A few colourful stories behind fireworks of Poorams of Thrissur
Similar to integral elements of Poorams such as elephant processions and musical displays, fireworks too own some interesting stories. Temple festivals of Kerala are incomplete without colours and crackers, and as each year passes by, more restrictions are being imposed on the display of fireworks. In the recent times, we have witnessed many mishaps, and the festival maidans are so crowded these days, that authorities are forced to impose more and more restrictions to this art form. Yet poorams have some deep links with amazing display of pyrotechnics. Though not traditionally followed by families, many firework families have some interesting festival stories to tell, with some reminiscences from past, when colours and sounds were blasted without much restrictions, similar to what we witness today. Through this column, I shall provide some interesting and colourful stories of fireworks, which are deeply linked to Kerala culture and festival seasons.
Nowadays sound is given more preference than colours in Thrissur and nearby regions
Fireworks is called ‘Vedikett’ in Malayalam, and also known by the name,’Kambam’ in southern regions. It’s often called, Karimarunnu Prayogam, which technically means, use of gun powder for pyrotechnics display. Fireworks are associated with colourful displays and huge sounds. Yet only 25% of the spectators love sound than colours. Earlier in mid-Kerala regions, emphasis was given to explore with new colours, while in the recent times, sound has been given top priority.
In poorams of Thrissur and nearby areas, sound is given much importance nowadays. Yes, if firework display is promoted similar way, it will destroy the real art and huge effort behind the colours of fireworks. So, for the long life of fireworks, we should return back to those old glorious days, when colours were given more preference. In southern parts of Kerala, colourful items and Chinese items of Sivakasi are higher in demand for temple festivals, comparing with northern parts.
Earlier if 1 lakh rupees were allocated for a firework display, 70% of the money was exclusively reserved for colours. Only the remaining amount will be used for sound items. But now things have changed a lot in Thrissur, the place known for the most famous Thrissur Poorams and a lot of elephant festivals. In fact things have changed just reverse, and in some rare cases, everything is fully reserved for sound items.
The tradition of Karerakatt firework family
For the last 33 years, Karerakatt family has been associated with Thrissur Pooram, and the senior member Francis is 70 years now. Karerakatt family got associated with fireworks since the days of Antony, father of present Asan, Francis. Francis’ earlier brother Antony Jose has done fireworks for Thrissur Pooram for long 21 years, representing Paramekavu. He took license at the age of 18 in 1958, and he continued in this profession till the age of 72. He was less attracted towards ‘sound firework items’, and much preference was given to colours. Francis too accompanied his elder brother in festival poorams throughout these years. Yet he didn’t take the responsibilities, as he was a government service. He is retired now.
How did sound competitions come into existence?
It’s believed that fascination of Thrissur people towards sound took birth from the interests of its neighbouring district Palakkad, where fireworks were once conducted in big and isolated paddy fields and sound was given much preference. When a trend of fireworks in Thrissur conducted by Palakkad groups started off, slowly sound dominated over the colours. As there is no other option to watch colourful ‘poorams’, spectators watch the huge sound displays. It’s now only a distant dream to watch 500 or 1000 colourful amitt to display their colours at Pooram nights of Thrissur. If colour is given preference, it will be enjoyed by all, including kids, women and old people. It gives less chance to accidents too, comparing with huge explosives used for sound amittu. If things go this way, old colourful memories for colour poorams will slowly fade from the memories of all.
The ‘colour tradition’ of fireworks discarded by Thrissur people
The place where Thrissur Collectorate is located now, was once a firework company. In the glorious yesterdays, firework companies were located in Pullazhy, Kanimangalam, Kodannur etc. In those days, it provided easy daily jobs for those who discontinued studies. There were less job opportunities then. Thrissur owns a glorious past, and many great Asans, who taught people across the state. Velukaran Antony and Ittup moved towards Kannur and Kasaragod, while Vadakkethala Kochappu towards Palakkad and Mambra Devassy and Unni Panikker towards Thiruvananthapuram. These people played a magnificent role in popularizing this art form across Kerala, and taught several disciples as well.
