2/23/2008 to 2/26/2008 | India , Kerala

Festival hopping through Thrissur District

There has been more than a few times when I’ve arrived in a town and after a quick look around thought to myself what am I going to do here for the rest of the day, yet on each occasion that thought as crossed my mind something invariably arises to keep my interest and thus far on my trip I have yet to have the feeling I’ve been stuck some place I’d rather not be.  My visit to Thrissur was another of the aforementioned cases.  I had come to the city with hopes of finding some temple festivals in the area.  In the town of Thrissur there is really not much to do as I quickly discovered.  Thrissur is famous for its temple, which like most temples in Kerla, non-Hindus are not permitted to enter, and that pretty much knocks Thrissur down to just an average Indian city.  I had hoped to go to the tourist office and enquire there about festivals in the area, unfortunately for me it was a Sunday and the office was closed.  So I did what I typically do when I don’t know what to do, found an internet café and hopped online.  A few Google searches later and I had discovered that the nearby town of Guruvayur home to one of the most revered temples in Kerala the Sri Krishna Temple, was in the midst of a week long festival.  I left the café, and hopped on a bus to Festival #1, Guruvayur.  As festivals go it wasn’t that spectacular, I had missed the main event, the elephant race which occurred a few days earlier.  Nevertheless there were some performances of Indian dance and music, a large number of pilgrims, and thousands of lights outlining the temple as well as pictures of deities.  From within Hindu-only temple emanated the sound of beating of drums, and as a non-Hindu I was left with mere tantalizing glimpses of elephants and dancing devotees though the temple gates, beyond which it seemed the more interesting events were taking place.  While I was a bit disappointed at the time about the non-inclusiveness of Keralan Hinduism, as it turned out I would see plenty of elephants and religious fervor later.

Which brings me to festival #2, Thrissur.  From the tourist office the following day I learned that one of the temples in Thrissur was having an elephant procession through the city streets from 9:00 pm to 1:00 am.  When I saw how short the route was I couldn’t believe it would take 5 hours.  Armed with my tripod and flash I went out to photograph the event.  I soon realized why it took 5 hours.  The procession is not really so much of a moving thing as a series of stopped performances where drummers fanatically beat on there drums, horns blow to choreographed elephant riders who raise umbrellas, wave fans, and shake pom-poms (for lack of a better description).  Meanwhile the accompanying crowd dances waving there arms in the air to the beating drums. The torch bearers re-fuel their torches and then the entire mass moves a block and repeats the 10-15 minute performance, hence the five hours.  I made it though a little over one hour before I figured I had gotten the gist and called it a night.

The last of my Thrissur temple festivals was fittingly the most impressive.  Festival #3 took place in just outside the nearby town of Wadakkancheri.  This temple festival featured 27 elephants performing in three teams throughout the afternoon.  The finally of which was the igniting of enough TNT to blow up a small town, perhaps the size of Wadakkancheri.  In something in between a fireworks display and just blowing stuff up, an extraordinary number of explosions were set off.  It was late afternoon so it was not a fireworks display in the traditional sense.  The display was more impressive for bang rather than anything else.  A large number of people had gathered to witness the explosions and I found myself watching in the midst of a crowd gathered along the railway track on one side and the exploding shells on the other, a mere 30 feet away at their closest point.  I was thinking to myself the carnage that would ensue should a train pass at the moment the explosions were being set off, with a mass of people pushing there way out of the way of the oncoming train into 1000 lbs of TNT.  I didn’t feel real safe where I was sitting but I had cast my lot and this was the only vantage point from where I was going to see anything other than the backs of Indian heads.  Despite my trepidation the event went off without incident.  I did duck for cover when the closest of the explosions were ignited, feeling the force of the blast and its manufactured wind carrying scraps of paper and wrappings from the charges.  It was about as close as I’d like to get to the felling of being in the crosshairs of a B-52.

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