A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala

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The elephant procession and the crowd going crazy with tunes of the Panchavadyam

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala by Gireesh Gangadharan

When we hear about Kerala, the things that comes to our mind are lust green surroundings, Backwaters of Alleppey,Tea plantations of Munnar and the likes of such touristy attractions which are well promoted and highly advertised by the state tourism, under the Gods own country tag. Though all this is very appealing and really amazing to look forward to, there is a whole new experience which is not that well promoted. I am talking about the Temple Festivals(Pooram, Vela and Utsavams) of Kerala.

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 1/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

Being a state with a large number of temples, annual festivals are associated with almost all the temples in Kerala. Some of the renowned temple festivals are a treat to watch. It is a visual treat, a treat to your ears and to the soul. It a feast of extravagant aura and abundance. It is a very raw experience of Kerala that you be able to come across if you get a chance to attend any one of these festivals and if its your first time experience i bet it would be a soul-soothing one. I will mention some of the prominent ones here.

Now some aspects are common in whether its a Pooram, Vela or an Utsavam, like Pandal, Elephant processions, mannequins of horses or bullocks, panchavadyam, fun n fair.

Pooram

Pooram is a cultural festival mainly for the temple authorities to celebrate their importance and hard work and also praising the Lord. In their display of power what we get to see is an extravagant event. As all the temples have different deities, every pooram has its own customs and traditions that the temples believe, however the custom of decorating the elephants and playing music is common to all.

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 2/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

These festivals are a common practice in the area of Thrissur, Palakkad and Malappuram. This festival is the time for the people of the land to come together and celebrate and enjoy the procession irrespective of their caste, religion and gender. Thousands and thousands of people flock in from surrounding regions as well as far away come to experience this beautiful festival of colors and prayers.

Pandal

Pandal is a make shift entrance gate of sort built in the area of the Pooram. It is before the Pandal the elephants and panchavadyam musical team are stationed when the pooram starts.

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 3/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan
Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 4/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

The Pandal is decorated with lighting and is visible from a very far distant at night.  Pandal decoration is a very integral part of any temple festival and people take pride in the height and well decorated frame of the Pandal.

Elephant Processions

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 5/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

Elephants are decorated and lead the procession. The elephant at the center carries the temple deity and it symbolizes that the deity is take a tour of the village sitting on top of caparisoned elephants. 

There are incidents of elephants going rogue and creating a ruckus during such processions. However this has never deterred pooram lovers from going near this huge creature during this celebration.   

They are part of a performance. The people stationed on top of the elephants perform coordinated moves with peacock feathers, colorful umbrellas and bells.

Smaller temples which celebrate pooram without any gala processions use horse and bull mannequins instead of elephants.

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 6/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan
Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 7/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

Chamayakazcha (Elephant Ornaments Exhibition)

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 8/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

Chamayam is the display of all the ornaments and decoratives going to be used in the pooram processions. It is displayed in the temple premises in a fashionable manner for the visitors to take a look and appreciate the beauty. They are also kept there for the blessings of the temple diety.

As a part of the chamayam, the golden elephant caparison (Nettipattam), elephant accouterments (Chamayam), ornamental fan made of peacock feathers (Aalavattom), royal fan (Venchamarom), sacred bells and decorative umbrellas are all displayed.

Panchavadyam

Pachavadyam is a musical performance using various instruments. There are pooram lovers who only go enjoy this performance. Musical instruments like  thimila, madhalam, trumpet, cymbal and edakka are used.

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 9/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

The ensemble plays different types of music using different instruments which are authentic to the state. These musical performances are called melams and one of the most famous of them all is the Pandi Melam which is performed outside the temple at the time of the festival. The Panchari melam is similar to the Pandi Melam because of the location it is played in, however the melam follows a different beat compared to the rhythmic beat. Another melam is the Panchavadyam which has five musical instruments forming a single symphony which is fast and upbeat. The Chenda performance is also a very important part of the whole procession for they create the vibe of the festival and add a very authentic flavour to it.

