Thrissur is best known to outsiders as the venue of for Kerala's biggest annual festival, Pooram. The festival takes place on one day in the Malayalam month of Medam (April-May; ask at a tourist office or check online for the exact date).
It is inaugurated by Shaktan Thampuran, the Raja of Cochin, between 1789 and 1803. The event is the culmination of eight days of festivities spread over nine different temples to mark obeisance to Lord Shiva, at the peak of the summer's heat.
Thrissur Pooram like utsavam festivals across Kerala, it involves the stock ingredients of caparisoned elephants, panchavadyam orchestras and firework displays, but on a scale, and performed with intensity, unmatched by any other.
Pooram's grand stage is the long, wide path leading to the southern entrance of the Vadakkumnathan Temple on the Round. On Pooram day after dawn, a sea of on lookers gathers here to watch the first phase of the 36-hour marathon-the kudamattom, or "Divine Durbar".
In kudamattom two majestic elephant processions representing the Thiruvambadi and Paramekkavu temples of Thrissur, advance towards each other down the walkway, like armies on a medieval battlefield, preceded by ranks of drummers and musicians.
Both sides present thirteen tuskers lavishly decorated with gold caparisons (nettipattom), each ridden by three young Brahmins clutching objects symbolizing royalty: silver-handled whisks of yak hair, circular peacock-feather fans and colourful silk umbrellas fringed with silver pendants.
At the centre of the opposing lines, the principal elephant carries an image of the temple's presiding deity. Swaying gently, the elephants stand still much of the time, ears flapping, seemingly unaware of the crowds and huge orchestra that plays in front of them.
When the music reaches its peak around sunset, the two groups set off towards different districts of town. This signals the start of a spectacular firework display that begins with series of deafening explosions. The fireworks last through night, with the teams once again trying to outdo each other to put on the most impressive show.
Finally, in the afternoon of the second day, the elephant processions assemble at the sacred courtyard inside the main temple, the Sri Moolasthanam, for a big farewell showdown. Then the deities are carried home to their respective temples on top of lone tuskers, leaving the crowd to discuss the relative merits of the teams, their elephants and fireworks.
If you venture to Thissur for Pooram, be prepared for packed buses and trains, and book accommodation well in advance. As is usual for utsavam festivals, many men use the event as an excuse to get hopelessly drunk.
Women are thus advised to dress conservatively and only to go to the morning kudamattom session, or to watch with a group of Indian women-and at all times avoid the area immediately in front of the drummers, where "rhythm madmen" congregate.
Other "Poorams" around Thrissur
Note that similar events take place around the region throughout the year-many of them are in the cooler winter months.
A particularly fine example-featuring no less than 46 tuskers-is Chembuthra Pooram, held in the nearby village of Chembuthra, 13km north of Thrissur, in late January or early February.
In late March, Arattupuzh Pooram, held at a temple maiden 14km out of town, boasts as even bigger line-up of 61 elephants.
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