Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thrissur Pooram

Travelling, and India especially, always has many surprises and adventures up its sleeve. Well here’s a good one: we were emailed by booking.com two days before our arrival to Thrissur that our hotel booking was cancelled due to overbooking and they found us a hotel 30 minutes outside of Thrissur. Not going to work!

Had we already received a confirmation email over a month before? Yes.

Was the hotel actually overbooked? Nope. We called, they just wanted 10x as much for the same room we had “confirmed”…. India for you!

Were there any other hotels available in Thrissur for a reasonable price? No.

Were we really really frustrated with booking.com?  Most definitely.

That little bump in the road was a miracle in disguise though. Couchsurfing came to the rescue. I sent a message to a few different hosts in the area and within 2 hours had 2 hosts willing to let all three of us stay with them. We decided to stay in Aniket’s family home with his mother, and auntie - unfortunately, his wife was out of town. His sincerity was evident as soon as we met him at the train station on Saturday evening. He picked us up in an AC car and we all exhaled in relief of the cool air.

We arrived at his home around 10:30PM and his mother greeted us with a smile, broken English and mango juice. The next morning at breakfast was when we got to know more about the family. They are actually Maharastrian but relocated to Kerala about 25 years ago. We learned they were Jain (religion - same as Ami’s family) and began asking more questions about the religion. Staying with Aniket’s family was so comforting and such a great experience to learn about family life, religion, arranged marriages and Indian customs.

Thrissur is not on the backpacker’s beaten path, so what were we up to in Thrissur? It was Pooram!! Hunderds of thousands of people gather at Vadakkunnathan Temple in Thrissur for Pooram each year. The Thrissur Pooram is considered to be the Mother of all Poorams, a culture highlight that towers above all other festivals .Thrissur pooram is a festival unique in its pageantry, magnitude and participation. It is not a mere temple festival in its strict sense but at the same time it is the festival of festivals of Kerala.

The festival is a competition between two main temples (Krishna temple named Thirumbady and Shiva’s Bhagwati temple named Parmekavu) and involves 51 elephants adorned with decorations to show dedication to the temples. 

The festival goes on for a day and a half straight (7AM Sunday – 4PM Monday). Aniket walked us down to the temple area where Pooram was taking place. The first event we attended was around noon where somewhere between 9-13 elephants walked up to the Thirumbady temple. From there they receded back to Swaraj Road (a 3 km road encircling the temple). After the event, we walked around and found some of the decorations for the next event. 

Mona, Myself and Ami all festival ready!

Awww I loved this photo, so sweet leaning in to eachother!

Now that is some massive poo!
Getting hennafied.
The second event we attended was Kudamattom (kuda – umbrella, mattom – changing) where 15 elephants from each temple, Krishna and Shiva, compete in the changing of umbrellas. Each temple takes turns showcasing an umbrella (the middle one is always a different color). This went on for about an hour and a half as each temple showcased over 50 umbrellas. Over 100,000 people gathered to witness the competition and the crowd cheered for whichever umbrellas they were most impressed by. Each temple started off with mildly decorated umbrellas and concluded with polka dots, neons, and even LED lighted umbrellas. Luckily for us we were able to get free passes for a foreigner/VIP stage that an incredible view of the event. Money photos! This video I took shows the energy and excitement at Pooram. I love re-watching it.

Ice Cream time!! - Myself, Mona, Ami & Our new CS friend Andrea
The final event we attended is called Vedikettu- a firework display at 3:30AM. It was a…memorable experience. Aniket reserved tickets for us to view the fireworks from a building on Swaraj Road. We were required to be at the building by 11:30PM, so in true India form we arrived by midnight. The fireworks, as promised, began around 3:30AM. What we realized first was that our definition of fireworks was different from Thrissur’s definition. What went off at 3:30 seemed more like bombs to us. I swear I felt like I was in the middle of a war, I could feel the explosions in my body. I learned later that each explosion was propelled by a 30-40kg bomb that created a crazy loud flash in the sky and shook the crowd with its force. Windows in the building we viewed from taped the windows to ensure they didn’t shatter and car alarms sounded effortlessly. The “fireworks” were done by each side as part of the competition. After about 5 minutes of explosions there was a 15-20 minute break and then the other temple showcased their “fireworks”. After that round most people left. We stayed because Aniket told us the next set were slower and more beautiful. They were- similar to the 4th of July fireworks I’m used to in the states, these were beautiful and weren’t blowing me away by their force.

 We were so fortunate to have an amazing host for our time in Thrissur. His mom (Shweta auntie) even gave us a cooking lesson the next day and we tried to make those Kerala parootas we were obsessing over, a vegetable pulau, veg curry and raita. If you are interested I did take notes & have recipes for all of these! Thank you so much Aniket, what a wonderful experience. Thrissur Pooram was incredible too so if you happen to be in India in late April or early May definitely go to Thrissur for Pooram.

Writers Credit goes to Ami & her awesome blog!

1 comment:

  1. Hi. Myself Sherene, Features Writer with The Times of India, (Largest leading English Language Daily in India) Kerala, India.
    Doing a feature on foreigners attending Thrissur Pooram. From ur blog, I believe u have witnessed it 2013. Could u share your Pooram memories?
    1. Where did u first hear about it?
    2. What attracted u to the Pooram?
    3. Your favourite Pooram memory
    4. What was the whole experience like?

    U can reach me at sherenejoe@gmail.com
    Hoping to hear from you soon. Many thanks in advance.