Sounds that refuse to fade out: Throwback to Thrissur Pooram down the decades

From soaking in the sights and sounds of the fireworks and melams to ritual offerings to the Bhagavathy visiting homes and shops on elephants, Pooram is a part of the collective memories of old-time residents of Thrissur

In the mid-1960s, a rickshaw pulled up at Marath Lane in Thrissur and Prabha Narayanan got down with her family to enter her new home in a new town. Having spent six years in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, Thrissur was a new world for her. Also awaiting her was the grand festival of Pooram, which completely swept her off her feet. Prabha is today a homemaker in her 60s and has fond memories of the time spent in the town celebrating Pooram.

“We did not fully realise the privilege of living in the town then and getting to see Pooram right in your neighbourhood. I spent a good 25 years of my life in Machingal Lane. We would see the Poora Pandhal go up days before the festival began. The town would wear an entirely different look. To go for Chamayam was a ritual and I would go to the CMS High School to see the Chamayam (an exhibition of the paraphernalia like parasols, Aalavattam and Venjamaram used in the festival) of Thiruvambady and the Paramekkavu Devaswom Building to see the exhibition of the Paramekkavu side. We would have friends and relatives pouring in every year during the time of Pooram from Palakkad, Coimbatore, Mumbai and Chennai. We would go at seven in the evening to see the sample fireworks as well. Right from the Ezhunallippu at Thiruvambady at 6:30am, we would follow the elephants to the Naickanal Junction and to the Brahmaswam Madham for the Madhathil Varavu, which was right opposite to our home. For the fireworks, we would rush to catch the prime spots in the town like the Dhanalakshmi Bank. We hardly slept those nights.”

The Naickanal Junction is an important spot in the Pooram trail. NN Prasad is the third-generation owner of the store Narayana Iyer and Sons at Naickanal, which has been there from the pre-independence years. “The traditions of the Pooram remain the same. with a few cursory changes. For instance, on the day before the Pooram, the elephants would halt near the CMS High school, where the Chamayam of Thiruvambady also would take place. In the last few years, the Chamayam has shifted to Kausthubham Mandapam and the elephants halt near our store in Naickanal.”

Pooram has been an important part of the lives of people like Prasad who have grown up in Thrissur. “On the day of the Pooram, all the homes and shops lining the road from Thiruvambady would do the traditional offering of Nel Para. As the elephants neared our store, they would be 15 in number, and they would proceed to the Brahmaswam Madham and would again return to the area near our store before they proceeded to the Vadakkunathan temple. I always felt that the rituals of Pooram had a great spiritual significance and at the same time it is also an act of mass celebration. It is a rare combo that way,” says Prasad, whose store being a prime spot for witnessing fireworks attracted several Pooram enthusiasts.

Pooram is incomplete without its fireworks. Back in his early 20s, Narayana Moorthy, a retired professional got interested in fireworks while witnessing it during a temple festival in Palakkad. As he grew up, the Vedikettu or fireworks became one of the most awaited events for him in the Pooram as well. He observes that the security around the fireworks has been beefed up over the years. “I remember there was a bad accident in 1978 during the fireworks. Back then, I used to join the group that tied the crackers (Padakkam). You had to get a pass for that. There was no monitoring of the decibel levels back then. But after such accidents, only experts were allowed to be involved in fireworks.”

Moorthy remembers some of the elephants also like Gajaveeran Kachamkurissi Kesavan, who held the Thidambu of the Bhagavathi. “Elephant lovers knew these elephants by their name. My cousin knew which elephant came from which temple.” Later, when career took him to Shillong and then Chennai, Moorthy ensured that he visited Thrissur at least at the time of Pooram. “I would book a room in one of the hotels facing the southern gate of the Vadakkunathan so that my kids could see the Pooram from close proximity just as I saw during my childhood. Today, several tall buildings have come up that getting a good view of the Kudamattam is a problem,” says Moorthy, who goes on to share an interesting story behind the genesis of the Kudamattam.

“I have heard a popular legend that the ritual of Kudamattam began when during one Pooram, the Thiruvambady side carried an extra set of parasols and changed it midway. It took the Paramekkavu side by surprise, but they responded by changing their set of parasols with Olakkuda (Palm leaf parasols).” Today, Kudamattam is the tour de force of the Pooram and has also increased in strength, glitz and duration. “Earlier on, Kudamattam would get over with sunset. But today, it goes on well past the sunset with flood lights. In that sense, the Kudamattom has become like a day and night match,” says Prasad.

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