Kochi: Muscat-based Keralite K. Vijayan and P. Saddiq, who works in Qatar, are in Thrissur in Kerala to witness the annual Thrissur pooram (temple festival). They booked their hotel rooms a year in advance to ensure accommodation for the 36-hour festival, south India’s biggest, which starts on Wednesday.
Almost a million people, including 5,000 tourists from around the world, are expected to witness the spectacle that has caparisoned elephants with replicas of deities from two temples — Thiruvambadi Krishna and Paramekkavu goddess — moving in procession to the accompaniment of a percussion orchestra.
The two temple authorities will spend about Rs1.2 crore on the festival.
For the local hospitality industry, this is the biggest event of the year. P.R. Baladevan, manager of Hotel Elite International located opposite the Shiva temple where the elephants will be lined up, says: “For this pooram, our rooms were booked well in advance, some of them a year ago. There will be around 500 people staying in the hotel, including foreigners, besides an additional 2,000 people on the hotel terrace, mainly to witness the fireworks.”
The regular daily tariff ranges between Rs450 and Rs750. For the festival, the hotel has a special three-day package for Rs5,000-6,000, he said.
Hotels and flats near the Shiva temple make arrangements on their terraces for witnessing the festival, charging Rs750-1,000 per person.
Mass following: A file picture of spectators during pooram in Thrissur. Hotels and flats in the town make arrangements on their terraces for people to witness the festival, charging Rs750-1,000 per person.
Liquor sales, too, see an increase during the festival. Sales through the eight liquor shops and the dozen bars in the town were worth around Rs72 lakh on the pooram day alone last year, according to officials of Kerala State Beverages Corporation, the government-owned liquor retailer in the state. It is expected to cross that level this year, they said.
Madhavan Kutty, former secretary of the Thiruvambady temple administration, a major participant in the festival, says the temple committee spends about Rs60 lakh for the celebrations.
The Thiruvambady and Paramekkavu temple authorities organize an annual month-long exhibition for people from across the country to sell their ware and that fetches the two authorities around Rs45 lakh. The rest of the funds required for the festival are collected through donations.
The government grants Rs10 lakh for smaller temples in the vicinity, which also participate in the celebrations.
Around 70 elephants will be readied for the festival, said K. Manoharan, president of the Paramekkavu temple committee. The committee puts up a gallery for foreign tourists to witness the festival, and 350-400 tourists are accommodated there annually.
Care is taken to ensure that the elephants are given sufficient water and food and not made to stand under the scorching sun. Elephants have killed several people in the state last year, including during temple festivals that are mostly held during summer season. Animal rights activists argue that ill treatment leads elephants to run amok and kill people.
The genesis of the festival goes back to the late 18th century. It was customary till then for authorities of the temples in and around Thrissur to take their deities on elephants in a procession to the nearby Aaratupuzha pooram, the largest assembly of elephants.
But once rains prevented the elephants from reaching Aaratupuzha on time and the festival had to be held without them. The enraged maharaja of the then Cochin state, Saktan Thampuran, decided to have a separate pooram for the deities in Thrissur, and thus was born the annual festival.
It is the most secular festival, says Balanarayana Menon, a resident of Thrissur who has been witnessing the pooram for the past 70 years.
Christians and Muslims contribute to and actively take part in the success of the festival. The CMS High School in the heart of the town, owned by a Christian management, is converted into an office for authorities of the Thiruvambady temple during festival, he adds.