God’s Own Country is never short of surprises. Pack your bags for Kerala when she’s in a festive mood and see how this tiny strip of land lights up wonders. Though she is always in jolly merriment, we bring you 10 popular festivals that just bring out that extra colour.
Onam was initially associated with the tradition of the fertility cult and is a popular harvest festival celebrated in the month of August-September in Kerala. This harvest festival later turned out to be the identity of the land and is celebrated with the Thiruvona Sadhya – traditional Kerala Meal with at least 50 different dishes complete with the Onam Pattu and Pulikali where people masquerading as tigers take to the streets in the evening. Trissur district in Kerala witness the largest gathering of these ‘tigers’ and is a colourful occasion with drumbeats and banners.
Vishu is the New Year for Kerala and it marks the beginning of the harvest season. Heavily adorned by the myth of Lord Krishna, the devotees put together several fruits, vegetables and cereals in front of the idol of Krishna. This is known as the Vishu Kani and on the morning of the festival, people open their eyes to witness this sight, signifying abundance and prosperity for the rest of the year.
The Chakkulathu Kaavu Pongala and the Aatingal Ponkala, held in the temples of Goddess Laxmi in Thiruvalla and Trivandrum respectively has witnessed a large flocking of devotees by and large. The tradition symbolizes goddess Laxmi as the Annapoorneshwari or the mother who feeds all. Devotees especially women, gather around in the temple compound and cook the traditional Pongala Payasam, a sweet rice dish with is cooked as an offering to the Goddess in return for her blessings for abundance and prosperity.
4. Aranmula Uthrittathi Boat Race
The Aranmula Snake Boat Race, associated with the Parthasaarathy Temple in Aranmula is a sight for sore eyes. Snake Boat or Palliyodam is part of a rich cultural legacy and myths, which adorn the already beautiful boats. Though a trophy is awarded for the boat that comes first, it is my no means a competition. The boats belong to each region surrounding the temple which reaches up to 60 and the race is conducted in the holy Pampa river.
5. Kodungallor Bharani
In the land of the ancient Ceras lies the seat of Kodungallor Bhagavati, a goodess in Kali Ma avatar. Legends have associated the Goddess with Kannagi of the Tamil epic, Silappathikaaram. Every year on the star sigh of Bharani according to the Malayalam Calender, the Kodungallor Bharani is celebrated with great fervour and colours. The temple rituals are different from the sanskritic tradition generally followed by other temples in the region. The Kodungallor Bharani Pattu, is a traditional and much popular folklore practise in which the Goddess is abused with obscene songs.
6. Thrissur Pooram
Thrissur Pooram flocks people from all over, to witness this mass festival which is conducted every year in the Vadakkumnatha temple in the district of Thrissur. The preparation for the Pooram begins atleast 6 months prior to the festival, and sees the stiff competition between two regions surrounding the temple- Paramel kaavu and Thiruvambi. The ‘Kudamattam’- the ritual changing of ornamented umbrellas by both rival groups add to the beauty of the festival. The ‘Chenda Melam’ a traditional instrument like a drum is used to implore the mood of the festival. The majestic elephants line up with their head held high, carrying the divine idols on their backs. Thrissur Pooram is definitely not a sight to be missed.
7. Nehru Trophy Boat Race
It has often been claimed by the viewers that the boats in the Nehru Trophy Race, do not sail but fly. Highly competitive and competed in my professional groups the Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held in Punnamada Lake at Alappuzha.
Kerala celebrates the birth of Lord Siva on the star sign of Thiruvathira which commemorates the unification of Lord Siva with Parvati. It symbolically represents the equality between genders and Siva and Parvathy appears to devotees in the ‘ardhanaareeshwara’ concept. On this day, young ladies and married women, dress up in the traditional attire of Saree and dance in pairs around a lighted lamp according to the rhythms of the Thiruvathira Pattu.
9. Mandala Pooja
The Mandala Pooja Mahotsavam is associated with the pilgrim centre at Sabarimala and Lord Aiyappa. The Mandala Pooja commemorates the Makara Sankranthi and the 41 days fasting devotees undertake before their ascent to the sacred hill of Sabarimala. The fast attains completion when the devotees reach the temple on the day of the Makara and witness the holy Makara Nakshtra in the skies above the divine abode.
10. Chembai Sangeetholsav
Perhaps the most famous Music Festival in South India, the Chembai Sangeetolsav hosts the largest gathering of musicians flaunting their elegance in Classical Music particularly in the genre of traditional Karnatic music. Held annually in the divine abode of Guruvayurappan in Thrissur, the Chembai Music Fest is homage to Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar.
So you see, it doesn’t matter when you pack because there is always one festival or the other in Kerala all set to take your breath away with banners and colours and a ‘Big Bang’ !