us.

Illuminated umbrellas!

As the skies darken and the lights from thousands of mobile phones fill the grounds, the two temple administrations bring out illuminated umbrellas. Fitted with LED lights, these umbrellas are sparkling in the night sky. This is genius.

More visuals from the Kudamattam ceremony

Printed parasols define the trend this year

The fierce and competitive exchange of beautiful, sequined silk parasols has begun between the Paramekkavu and Thiruvambady temples. The colours, designs, patterns, embroidery of the umbrellas are all changing. However, what's been a defining feature of the umbrellas this time is the print. Some of them have a Kathakali print and others with prints of the God/goddess.

It needs to be underlined here that year after year, designers come out with such fantastic patterns for the umbrellas. A lot of thought goes into firming up the designs especially months before the Pooram. As always, there's an urge to innovate and experiment with new patterns. Both temple administrations also hold the designing brainstorming meetings in deep secret so that the other team doesn't get a hold of it.

Lakhs gather to witness 'kudamattam'

The searing afternoon heat is giving way to a soothing evening breeze through the streets of Thrissur. Lakhs of people are now assembling on the grounds of the Thekkinkadu Maidanam, right in front of the southern door of the Vadakkumnathan Temple, to witness the historic 'kudamattam' ceremony. The Paramekkavu and Thiruvambady goddesses will line up on either end of the grounds, with 15 elephants each, to engage in a competitive exchange of beautiful silk parasols. Each of these parasols are made at least three months in advance, and cost anywhere between Rs 5,000 and Rs 50,000. This time, 51 sets of umbrellas are believed to be ready for exchange. 

In the photo below, one can see the 'sea' of people between the two sets of elephants representing the two temples.

Ilanjithara Melam concludes. Next up, kudamattam

With a flourish, the magnificent Ilanjithara Melam comes to an end. Time now for 'kudamattam', the competitive exchange of colourful silk parasols between the Paramekkavu and Thiruvambady temples. Both teams with 15 elephants each will stand face-to-face, in front of the southern door of the Vadakkumnathan Temple, lakhs of people sandwiched in the middle. It seems the sultry weather has had absolutely no impact on the crowds. Every year, it seems the crowds just keep getting bigger and bigger. 

Age is just a number!

That's exactly what one would say about Peruvanam Kuttan Marar. The Padma Shri-recipient at 65, fainted possibly due to exhaustion earlier in the day, but came back from the hospital to lead the Ilanjithara Melam. 

If you're just tuning in...

There couldn't be a better time for you to tune into the Thrissur Pooram.  The world-famous Ilanjithara Melam is progressing gradually towards it's feverish crescendo. Peruvanam Kuttan Marar, who fainted earlier in the day possibly due to exhaustion, has joined nearly 300 artists under the shade of the Bulletwood tree in the courtyard of the Vadakumnathan Temple to lead the Melam. This is the 21st consecutive year that Marar has been leading the ensemble.  

VIDEO: A glimpse of the Parmekkavu Temple procession (that ended sometime ago)

Our reporter on the ground captured this wonderful view of the 'Madathil Varavu' procession of the Thrissur Pooram. Fifteen magnificent, golden caparisoned elephants, stand in front of the Parmekkavu temple, with the tusker in the centre carrying the 'thidambu' (replica) of the deity on it's back. Note the buzz and the frenzy among the crowds.

Ilanjithara Melam can go on for over 4 hours!

The Ilanjithara Melam, an important percussion ensemble of the Thrissur Pooram, can go on for over four hours. Defying the searing May summer heat, the percussionists, standing in rows facing each other, play out one of the most brilliant performances, cheered on by lakhs of people who sway to the rhythms of the instruments (drums). As of now, the Ilanjithara Melam is progressing well, with the beats gaining speed and inching towards the crescendo. Bottles of water are being distributed to the artists who can find the heat quite challenging.  

