Festivals are true celebrations in God's Own Country; occasions when grandeur prevails over the characteristic simplicity of the Kerala lifestyle. Be it the state festival of Onam or the one at a local place of worship, new attire and sumptuous feasts are a must for the celebrations.
Besides being occasions for merry-making, festivals of Kerala have traditionally been preservers of the art and culture of this land. Whether religious or social, traditional or modern, a festival here is never complete without an art event which would range from the 2000-year-old Kutiyattam to contemporary stage shows.
Want to loose yourself amid the heady mixture of pomp and pageantry? Then ensure your presence in the Thekkinkadu Maidanam at Thrissur to celebrate the world-renowned Thrissur pooram, arguably the most famous festival of Kerala.
The festival held on the premises of the Vadakkumnatha temple, which is a classic example of Kerala style of architecture, is made spectacular by the pageant of 30 caparisoned elephants andkudamattom, a competition involving swift rhythmic changing of brightly coloured and sequined parasols.
Ilanjitharamelam, an amazing percussion ensemble featuring about 250 odd artistes, ushers in tens of thousands of music-lovers, who wave their hands in accordance to the rhythm generated by the chenda, kuzhal, kombu and elathalam (traditional instruments of Kerala). An astounding firework would light up the sky to provide a grand finale to two days of classic entertainment.
Arattupuzha is a culturally significant village located in Thrissur district of Kerala. This village, about 15 km from the town of Thrissur is renowned for the annual festival called Arattupuzha Pooram. The Sree Sastha Temple, dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, which is believed to be more than 3000 years old and its premises are the venue for the festivities. It is believed that during the festival period, Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity at the Sree Sastha Temple is visited by gods and goddesses of the neighbouring villages.
The annual festival at Arattupuzha is also termed as the mother of all pooram festivals in Kerala, due to its sheer magnitude and grandeur. Visitors from nearby and far off places reach the village of Arattupuzha during the festival days, to be part of this grand festival. The pinnacle of excitement and devotion during the seven-day festival is obviously the last two days. The evening prior to the last day of the festival would have an assembly of caparisoned elephants and staging of percussion ensembles as part of the ceremony called Sasthavinte Melam.
The atmosphere during Sasthavinte Melam would have the brilliance of the many brightly lit traditional lamps and also the huge flame bearing staffs, locally called as theevetti. Once this ceremony is over, by early morning the elephants carrying deities of nearby temples would proceed to the adjoining paddy field for the grand spectacle that would have about 50 odd elephants lined up in front of a cheering crowd.
The venue would soon become electrifying with groups of traditional percussion ensembles comprising Panchavadyam, Pacharimelam and Pandimelam playing their best possible beats and rhythms, while the caparisoned elephants bearing muthukkudas (sequined, glittering umbrellas) and venchamarams (white whisks) make a delightful sight, as they stand patiently and entertain the crowd.
By sunrise, the elephants carrying deities from neighbouring temples that had gathered at the Sree Sastha Temple at Arattupuzha would proceed to the nearby river for the aarattu ceremony. It is a ceremonial cleansing process by immersing the idol in the river accompanied by chanting of mantras and floral offerings. The last to undergo the aarattu would be Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity of the Sree Sastha temple at Arattupuzha.
Imagine a grand spectacle where about 33 tuskers come together in a grand procession, offering a spectacular visual delight. Interested? Then get your bags ready for a trip to Kerala to savour this fabulous visual fiesta. Chinakkathoor Pooram is the name of this festival of colours and tuskers, held annually at the Sree Chinakkathoor Bhagavathy Temple, Palappuram in the district of Palakkad in north Kerala.
Chinakkathoor Pooram would come alive with performances of the Panchavadyam - the traditional Kerala orchestra - and various art forms like vellattu, theyyam, poothanum thirayum, kaalavela, kuthiravela, aandi vedan, karivela and so on. Tholpavakoothu, a ritualistic shadow puppetry, is another attraction of the festival.
During the Malayalam month of Meenam (March-April) Peruvanam temple in Cherpu attains a special charm and majesty. And the reason is the Peruvanam Pooram, a festival that has a legendary status because of it antiquity. Lord Shiva is the presiding deity of this temple. Legend has it that the present sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum) was originally a tree on which Lord Shiva did tapas (meditation).
It is said that the original form of the festival was different from what it is today. There also happened a break in it conduct due to unknown reasons. Later, it was restarted as two poorams, Peruvanam pooram and Arattupuzha pooram. It is estimated that the new version of the festival at Peruvanam has been in existence for 1428 years.
