Elephants are considered divine in Kerala
Kerala – the land famous for its heritage, greenery, culture and traditions; a state that has still not lost its ancient values of culture and spirituality! Centuries have passed, yet temple festivals have not changed much. Instead, more items are being added and modified positively each time. Also, the people who witness such temple celebrations have seen a steep rise every year. It was well confirmed when I visited Thrissur town to have a glance of Thrissur pooram for the first time in 2012. I was able to see the festival only from distant, due to the massive crowd in front of Vadakkunmantha temple.
No doubt, elephants are considered divine and they can never be separated from temple festivals of Kerala. They are also believed to be the incarnation of Lord Ganesa. Elephants also enjoy the status of ‘Official state animal of Kerala’. In Thrissur district, I have witnessed a few churches too, that use elephants and panchavadyam for their procession and celebrations. So, elephants have become a part of annual celebrations of Kerala, irrespective of religion and traditions followed. Needless to say, famous elephants have fan clubs too!
Elephants carry divine idols during temple festivals
How will it look like when captive elephants are given power to carry goddess on their head! That means elephants are divine. Not only that, when an inaugural function or cultural function is arranged in the state, very often decorated elephants are placed at main gate to welcome people. Onam celebration at the capital city is the best example. You may be surprised to know that there are fan clubs for elephants of Kerala. Padmanabhan that carries Paramekkavu thidamb during Thrissur Pooram and Thechikkott Ramachandran, Asia’s second highest elephant are among those prominent heroes who have fan clubs of their own, and they enjoy a prominent position in the cultural capital of Kerala.
Aana Chamayam during Thrissur Pooram
Long back in 2012, I went to Paramekkavu temple to see ‘Aana chamayam’ for the first time, the exhibition of elephant accessories used during Pooram. Surprisingly I saw another beautiful sight. All elephants belonging to Paramekkavu group were arranged in temple ground, served good food also. Doctors were busy in checking their medical fitness for Thrissur Pooram next day. Huge crowd with love in their eyes to see the elephants is the best example to prove that people of Kerala love elephants a lot. Yet I need to admit, elephants have to face cruelty from mahouts and very often they have restless nights during temple festivals that often results in their outbursts!
Let me add one interesting thing about elephants. It’s the price of elephants in Kerala. A male elephant costs 7-8 million Indian rupees, a few years back. Now its price might have shoot up more than that. So, it’s not at all easy to buy an elephant; insurance and tax add more to the total cost! Yet many rich people buy elephants solely because of their love and fondness to this animal.
Elephant festivals of Kerala are very famous
Festivals of South Kerala are known as ‘Utsavam’ while it’s known by the name ‘Pooram’ in the middle areas of Kerala, particularly Thrissur. Thrissur got fame through the world famous Thrissur Pooram, the event conducted in the heart of the main town in front of Vadakkumnatha Siva temple. Its name also derived from Thrissur Pooram. Actually Pooram is the name of the star, the day on which Thrissur Pooram is annually conducted. Yet, all elephant festivals of Thrissur district are named as Pooram. Thrissur is a district where you can find temples plenty, so are temple festivals. Since I have been residing in Thrissur for a few years, I got the opportunity to see many elephant poorams, known as ‘aana pooram’ in Malayalam language.
There are many desams (localities) around a temple, and an elephant will be arranged by each locality people for every temple festival. All the elephants will be caparisoned using golden colour ornaments, and they walk as a procession to temple, accompanied by chendamelan and musical band. Thus elephants coming from all directions around the temple will finally reach temple maidan where elephant pooram is conducted.
Captive elephants will be decorated using golden colour nettipattam accompanied by a few more accessories. Mahouts sit on its top carrying aalavattam and venchamaram. They carry colourful umbrellas also. Their edges will be decorated with golden bells. Elephants will be decorated by garlands around their necks as well as their legs. Elephants are well trained and they behave as well-disciplined students during the festival procession and pooram. They stand in one row, with elephant carrying the divine thidamb at the centre, and the spectators enjoy the wonderful visuals of elephants and accompanies. Elephant pooram may last for few hours, and usually conducted in the afternoons and night.
In addition to decorating elephants with beautiful and colourful accessories, the group will be accompanied with traditional music too. Chendamelam, Shankh and Komb will surely be present. When whole elephants get arranged in front of temple or at temple ground, you will get an opportunity to hear panchavadyam using 5 instruments and you can dance, shout and clap to its tunes in full enthusiasm. When movements are rigour, it fills the whole atmosphere with the cheer of festival occasions.
Only one elephant is lucky to carry the idol of the goddess known as ‘Tidamb’ and of course, he will get much attention and care. He stands at centre with all other elephants arranged on his either side. Also, only male elephants are used for temple processions.
Anayoott – Feeding elephants special food and medicines
In the monsoon season of Kerala, Malayalam month Karkidakom, elephants are given special food and medicines in several temples. It’s called Anayoot, literally means ‘feeding elephants’. Elephant fans get opportunity to watch elephants close, and feed them banana, cucumber etc. Elephants are given complete rest this month, a month not associated with temple festivals, and given special treatment. If you are interested to read in detail, go through the article here.
Read a few more articles on elephants and elephant festivals, deeply linked with the daily life, culture and customs of Keralites. Click on the images in the gallery to read