Ten festivals to soak in Kerala this March
Kerala is always serene, always worth and always enjoyable. It remains almost same all the year round. And every time you can find a reason or two to go for a trip there. But this March there are not just one or couple, but ten reasons to go to different parts of Kerala. Apparently, there are perhaps more, but I have shortlisted ten for you. These are all temple festivals of Kerala. Temple festivals of Kerala are not like ones in the north. They are more elaborate and ritualistic. Most of them have elephants involved, which make them very beautiful. A great ensemble of Kerala’s culture. Choose yours…
Parade of offerings to Bhagavathy
One of the most vibrant festivals of Kerala, the Chettikulangara Bharani offers arresting visuals and showcases the cultural richness of the state. An annual event held at the Chettikulangara Temple during the Malayalam month of Kumbham (February-March), the festival is dedicated to Goddess Bhagavathy. The highlight of the festival is the spectacular Kettukazhcha where vibrantly decked up structures are taken out in a ceremonial procession. The therus (chariots) and kuthiras (horse motifs) as well as huge icons of Bhima and Hanuman, two Indian epic characters, are flaunted in front of the temple from the 13 karas (region) near the temple on the festival day. Kettukazhcha is an offering of the people to the deity. These majestic structures are architectural marvels and are a testimony to the architectural and aesthetic expertise of the people of this region. The parade of huge brightly decorated structures, with the bigger ones assumed as horses and smaller ones as chariots, produce a highly surreal visual and the joyous crowd accompanying the pageant is sure to leave lasting impressions on spectators.
Where: Chettikulangara Bhagavathy Temple, Mavelikara, Alappuzha. Nearest railway station is Mavelikkara, about 6 km away while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 85 km from Alappuzha.
When: March 3, 2017
‘Mela’ of alephants at Paripally
Paripally Gajamela forms part of the annual festival at the Kodimoottil Sree Bhagavathy Temple dedicated to Goddess Bhadrakali. The event witnesses parading of as many as upto 50 caparisoned elephants. Further, a host of cultural programmes are staged as part of this event on the temple premises. The elephants are paraded on the last day of the ten-day festival. Head off to Kodimoottil Bhagavathy Temple in the month of March to attend the Gajamela festival.
Where: Kodimoottil Bhagavathy Temple, Parippally, Kollam. Nearest railway station is Kollam Junction, about 22 km away from Paripally while nearest airport is Trivandrum International Airport, about 45 km away
When: March 5, 2017
Elephant race at Guruvayur
You might have had goose bumps watching Usain Bolt running his way into the pages of world records. But ever seen a race where the participants are not the two-legged human beings but the four-legged giant jumbos, each weighing some 12,000 pounds? Now here is a chance for you to witness such an event. Guruvayur Anayottam (elephant race) as it is called in Malayalam marks the beginning of the annual Guruvayur festival, celebrated in the month of Kumbham (February-March) at the Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple in Guruvayur, district of Thrissur. The Guruvayur Temple is one of the most renowned and oldest of all temples in Kerala. Though the winning elephant will not get a gold medal, he will have the honour to carry the Thidambu (the replica of the idol of Guruvayoorappan) on all special occasions for one year.
Where: Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple, Guruvayur, Thrissur district
When: March 8, 2017
Pongala for Attukalamma
A festival like no other, Attukala Pongala, the largest congregation of women in the state, is celebrated at the renowned Attukal Bhagavathi Temple in Kerala’s capital city of Thiruvananthapuram. The festival entered the Guinness records for being the largest single gathering of women for a religious activity. Only women are allowed to participate in the Pongala ritual. Pongala (literally means to boil over) is a ritualistic offering of a sweet dish consisting of rice porridge, sweet brown molasses, coconut gratings, nuts and raisins. The pongala is offered by the devotees in the belief that the presiding deity of the temple – the Goddess – popularly known as Attukalamma will be appeased. As the festival sees a huge influx of devotees, the crowd spills over to the major roads in the city and the festival has a whole city revelling in festive splendour.
Where: Attukal Bhagavathi Temple, East Fort, Thiruvananthapuram. Thiruvananthapuram railway station is about 3 km away while Trivandrum International Airport is about 5 km away
When: March 11, 2017
Procession of tuskers
A grand procession of a fleet of 27 tuskers bedecked with caparisons- this sight of the gentle giants in richly ornate attire is the highlight of the Chinakkathoor Pooram held annually at the Sree Chinakkathoor Bhagavathy Temple in the district of Palakkad in north Kerala. The Panchavadyam or traditional Kerala orchestra and pandimelam which accompany the Pooram add the much-needed fervour to the festivities. Various art forms like theyyam, poothanum thirayum, kaalavela, kathakali, kumbakali, thattinmelkoothu are also performed adding to the festive spirit. For those yearning to watch this visual splendour of colours and art forms, Sree Chinakkathoor Bhagavathy Temple is the place to be.