In the festival, the procession carrying the deity atop a caparisoned elephant along with six other jumbos accompanied by traditional percussion ensembles is a real treat for the eyes and ears. One of the highlights of the pooram is the four-hour long panchari melam (traditional Kerala percussion ensemble) starting past midnight and followed by fireworks.
Would you miss a chance to enjoy one of the most amazing visual and cultural treats of Kerala? If no, then make sure you are here for the renowned Chettikulangara Bharani, the annual festival held at the Chettikulangara temple during the Malayalam month of Kumbham (February-March). The festival and the temple are dedicated to Goddess Bhagavathy.
What makes the festival stand out among the other festivals of Kerala is a spectacular event called Kettukazhcha, a ceremonious procession of brightly decorated structures. The dazzlingly decorated structures; the bigger ones assumed as horses and the smaller ones as chariots, and cultural performances are the highlights of this spectacular pageant. These architectural and aesthetic marvels would certainly etch a remarkable artistic impression on the minds of the spectators, especially at night when the arena is illuminated by colourful lights. Kettukazhcha is an offering of the people to the deity, and stand testimony to the architectural and aesthetic expertise of the people of this region. The chariots proceed from different points in the village, representing that particular region, and demonstrate the harmony that is there in these hamlets.
Hero-worship is something that you are all familiar with. But what if you get a chance to visit a temple where adorations are devoted not for a hero but for a villainous character in an epic. Poruvazhi Malanada Temple is that place where the worshipped figure is Duryodhana the antagonist in the Indian epic Mahabharata. Not just this; the temple doesn't have an idol or a sanctum sanctorum.
Poruvazhi Malanada Temple is also noted for a spectacular event called Malanada Kettukazcha a one-day festival celebrated in the month of March. The procession is a fascinating sight in which decorated structures are taken out to the accompaniment of traditional orchestra of drums. Some of these structures are 70 to 80 ft tall and they are made in a competitive spirit by the people of the surrounding villages. The structures are either carried on the shoulders or taken out on chariots. The event attracts large number of devotees every year.
Imagine a scene where thousands of sword wielding oracles both men and women calledvelichappads wearing vermilion costumes, swarming a temple premise. If you don't want to miss this chance, then make yourself present in the premises of the renowned Bhagavathy temple at Kodungalloor during the annual Bharani festival. The festival usually falls in the Malayalam month of meenam (roughly March/April) every year.
The legendary Bharani festival is noted for the spectacular event called kaavu theendal in which oracles; both men and women from different parts of the State arrive at Kodungalloor Bhagavathy temple. The oracles run in a trance around the temple and smite their crown with sword, proclaiming their communion with the Mother Goddess. Meanwhile the devotees strike the temple rafters with sticks and hurl offerings over the roof and on to the inner quadrangle.
Every year, pilgrims and curious visitors come to attend this seven-day annual festival at the Kodungalloor Bhagavathy Temple. Following the festival, the temple would remain closed for a week. The doors will open after the purification rituals are performed to clean the stains of kavu theendal.
Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple has got its own significance when it comes to the history of Travancore (erstwhile princely state in south Kerala). Closely associated with the royal family of Travancore, the history of the temple dates back to centuries.
One of the main annual festivals of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple is the Painkuni Festival. It starts with kodiyettu - the hoisting of the ceremonial flag. The festival is celebrated in the months of March/April. During the Painkuni festival, huge fibre glass figures of the Pandavas (the five sons of Pandu in the Indian epic Mah?bh?rata) will be placed at the eastern entrance to the temple. As per belief, the figures are put up to propitiate Indra, the Rain God.
Painkuni is a ten-day festival in which special rituals are offered every day. On the ninth day, the head of the Travancore Royal Family performs the palli vetta (royal hunt) ritual, near the Vettakorumakan temple in the Fort area. The festival ends with the aarattu procession to the Sanghumugham beach for the ritual immersion of the idols in the sea. The male members of royal family of Travancore, including the king, will escort the deities in the procession.
The Ochira Temple situated near the National Highway between Kollam and Alappuzha is well renowned for its ritualistic festival Ochira Kali. The very air is a palpable mix of fun and frolic on the two main days of the festival for it involves a mock battle between two groups to the sound of drums in a waterlogged field called padanilam. This battle that commemorates the historic battle fought between the erstwhile Kayamkulam and Ambalapuzha kingdoms, witness boys and men split in two groups and jumping into the field to engage in a mock battle. Sticks replace swords and the participants splash muddy water at each other in this mock battle.