Pooram's highlight - Ilanjithara Melam - begins

The Ilanjithara Melam, the highlight of the Thrissur Pooram attended by over 300 artists, has begun. In 'Pandi Melam' style, the percussion is noted for it's technical brilliance and discipline of the instruments involved. Lakhs of people tend to converge around the bulletwood tree in the courtyard of the Vadakkumnathan Temple hours in advance so as to get the best views and sounds of the percussion.

Did you know?

Did you know that the Thekkinkadu Maidanam, a 65-acre property that encircles the centuries-old Vadakumnathan Temple and is the centre-piece of the Thrissur Pooram, used to be a dense forest home to tigers, elephants and wild boars at one point of time. During the time of the Maharaja of Cochin, the place was even used to execute the most feared criminals. But over time, the king, against the advice of his Brahmin advisors, took the decision to clear the forests. Post independence, the Maidanam has stood witness to political speeches by the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi when they visited Thrissur. These days, you can always see little huddles of people playing chess and cards under the shade of teak trees.  

A glimpse from the Paramekkavu temple procession (Courtesy: Nelvin Wilson)

Peruvanam Kuttan Marar faints, admitted to hospital

Asianet News is now reporting that Peruvanam Kuttan Marar, a world-famous percussionist, fainted during the procession of the Paramekkavu Temple. He was immediately taken to a private hospital where he was administered first aid. But he is said to be fine. In fact, the channel reports that he will return immediately for the Ilanjithara Melam, that he has continued to lead for over two decades. The 'Melam' will begin shortly after 2 pm.

A snapshot from the 'Madathil varavu' procession (Courtesy: Nelvin Wilson)

Slowly and gradually, the beats are inching up to a crescendo

For any fan of Kerala's traditional percussion, the Thrissur Pooram is a hallowed event. In the Pancharimelam style, the chenda (drums) combines with the ilathalam (cymbal), kombu (wind instrument) and the kuzhal (double reed wind instrument) to produce the state's most popular temple percussion ensemble. As one travels from the north to the south, the percussion however can change forms and styles. The ensemble has five stages, the beats in each of them totalling up to 96, 48, 24, 12 and 6. With each phase, the crescendo rises, taking the listeners along with it.

There's also the 'Pandi Melam', which uses the same instruments but has a different rhythmic pattern.  The famous 'Ilanjithara Melam', performed under the Bulletwood tree of the Thekkinkadu Maidanam, is of the Pandi Melam variety. It's one of the rare occasions when the 'Pandi Melam' is performed as part of a temple procession. For the 21st consecutive year, Peruvanam Kuttan Marar will lead the procession, accompanied by over 300 artists, making it the largest temple orchestra in the world. It begins shortly after 2 pm today.

The procession of the Paramekkavu Bhagavathi temple, also known as the 'madathil varavu' has begun. Fifteen caparisoned elephants, with people atop holding the 'aalavattom' (decorative circular fan made with peacock feathers), 'venchamaram' (fan made of yak hair) and the 'muthukuda' (sequined silk parasols), are part of the procession with the accompaniment of the 'panchavadyam'.

A photograph that celebrates the Pooram's affirmative secular credentials. Isn't that something?

How do you beat the heat during Pooram?

By taking a bath of course. Special arrangements have been made for the elephants to take bath, within the confines of the Thekkinkadu Maidanam.

The video below shows an elephant taking a nice, cool shower before the processions begin.

Some visuals sent by our reporter from the ground (Image courtesy: Nelvin Wilson)

How can you watch the Pooram?

Well,  the best place to watch and enjoy the Pooram in our opinion is at Thrissur itself. It's a different feeling altogether when you join the crowds, despite the sweltering heat, to partake in the 'Melam' (percussion orchestra). But if you couldn't book last-minute train or flight tickets to Thrissur, the second-best way to enjoy the Pooram is via the TV news channels. The interest around the Pooram has been so hysterical over the last few years that every local Malayalam news channel in Kerala has made a bid to get their viewers to Thrissur. Most prime-time news channels like Asianet, Manorama, Mathrubhumi, News18 and MediaOne have dedicated at least two reporters each at different points of the town to capture the mood and intensity. There is non-stop 24x7 coverage around the Pooram, right down to the fireworks in the night. Most of these channels have live-streams on YouTube so you can't miss it.