Firework Display

For me pooram is incomplete without the firework. The firework used in pooram are of the magnitude that you would not witness any where else in the country. It is an experience too difficult to be point words, it should be watched.

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 10/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan
Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 11/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan
Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 12/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

As central Kerala has a lot of agricultural open land which is left clean after the harvest season, it is used as the ground for the firework setup. There have been various accidents causing lives of spectators and the use of firework is a point of debate in the state.

But being a lover of this spectacular firework display, I feel any pooram is incomplete without this part. I have witness fireworks from dangerously close distances and also seen crowd running abruptly when the firework is lit.

With better management nowadays by the temple committee and the police force, this is managed quite well causing no harm to anybody around.

Now as we know about all the integral parts of any temple festivals, I will list below my favorite ones in Kerala.  My main purpose behind writing this article is to draw your attention to various Poorams in Kerala. Thrissur pooram sure is a gem, but there are other ones too that will let you enjoy the pooram vibes. Not everybody would have a chance to be present for Thrissur pooram, never mind with the below list you would not miss out on the extravagant celebration and have an experience of a life time. I bet you would be left wanting for more every year :)

1. Thrissur Pooram (3rd May, 2020)

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 13/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

Thrissur pooram does not need much of description from my side. It is one of the best-known festivals of Kerala to the world. People from in and around Thrissur and in fact whole of Kerala and, Tourists from around the world, irrespective of region or religion, flock to the city. The Melam and the Fire Works along with other rituals of the Pooram makes it a celebration of the Mass.

The Festival usually falls in the month of April or May. Be prepared to get yourself basked in the hot summer Sun with a large and thick crowd that leaves you no space to breathe! But who cares. The temples of the Western Region headed by Thiruvambadi Sri Krishna Temple and the Eastern Region headed by Paramekkavu Bagawathy Temple would swipe you off your feet while they compete to bring the best of their well decorated umbrellas adorned over the Elephants for the Kudamatom Ceremony. And later on followed by the Spectacular and Ground breaking Fire Works from both the Regions.

2. Aaratuupuzha Pooram(5th April, 2020)

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 14/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

Aaratupuzha Temple festival is considered to be one of the oldest ulsavams of Kerala. The deities of various temples from nearby Temples come to visit the Shastha of the Aaratupuzha Temple (who is considered as their Guru). The last two days of the Seven Day festival ends with the Sashtavinte Melam on the evening prior to the Last Day. The last day early morning witnesses the Devasangamom, where all the Dieties come together to meet the Sastha and ends by Aarattu – the ceremonial cleansing of the idols in the river.

3. Peruvanam Pooram(5th April, 2020)

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 15/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

This is another pooram famous mainly for its fine Melam. The Melams of the Urakam Devi and the Cherpu Baghawathy are considered the finest performed.

4. Nenmara Vallangi Vela

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 16/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

This is the ulsavam for the Vedikettu (fireworks) lovers. Nenmara and Vallangi villages comete among themselves to bring out the best of the Fireworks. The fireworks of this Vela is considered the best of the Kerala. Though it is not within the Thrissur District, it is an Ulsavam visited by most Ulsavam Lovers of Thrissur.

5. Mannarkad Pooram

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 17/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

The Mannarkad Pooram is an annual festival conducted at the Udayarkunnu Bhagavathy Temple so as to honor the deity in the temple. This festival starts with Pooram Purappadu. Arattu Ezhunellathu is a procession carrying the idol of the temple for the holy dip in the temple pond. The festive mood is lifted by traditional percussion music and cultural programs conducted during the festival. Temple art forms such as Chakyarkoothu, Ottanthullal etc. are also staged during the festival days. Kanji Parcha is a special event held during the festival.