Where: Chinakkathoor Bhagavathi Temple at Palakkad. Nearest railway station is Shoranur, about 20 km away, while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 103 km away.
When: March 11, 2017
Annual festival at Thirunakkara
The annual 10-day festival at the Thirunakkara Temple draws to a close with the Thirunakkara Arattu ceremony. Usually nine caparisoned elephants take part in the Arattu procession which begins in the afternoon. Folk arts like Mayilattom (peacock dance), Velakali etc, are presented in the temple compound in the evening. A major attraction is the all-night Kathakali performances on the third and fourth days of the festival.
Where: Thirunakkara Mahadeva Temple, Kottayam district
When: March 15-24, 2017
When men are dressed up as women
A very unique festival. A gender bender of a festival where men cross dress, the Kottangkulangara Chamayavilakku celebrated at the Kottangkulangara Devi Temple in Kollam stands apart from the rest of the festivals in Kerala with this unique flavour. This novel event is part of a special temple ritual during the festival. During the festival night, men dressed up in women’s attire bearing traditional lamps will swarm the premises of the temple. They will then move as a procession towards the temple to the accompaniment of traditional orchestra. This unique festival attracts hordes of crowds each year.
Where: Kottangkulangara Devi Temple at Kollam. Nearest railway station at Kollam is about 13 km while nearest airport is Trivandrum International Airport, about 71 km from Kollam town.
When: March 24-25, 2017
Where Duryodhana is revered
At Poruvazhi Malanada Temple, tradition deviates. This is a temple which reveres and showers praises on an antagonist. Here, the worshipped figure is Duryodhana, considered a villain in the Indian epic Mahabharata. Another highlight at the temple is the absence of an idol or a sanctum sanctorum. Come March, and the Temple bears witness to one of the most spectacular events- Malanada Kettukazcha an eight-day festival celebrated in all pomp and gaiety. Richly decorated structures known as Edupu Kala and Edupu Kuthira are taken out to the accompaniment of the traditional orchestra of drums. These huge structures may even be 70 to 80 ft tall as the making involves intense competition between the people of the surrounding villages. The majestic structures are then taken out on chariots or carried on the shoulders by the devotees. Cultural programs are also performed during the night and Kathakali based on the story ‘Nizhalkuthu’ is customary. This impressive procession which is celebrated with much zeal witnesses huge participation by devotees from far and near.
Where: Poruvazhi Malanada Temple, Adoor in Pathanamthitta district. Nearest railway station is Chengannur, about 30 km away from Malanada while nearest airport is Trivandrum International Airport, about 92 km from Adoor.
When: March 24, 2017
Temple on canoes
Picture this- A vibrantly decked up and illuminated replica of a temple drifting across the waters accompanied by an entourage of brilliantly decorated small canoes with the temple percussion music resounding in the background. For those yearning to witness this spectacle head off to Elankavu Bhagavathy Temple during the Attuvela Mahotsavam. Attuvela Mahotsavam is a water carnival. Legend has it that it represents the welcome ceremony accorded to the Goddess of Kodungalloor who arrives to visit her sister, the Goddess of Elamkavu. The temple has Goddess Bhagavathy as its presiding deity. The cynosure of all eyes during the two-day festival is the huge replica of the temple sailing down the waters. This arresting procession of canoes starts from Attuvela kadavu, 2 km away from the temple.
Where: Elankavu Bhagavathy Temple, Vaikom in Kottayam. Nearest railway station is Ernakulam, about 30 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 50 km away.
When: March 29, 2017
Dance in the trance
Imagine the premises of a temple getting bathed in a sea of red as a flurry of oracles draped in vermilion cloth scurry around the temple wielding their swords, the highlight being the presence of hordes of women oracles dancing in trance alongwith their male counterparts. This intense event called kaavu theendal forms part of the annual Bharani festival held at the Bhagavathy Temple in Kodungalloor. A spectacle in itself, this festival has heavily decked up oracles dancing in divine ecstasy. The devotees too run along with the oracles as they circumambulate the temple in spiritual euphoria. Oracles, both men and women, from different parts of the State run around the temple and smite their crown with the sword, proclaiming their communion with the Mother Goddess. The devotees strike the temple rafters with sticks and hurl offerings over the roof and on to the inner quadrangle. The Kodungalloor Bharani is a spectacle in itself. The festival usually falls in the Malayalam month of meenam (roughly March/April) every year. The temple remains closed for a week following the festival. The temple still follows a ritual from the days of the yore wherein purification ceremonies, a custom which is believed to restore the sanctity of the temple, are performed after the ‘kaavu theendal.’
Where: Kodungalloor Bhagavathy Temple at Kodugalloor in Thrissur. Nearest railway station is Irinjalakuda, about 20 km while nearest airport is Cochin International Airport, about 30 km.
When: March 30, 2017