Unlike other traditional temples, the temple here does not have a definite structural layout, idol or mode of worship. Here, the whole concept of worship revolves around the Parabrahmam or the universal consciousness. It is this uniqueness that makes this temple stand apart from the rest.
Welcome to one of the most famous pilgrim centres in India. The Sabarimala temple is located in the Sabari Hills, towards the east of Pathanamthitta District. The divine incantation amid the lush forests and grasslands and the thousands of people that visit this temple, irrespective of caste and creed, make it a very unique pilgrim destination. Lord Ayyappa is the presiding deity here.
The annual pilgrim season to Sabarimala begins with the Mandalakala season, which commences usually in the months of November-December followed by the Makaravilakkuseason during December-January. The temple at Sabarimala can be accessed via many traditional routes. Pamba is the main halting point on the way to Sabarimala. As per tradition a dip in the sacred river Pamba cleanses the pilgrims off sins and after that they proceed to thesannidhanam or the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Ayyappa. A truly riveting spiritual experience in the lap of pristine nature, Sabarimala has become a major destination of the faithful in India.
Providing a platform for almost 400 theyyams to perform together Kanathoor Nalvar Bhoothasthanam is undoubtedly a must watch for all those who love the pomp and richness of Theyyam. Held in the month of December this prominent Theyyam festival of the Kanathoor village in Kasaragod stages the Theyyam of the mother deity as the leading one. The costumes and paintings of the body remind one of an outburst of colours. The visual beauty and the incessant music would transform the onlookers to a different level, almost trance-like state.
Want to enjoy a brilliant festival of very many colours and cultures? Then visit Neelamperoor Palli Bhagavathy temple during the time of annual Patayani festival and experience yourself an exquisite festival that is unique in a number of ways. Neelamperoor Patayani is a spectacular event that falls in the Malayalam month of Chingam (usually August/September). The word Patayani literally means rows of army. Though patayani is performed in number of other temples in Kerala, the one held at Neelamperoor is entirely different from others.
Kettukazhcha, display of deftly decorated effigies, is what makes this festival stand out. Massive effigies of swans and other legendary characters are brought in procession. The making of the effigies of the swans is locally known as annam kettu. At night the ambience is set by a colourful procession carrying the effigies of mythological characters like Bhima, Ravana, and Yakshi.
Visit Kadammanitta Devi Temple at Pathanamthitta district during the Malayalam month of medam (roughly April/May) and enjoy the spirit of a magnificent ritualistic art form that is rooted in legends and myths. Patayani is such an annual ritual, performed in Bhadrakali temples of Central Travancore that astonishes the audience with its splendid theatrical values.
Kadammanitta is famous for the Patayani performance at the Devi temple here, which is a burst of colour, energy and passionate devotion. The festival is celebrated every year from the first day of Malayalam month medam to the 10th day, called the pathamudaya
The St. Sebastian's church at Arthunkal in Alappuzha District is noted for the ten-day annual feast, popularly known as Arthunkal Perunnal (perunnal means feast). The feast is held in January every year. Devotees from different parts of the State swarm the church on the feast days. A procession carrying the statue of St. Sebastian, from the church to the beach and back, is an important event during the feast.
The main attraction of the ten-day feast here is the ceremony on the final day, when devotees crawl on their knees all the way from the nearby beach to the church. This is followed by a ceremonial procession to the beach.
A land that oozes old world charm and elegance, Fort Kochi is the delight of every traveller. The Santa Cruz Basilica, the largest and the most majestic of tourist attractions here has astonished visitors for a long time with its architectural splendor and artistic beauty. Here, devotion embraces history and artistry.
Among the feasts celebrated here the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima deserves special mention. The feast starts on the 26th evening and concludes on the 31st of December. Apart from the sacred rites during the festival, the evening of the festival day witnesses a solemn candlelight procession across the momentous corridors of Fort Kochi. It is followed by a dazzling display of fireworks. The Santa Cruz Basilica, the heritage edifice of Kerala is all the more luminous during the festive occasion.
Rajiv Gandhi Boat Race at Pulinkunnu, Alappuzha. The event is a memorial to the former prime minister. Festival highlights: Colourful water procession Water floats Boat races.