6. Kavassery Pooram

This where I am from. I visit my native place annually to be a part of the Kavassery pooram. Everything is grand, the fun n fair, the pandal and firework. 

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 18/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan
Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 19/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

Parakkat Bhagavathy Temple, located at Kavassery in Palakkad, is famous for the annual Pooram Mahostavam. Held for seven days commencing from Makeeryam asterism in the Malayalam of Meenam (March – April) and ends on Pooram asterism the festival is regionally known as Kavassery Pooram. The main highlights of this pooram festival are the traditional orchestra’s (melam) performance like Pancharimelam, Panchavadyam, Kuthuvilakku Purappedal and Double Thayambaka. Another highlight of the festival is the Kuthira (effigies of horse) procession.

7. Kannambra vela

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 20/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

An arresting visual spectacle, the Kannambra - Rishinarada Mangalam Vela is a grand finale to the summer festivals in the Palakkad-Thrissur region. Considered as the largest festival in this region, the festival has an intriguing nickname, 'Chakka Vela', relating it to a story about the harvest of jackfruits and mangoes.

During the festival, two competing groups, the Kannambra Desam and Rishinarada Mangalam Desam (desam means region) lead the festivities. The festival is marked by a grand elephant pageantry.

A major highlight of the festival is the Vaalum Chilambum Ezhunnallathu – a colourful procession from the Sree Kurumba Temple to R. Mangalam Mannam indicating the arrival of the Goddess. The Eedu Vedi, a ceremony which involves fireworks display is held at noon.

A festival at par with the grandeur of the legendary Thrissur Pooram, Kannambra Vela is a festival that one shouldn’t miss.

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 21/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

8. Kunissery Kummatti

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 22/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

The Kunissery Kummatti is held in the Punartham asterisk in the month of Meenam which usually falls in the months of March/April. It is held at Pookulangara temple near Alathur with the Vadakkethara and Thekkethara desoms being the two main participants.

9. Kalpathi Ratholsavam

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 23/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

Most people wouldn't expect giant chariots sweeping through their city streets. Well, to this day, one can view exotic, colourful chariots during the annual Ratholsavam (chariot festival) at Sree Viswanatha Swamy Temple at Kalpathi in Palakkad. The temple, dedicated to Lord Viswanatha or Shiva and built over 700 years ago, usually celebrates the festival during November. This event has been celebrated for centuries and devotees crowd the streets in large numbers. As the chariots pass, people can be seen dancing and celebrating throughout the route. Recitations of Vedic rituals and cultural programmes are held. The final three days brings three gigantic chariots to the roads and revelry reaches its crescendo. It is among the most extraordinary sights that God's Own Country has to offer.

10. Thiruvilwamala Vela

Thiruvilwamala Parakkottu Kavu Devi Temple, dedicated to Goddess Bhagavathy, is famous for the annual Thalappoli festival. Held every year on the last Sunday of the Malayalam month of Medam (May first half), the celebration includes the procession of the deity on caparisoned elephant accompanied by the traditional ensemble of Panchavadyam and Melam, performance of traditional art forms such as Poothan, Thira, Karivesham and finally the celebration ends with fireworks.

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 24/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

11. Chittilamchery Vela

Photo of A Guide to the Temple festivals(Pooram, Vela, Utsavam) in Kerala 25/25 by Gireesh Gangadharan

Chittilamchery Vela, an annual event that takes place on the 28/29 th of April in honor of the presiding deity. Aarattu is also celebrated in the Sri Cherunatoori Bhagavathi temple during a week at the end of January in which cultural programs, bhajanas and devotional songs are presented. Malma kali[porattan kali] is also practiced within the temple premises.

So above is my picks of temple festivals worth watching once in a lifetime. The experience will surely leave you wanting for more. Now as you know more than Thrissur pooram from the Gods own country, I can help you with arrangements for stay and travel if you want to attend this annual events. You can contact me on whatsapp: 8828541964. Come and witness the extravagant celebration.