Pooram


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Pooram

Type of Holiday: Religious (Hindu)
Date of Observation: April-May; ten days during the Hindu month of Vaisakha
Where Celebrated: Trichur and elsewhere in Kerala, India
Symbols and Customs: Elephants, Pandimelam, Parasols
Related Holidays: Great Elephant March

ORIGINS

Pooram is one of the celebrations of Hinduism, which many scholars regard as the oldest living religion. The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit term Sindhu (or Indus), which meant river. It referred to people living in the Indus valley in the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism has no founder, one universal reality (or god) known as Brahman, many gods and goddesses (sometimes referred to as devtas), and several scriptures. Hinduism also has no priesthood or hierarchical structure similar to that seen in some other religions, such as Christianity. Hindus acknowledge the authority of a wide variety of writings, but there is no single, uniform canon. The oldest of the Hindu writings are the Vedas. The word "veda" comes from the Sanskrit word for knowledge. The Vedas, which were compiled from ancient oral traditions, contain hymns, instructions, explanations, chants for sacrifices, magical formulas, and philosophy. Another set of sacred books includes the Great Epics, which illustrate Hindu faith in practice. The Epics include the Rama- yana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita.

The Hindu pantheon includes approximately thirty-three million gods. Some of these are held in higher esteem than others. Over all the gods, Hindus believe in one absolute high god or universal concept. This is Brahman. Although he is above all the gods, he is not worshipped in popular ceremonies because he is detached from the day-to-day affairs of the people. Brahman is impersonal. Lesser gods and goddesses (devtas) serve him. Because these are more intimately involved in the affairs of people, they are venerated as gods. The most honored god in Hinduism varies among the different Hindu sects. Although Hindu adherents practice their faith differently and venerate different deities, they share a similar view of reality and look back on a common history. Pooram was first held in Trichur during the reign of Sakthan Thampuran (177590), who was the Raja of Kochi (Cochin). Thampuran renovated the Vadakkunathan Temple complex, which includes not only the main temple dedicated to Shiva but two smaller temples dedicated to the sister goddesses Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi. He also cut down the trees surrounding the temples to create the Thekkinkadu Maidan, the huge open space named after the teak forest that once stood there and the main venue for the spectacle of Pooram.

The word pooram means "meeting," and the original purpose of the event was for the gods and goddesses of neighboring provinces to meet ceremonially on an annual basis. Today, the highlight of the festival occurs when two groups of fifteen ELEPHANTS , one representing the Paramekkavu Temple and the other the Thiruvambadi Temple, meet face to face on the maidan in front of the Vadakkunathan Temple. One of the elephants in each group carries the image of the temple's deity, and all are caparisoned, which means they wear rich ornamental coverings that resemble chain mail. Three Brahmin priests sit atop each elephant, and in their hands are the symbols of royalty-yak-hair whisks with silver handles, circular fans made of peacock feathers, and brightly colored silk PARASOLS -which they wave to the rhythm of the music provided by the traditional instrumental group known as the PANDIMELAM . Other temples send elephants carrying deities to participate in the procession as well, and when all have made their way slowly through the streets and gathered at the Vadakkunathan Temple, there is a spectacular display of color and movement in which parasols are twirled and exchanged while the tempo of the music gradually increases from slow and majestic to a frenzy (see PANDIMELAM ). The festival ends with fireworks that extend into the next morning and a farewell between the two goddess-carrying elephants, which link trunks before parting. The entire show takes about thirty hours.

Although Pooram is observed in many locations throughout Kerala, a state at the southwestern tip of India, the largest and most widely attended celebration is in Trichur (Thrissur), where thousands gather to see the "Pooram of all Poorams." The events there center around the Vadakkunathan Temple, but the festival is not exclusively a Hindu one. Muslims and Christians play an active role in planning for Pooram, and virtually everyone turns out to see the GREAT ELEPHANT MARCH , for which the festival is world famous.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Elephants

Each temple participating in Pooram sends a contingent of elephants to accompany the image of its god or goddess. Smaller temples may send only three or four elephants, while the Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi temples send the largest contingents of fifteen elephants each. If a temple doesn't own any elephants, they can usually be borrowed or hired, and it is considered a great honor for the elephant's owner when his animal is asked to participate.

Each elephant wears a nettipattam, which is a piece of cloth to which hundreds of gold pieces have been stitched, giving the overall effect of large sequins. What is even more impressive than the huge beasts' willingness to wear this heavy decoration in the hot sun is the patience with which they stand in the temple grounds while surrounded by exploding fireworks and the sound of the chenda drums.

Pandimelam

The Pandimelam is a group of four instrumentalists who perform at Kerala's temple festivals and play traditional music. Their instruments are the chenda, a cylindrical drum; the ilathalam, which is similar to cymbals; the kuzhal, a wind instrument that resembles a hollow pipe; and the kombu, a C-shaped trumpet made of brass or copper. The Chenda Melam, an orchestra of drums, also performs at Pooram, particularly during the parasol exchange (see PARASOLS ).

Parasols

The parasols carried by the Brahmins during the elephant procession are a symbol of royalty. They are usually made out of patterned silk with silver pendants along the edge, and the colors range from red, purple, and orange to turquoise, black, and gold. In the ceremony known as Kudamattam, the Brahmins from one temple face those from the other temple and engage in a competition that involves each side exchanging parasols in time with the music provided by the PANDIMELAM . The spectacle of all these ceremonial umbrellas swaying and twirling is probably Pooram's most unforgettable sight.

FURTHER READING

Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004.

WEB SITE

Emerging Planet India www.trichur.net/pooram.html

Pooram

April-May; Hindu month of Vaisakha
One of the most spectacular festivals of southern India, this is a celebration in Trichur (or Thrissur), Kerala, dedicated to Lord Shiva. People fast on the first day of the festival and the rest of the days are devoted to fairs, processions, and fireworks displays. The highlight of the pageantry comes when an image of the deity Vadakkunathan is taken from the temple and carried in a procession of temple elephants ornately decorated with gold-plated mail. The Brahmans riding them hold colorful ceremonial umbrellas and whisks of yak hair and peacock feathers. The elephants lumber through the pagoda-shaped gateway of the Vadakkunathan temple and into the village while drummers beat and pipers trill. Fireworks light the skies until dawn.
CONTACTS:
Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala
Park View
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695 033 India
91-471-2321132; fax: 91-471-2322279
www.keralatourism.org
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The entrance is made to recreate scenes from Thrissur Pooram, the famous elephant festival.
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