The boat races of Kerala, the largest team sport in the world, impart experience beyond words. In Kerala, the season of boat races starts with the renowned Champakkulam Moolam Vallam Kali (vallam kali means boat race). The festival takes place at Champakkulam, a serene village in Alappuzha district, on the moolam asterism in the Malayalam month of mithunam (roughly June/July).
On the day of the race, people, both locals and travellers from far off places, flock the river bank to enjoy the race. Venturous spirits will ensure a better vantage point by climbing the nearby trees. As the sun comes straight on top of all gathered, boats in various categories like thechundan (snake boat), veppu, iruttu kuthi, churulan and others from nearby regions assemble at the starting point of the race. Among these boats, the snake boats with its fascinating design catch the attention of all.
Being the largest sporting event in the world, snake boat race is often considered as the ultimate test of endurance, speed and skill. As the oarsmen set the pace of their boats with oars striking the placid waters of River Pamba, it becomes a track on fire.
When August comes, the placid water of the Punnamada Lake becomes a track on fire. Yes it is the time of the prestigious Nehru Trophy Boat Race, where the silence of the lake is sliced by the slashing oars of the pacing boats. Held on the second Saturday of August every year, it is the most popular of all boat races in the world. Magnificent snake boats compete for the prized trophy to commemorate the visit of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India to Alappuzha. The rhythmic and the synchronized way of rowing the majestic snake boats make it a rare spectacle.
People from near and far swarm the banks of Punnamada Lake to enjoy this annual water regatta. Apart from the races of chundan valloms (snake boats) and of smaller country crafts, the event has in store many fascinating moments like the ceremonial water processions, spectacular floats and decorated boats.
Noted for its grandeur and long tradition, the Aranmula Uthrittathi boat race is considered as a ritual than a race that takes place on the Uthrittathi asterism (as per the local Malayalam calendar) during the Onam festival. There is an interesting story associated with the boat race that makes it all the more beautiful.
Legend has it that a devout Brahmin vowed to offer all the requirements for the thiruvona sadya (the grand traditional feast on the day of Thiruvonam) at the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple. Once, the boat known as Thiruvona Thoni carrying these offerings was attacked by enemies. In order to protect the Thiruvona Thoni people from neighbouring areas sent their snake boats. Later on, this practice evolved into an offering to Lord Parthasarathy in the form of a snake boat race, held on the Uthrittathi day which eventually became popular as the Aranmula Boat Race.
Experience the euphoria of religion, faith and beliefs during the Pongala festival celebrated at the renowned Attukal Bhagavathi temple in Kerala's capital city of Thiruvananthapuram. The festival entered the Guinness records for being the largest single gathering of women for a religious activity.
Pongala (literally means to boil over) is a ritualistic offering of a sweet dish consisting of rice porridge, sweet brown molasses, coconut gratings, nuts and raisins. Devotees offer pongala to appease the presiding deity of the temple - the Goddess - popularly known as Attukalamma.
Only women are allowed to participate in the Pongala ritual. Right from the night before the Pongala day, thousands of women, regardless of religious faith, assemble at the temple premises and on either side of the roads leading to the shrine, to make the Pongala offering. Devotees from across the country and even from abroad participate in the ritual.
Ever seen a procession of tigers on two legs? Well, we are not talking about any carnival inside the circus tents. The event takes place at the Swaraj Round in Thrissur district of Kerala. Pulikali, or the fun and frolic of tigers, is an event that has become synonymous with the festival of Onam in Kerala. The tigers are not real ones but men dressed and painted as tigers.
As part of the performance, groups of local men would have their bodies and faces painted to resemble tigers. Apart from the true colours of a tiger, one would also come across other colours and patterns and even the facial features of lion on the bodies of performers. The make-up is time-consuming and it is quite a labour to undo the make-up, which is mostly done with oil paints. The theme of the performance is playing hide-and-seek with a hunter wielding a gun. The event generates a great deal of excitement both for the spectators from near and far and for the performers.
A temple in a forest glade with over 30,000 images of snakes along the paths and among the trees! This is the unique Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja temple in Alappuzha District. The temple, dedicated to serpent gods is also unique in that a Brahmin woman is the priestess of this temple. The major festival here is the Ayilyam festival that falls on the Ayilyam asterism in the Malayalam month of Thulam, which roughly corresponds to the months of October / November.
One of the major highlights of the festival is the procession in which all the serpent idols in the temple and the sacred grove are taken to the illam (the Brahmin ancestral home) that manages the temple. The priestess will carry the idol of Nagaraja, which is the presiding deity of the temple. Special prayers and offerings are performed at the illam.