Earlier, Thrissur people used to travel to Sivakasi to learn more about firework techniques. In those days, at least one Malayali was present in every firecracker company of Sivakasi. When Thrissur discarded colours, Sivakasi got dominated in the southern most regions of India.
There are many great names associated with fireworks of Thrissur
Once upon a time, Thrissur was glorified with many great artists related to fireworks. Kuriya, Aniyan Thoma, Ponnuveettil Gopalan Nair, V. N. Panicker, Chelappadan Antony, Aniyan Cheru, Vadakkethala Kochappu….. some of the great and famous firework artists of yesterdays. Mambra Devassy, Manjeri Thani, Unni Panicker, Kuruppaasan, Velukkaran Antony, Kuttan, Pakiri Kochappu, Padavan Antony, Chendran, K. T. Johnnyppan, Ittupp – are some of the famous assistants of leading firework Asans.
We can’t beat the colours and the magic it creates on dark sky
If the discussion is about colours of fireworks, Amittu is the real king. Each colour Amitt contains 6000 Colour tablets (gulika in local terms). But in foreign amittu, it’s only below 500. Foreign fireworks are exploded together using electric arrangements and hence they add extra charm. But for Kerala fireworks, if it is the case of big amitts, they are exploded one by one manually, and spectators can enjoy it fully. If electric arrangements are done here, no nation can beat the fireworks of Kerala.
Need extra care while preparation and exploding
If taken proper care, fireworks is less harmful than a driving accident. Though you are driving properly, carelessness of a driver coming towards you can give an accident. But it’s not the case of fireworks. Most of the mishaps occur due to careless mistakes, and a small mistake can harm a lot, giving a lot of destructions. Giving extra care while handling the explosives can eradicate life threats a lot. Main three ingredients used for creating ‘fireworks’ are of same colour. If not taken care while mixing, it can give rise to damages.
There was a time when a disciple used to learn from Asan for at least for 20 years before he starts off his own business. But now, many people study it as a crash course of 6 months. The compound of the mixture which pressurize the amitt to rise up or explode in the sky, compound of timer mixture, kora, how to prepare gun powder threads and insert to amitt, the relation between the kora and the mixture which adds pressure to the amitt – when a person learns all these techniques and compound mixtures correctly, he learns everything. He should have a deep knowledge of the chemical compounds used for colours and explosions.
Timer is a very important element of fireworks. Now it is readymade. But its safety should be reassured. Before mixing chemical components in high quantities, it’s always safe to mix small quantities and test it. Yes, fireworks is a great art with deep knowledge of chemical reactions, and one should learn all these things before doing so – say many great people associated with the field. In fact, a lot of dedication towards the work is also needed.
Some interesting firework tales
A towel which changed the game – The group was waiting for then chief minister, K. Karunakaran. It was the silver jubilee celebration of KSFE. The finance minister Oommen Chandy has arrived. Firework was also arranged for inaugural function. It should explode as soon as chief minister reaches there. It was not possible to see the stage inauguration from the place where firework was arranged. So it was decided that, someone should wave a towel as an indicator as soon as Karunakaran reaches there, so that fireworks can be exploded. Without knowing this matter, Chandy got out of the stage and he waved the towel and rubbed his face. The firework group who watched it as an indicator exploded the fireworks. When firework was done for welcoming Karunakaran, he was present at a function in Mala.
A time when monkeys were sent along with Amitt – There was a time when monkeys, doves and other animals and birds were sent along with amitt during Kudamattam ceremony. When amitt explodes at height, the monkey alights down in a parachute. He used to land ground using the threads connected to his body. The same experiment was repeated successful several times and monkey lands the ground soon after explosion. But on one such occasion, he did a mischief against everyone’s expectations.
An amitt exploded at 300 feet high and monkey was ‘assigned’ to land ground using the parachute. The parachute was slowly landing, but he started climbing upwards using the ropes of parachute. The monkey got tangled in the threads and fell down. He got some minor injuries also. To avoid such monkey mischiefs, they used to bind a wooden piece with his arms so that he can’t fold his arms during display and landing. Later those monkeys were sold at markets for bid, years before restrictions were brought in for selling monkeys and similar wild creatures.