Festivals are true celebrations in God’s Own Country. Besides being occasions for merry-making, festivals of Kerala have traditionally been conserves of the art and culture of this land. Whether social or religious, traditional, a festival here is never complete without an art event which would range from the 1500+-year-old Kutiyattam to modern stage shows.
Let’s explore more about the Kerala festivals, arts forms and their specialties
A spectacular event which marks the beginning of the ten-day Onam festival in Kerala, Athachamayam is a cultural carnival which provides one the rare opportunity to witness almost all the folk art forms of the state. Each year on the Atham asterism of the Malayalam month Chingam (August or September), Thripunithura, near Cochin, bears witness to this fabulous ceremony which honors the victory of the Raja (King) of Kochi. A highly vibrant procession in memory of the customary procession by the king and his entourage to the Thripunithura (Thripoonithura) Fort, is taken out. The remarkable parade is accompanied by caparisoned elephants, floats, musical ensembles and a variety of folk art forms.
Onam, a celebration of equality, justice and prosperity, is the State festival which unites all Keralites irrespective of caste, color or creed and is celebrated in Kerala with pomp and grandeur. The whole state joins in the fervour to rejoice the return of the King Mahabali to meet his ‘prajas’. Legend has it that every year, King Mahabali, the righteous king visits the land from the nether world and Keralites bond in festivities to welcome the return of the mythical King Mahabali. The whole of Kerala is speckled with vibrance during this happy season. The 10 days of Onam begins on Atham day and goes up to the Thiruvonam day in the Malayalam month of Chingam. Thiruvonam is the most significant day of Onam which is also the festival of harvest. Starting from Atham, the front yards of houses, offices and other public places are decked in floral arrangements called Athapookkalam to welcome in their king. Every corner and cranny of the state brims with games and the show of traditional art forms.
Picture this. Men hopping about in abandon, their whole bodies and faces painted look like tigers, their huge tummies nodding about as they prance and move about mimicking a tiger. This exuberant performance called the Pulikali forms an integral part of the Onam festivities and is held at the Swaraj Round in Thrissur district of Kerala. The ‘pulis’ as the dancers are called, capers about and dances to the frenetic notes of the Kerala drumming harmony. The artists go through the laborious task of getting their bodies painted in myriad patterns and colours resembling a tiger. Sometimes the artists may even take liberties regarding the colours and might even paint the facial features of a lion on their bodies. The theme of the performance involves playing hide-and-seek with a hunter who is wielding a gun.
A splendid festival celebrated with a grand exhibition of caparisoned elephants, beating music and dazzling parasols, the Thrissur Pooram is a magnificent spectacle merging the spiritual and cultural essence of Kerala. Celebrated in the Malayalam month of medam (April-May), the pooram is held at the Thekkinkadu Maidanam in Thrissur.
Measured to be the mother of all festivals, this yearly temple festival was the brain child of Shakthan Thampuran, the Maharaja of Cochin, who planned the festival with the participation of 10 temples (Paramekkavu, Thiruvambadi Kanimangalam, Karamucku, Laloor, Choorakottukara, Panamukkampally, Ayyanthole, Chembukkavu, and Neythilakavu). The festival sports an enthralling line-up of vibrantly decked up elephants and is marked by the kudamattom ceremony. Involving swift and rhythmic changing of brightly coloured and sequined parasols, the kudamattom ceremony is one among the highlights and is a keenly watched event.
Another high point is the ilanjithara melam, a highly bewitching performance of traditional instruments which lifts the thousands gathered to a state of euphoria and bliss. Around 250 odd artistes participate in this traditional orchestra led by chenda artistes and the spirit is mirrored by the thousands of spectators who wave their hands in accordance to the rhythm generated by the chenda, kurumkuzhal, Kombu and elathalam (traditional instruments of Kerala). The finale is marked by a grand fireworks show.
Nehru Trophy Boat Race
Every year on the second Saturday of August, the serene waters of the Punnamada Lake bear witness to a majestic feat as it is set afire by many a snake boat slicing crossways the Kerala backwaters to the rhythmic notes of boat songs. Set your date with the Nehru Trophy Boat Race to witness this magnificent spectacle, an unparalleled water carnival. Hundreds of oarsmen render boat songs and strike their oars at the waters in unison to the frenzied pace of these songs. The placid waters of the Lake and whole the patch of land surrounding the backwater gets covered in a festive splendor. This annual water regatta involves the participation of chundan valloms and smaller country rafts. The traditional water convoys, vibrant floats and gorgeously adorned boats enliven the spirit of this resplendent festival.