SCHOLARSHIP OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT 2012
The town in Kerala where I am staying is called Thrissur. Although there has been a Shivite (of the Hindu god Shiva) temple here for a thousand years the modern town really started to expand only a couple of hundred years when the Maharaja of Cochin brought, because of their trade expertise, 52 East Syrian Christian families to Thrissur to settle to the east and south of the temple. Now the town has grown into one of the main towns in Kerala but its ancient origins as a temple area is still obvious as the entire town literally flows around it (the large area in the middle of the Google map below is the temple and its grounds).
Vadakkumnathan Temple complex is best known for its annual Pooram festival which celebrates over one 36 hour period in May obeisance to Lord Shiva. The main ritual involves two opposing lines of caparisoned elephants, the middle chief elephant carrying the temple god, who compete with one another to give the best displays. More accurately it is the three young Brahmin priests on the back of each elephant that compete. They carry emblems symbolising royalty: silver handled whisks of yak hair; circular peacock feather fans; and silk umbrellas fringed with silver pendants.
All the while Vanchavadyah of drums and horns proceed the elephants competing against the other orchestra.
However, what is more impressive than either the elephants, the Brahmins, the musicians, the 36 hour length of the ritual, or the fact that it takes place at the hottest time of the year just before the monsoons, is the number of people who attend. 300,000 people fill the temple precincts and converge around and between the lines of elephants!
They are even there when the elephants are approaching one another.
The town also boasts the Vadakka Madham Brahmaswam Vedic chanting school where Brahmin priests learn from a young age to chant the 3000 year old Rig Veda. I do not know where the elephants are trained but they must learn the patience of Job to endure Pooram ever year. Of course ever now and then the stress does get to them. In 2010 an elephant named Vadakkunnathan Krishnan ran amok for a few hours when he went out on the town without his mahout.
I love the fact that elephants here have names and that they are referred to by them in the news. If you did not realise you were in an alien land before you would when you saw this, as I did in last Tuesday morning’s local newspaper:
Well enough about elephants. I have given a brief description of Kerala and now the city where I am staying. In my next post I will introduce you to the Metropolitical Palace and its residents. Only then will I begin to write about my actual experiences since I have been here. I hope you make it that far.