A low-down on the course of the Pooram today

It's important to understand how today, the main day of the Pooram, progresses. Beginning as early as 7 in the morning, the 'cheru poorams' (mini processions) of the ten participating temples began progressing towards the Swaraj Round, the main centre of Thrissur town. These are basically processions, accompanied by the traditional 'panchavadyam' and caparisoned elephants, marching towards the Vadakumnathan Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The belief is that the deities of these temples, atop the elephants, come to Thrissur to pay their obeisance to Lord Shiva, considered the protector of the town. 

The ten participating temples are Thiruvambady Sri Krishna temple, Paramekkavu Bhagavathi temple (which are the two main ones), Kanimangalam Sastha temple, Laloor Bhagavathi temple, Ayyanthole Bhagavathi temple, Neithilakkavu Bhagavathi temple, Chembukkavu Bhagavathy temple, Panamukkumpally Sastha, Choorakattukavu Bhavathy temple and the Pookkatikkara-Karamukku Bhagavathy temple. 

The 'mini-Poorams' will conclude, one by one, a short while after 12 noon. At 2 pm, the Ilanjithara Melam, the highlight percussion orchestra of the festival, will begin. Hundreds of artists, with chenda, maddalam, idakka, thimila and kombu, will take part in the Melam. As every year, the Melam will be led by Peruvanam Kuttan Marar, a recipient of the Padma Shri award. 

Closer to 5 pm, the 'Kudamattam' ceremony will begin in front of the large grounds adjoining the southern gate of the Vadakumnathan Temple. The processions of the Paramekkavu and Thiruvambady temples, with 15 elephants each, will stand face-to-face. With the accompaniment of percussion, both groups engage in competitive exchange of colourful sets of umbrellas, or silk parasols. This year, both temples will exchange over 50 sets of umbrellas, that could last a few hours.

The Pooram night ends with an elaborate round of fireworks. 

For the uninitiated, what's the Pooram all about?

The 'Pooram''s antecedents go back to the 18th century. Before the emergence of ‘Thrissur Pooram’, the festival at Arattupuzha temple, also in Thrissur district, was considered the biggest temple festival. The Arattupuzha Pooram is attended by two dozen temples in and around the district and witnesses the parading of close to a 100 elephants, making it a spectacle like no other.

But in 1798, when Rama Varma IX, or known popularly as Sakthan Thampuran, ruled over the kingdom of Cochin that encompasses the region of central Kerala including Thrissur, there were heavy rains that year. When a few temples participating in the Arattupuzha Pooram reached late that year, they were denied access. Miffed, the administrations of those temples were said to have approached Sakthan Thampuran to find a solution. The benevolent king, taking cognizance of the sentiments of the temple officials, decreed that they would have a bigger and expansive temple festival of their own, naming it ‘Thrissur Pooram’.

Over the years, the Pooram has emerged as a banner proclaiming the state's proud secular credentials. At it's very core, it may be a Hindu ritual, but people of all faiths join in it's celebrations. 

Explained: Thrissur Pooram, understanding Kerala's largest temple festival

Thrissur Pooram celebrations at swaraj round at Thrissur, Kerala. (Express Photo by Vignesh Krishnamoorthy)

Over the centuries, the Thrissur Pooram event has grown larger in size, with extensive funds being spent by the participating temple administrations and attracting scores of domestic and foreign tourists in the process. While the Pooram itself is just one day, preparations begin months in advance. The Pooram consists ten temples in and around Thrissur and is considered to be a ceremony where these deities come together to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva at the Vadakumnathan Temple, located in the centre of the town.

Read | Thechikottukavu Ramachandran is still in business: The story behind Kerala’s most loved (and feared) elephant

It has to be underlined that the Pooram, though a Hindu ritual, has grown to encompass all religious and cultural strains of Kerala. Both the Muslim and Christian communities participate in the festival in a variety of ways. In essence, the Pooram is not just restricted to reflecting a Hindu ritual, rather, it has ended up becoming a banner highlighting secular credentials of the state.