Hotels in India » Fairs and Festivals in India » Trichur's Elephant Parade Kerala

Trichur's Elephant Parade Kerala

The great Elephant March-when a 101 gloriously bedecked elephants parade through the town of Trichur towards the village Cherpu. The event is viewed with awe and wonder by thousands of visitors from India and abroad.

The streets are choc-a-block with cars, jeeps and an assortment of cycles. I am unable to park my car till a kindly vendor clears a space for me by unceremoniously pushing a row of cycles against the wall. When I look doubtful, he grins broadly, “nobody will mind today.” I thank him and park.

The air is thick with excitement. Little girls with scarlet ribbons and giant balloons hurry their parents along, while the sky fills with streamers. The rooftops of commercial buildings have been captured by young boys, while groups of giggling young girls holding their saris tightly join the crush of people flooding the vast Tekkinkadu maidan, surrounding the famous Vadakkunnathan Shiva temple at Trichur.

It is an extraordinary tourist happening, a three day extravaganza designed by the tourism wizards of Kerala, to be held every January.

The show opens at Trichur, or Tiru-Shiva-Perur which means the town that bears the name of Lord Shiva. Set amidst exquisite countryside, Trichur is a pretty mosaic of old fashioned cottages with sloping tiled roofs, tidy public structures, a string of shops and thatched sheds for cows.

This sleepy little place that normally wakes up only once a year for the mammoth Pooram festival, also held at the Vadakkunnathan temple, seems to have shaken off its usual lethargy, and appears delighted at the prospect of playing host to the thousands who have converaged here today; amongst them a few hundred foreigners.

Streamers and festoons and gay red banners proclaim- The Great Elephant March. The festival is built around Kerala’s best loved animal, the elephant.

A hundred and one tuskers, gloriously bedecked with glittering gold nettipattams or frontlets, stand proud and stately in the Tekkinkadu maidan. Their mahouts are atop, rising brilliantly coloured parasols in a mock staging of the great Pooram festival. The changing of parasols is a ritual known as kudamattom performed to the hypnotic rhythm of the pancharimelam, a traditional form of musical accompaniment.

People scramble to get a better look at the elephants. A few touch the great beasts and then shy away, overcome by their own daring. The music reaches a crescendo and fills the air, while cameras whirr furiously.

A battery of Kerala Tourism volunteers run hither thither in a flurry of officialdom, answering queries, consulting the mahouts.

Catherine a Canadian journalist confesses that she has “never seen anything like it. A hundred and one elephants at one spot! Look at the children, they aren’t scared at all.” I laugh and reply that an elephant ambling along the lanes is a common enough sight in Kerala. There are households that keep the elephant as a member of their family.

Meanwhile, after the elephants garland the flushed and excited foreign tourists, it is time for the ceremonious feeding of the elephants. The crowds roar in delight as the mighty animals raise their trunks and open their cavernous mouths for the pazham kolas or the knots of ripe yellow bananas hat are a great favourite with them.

The tourists participate in this, nervous but keen. Lisa and Dennis Wheatley from New York are simply thrilled at the whole thing. Gosh, its going to be great actually sitting on these giant fellers.

In fact the crowning excitement of the day seems to be the ride atop the beasts, from Trichur to Cerpu, a village about 12 kilometres away, through the scenic splendour of the typical Kerala landscape. Acres of coconut palms, trees heavy with fruit, titled roof houses with spacious courtyards, luxuriant paddy fields. Villages and towns fuse as one, dispelling any suggestion of an urban-rural divide.

The second day’s festivities are staged in the breathtaking Kuttanad backwaters, in the coir town of Alleppey. With a backdrop of swaying palms these sparkling water are a picturesque setting for the snakeboat race about to begin.

We are at Vattakayal, somewhere in the middle of the backwatyers on a specially raised platform of land where chairs are placed on corcarpets that wind their way across a considerable length. A multi-coloured canopy hangs overhead protectively. The voice of the master of proceedings blaring over the loudspeakers is a jarring note in the tense atmosphere of anticipation.

And finally it begins. From the far end, long sleek snake boats known as chundan vallams shoot off in an equal burst of speed. Yet soon some outdistance the others. Furiously the hands fly in incredibly swift motion as fast as two dips per second. Sunbacked brown skins, flashing white teeth and spectacular rhythm.

On the ridges of land that line the waters, thousands of spectators cheer wildly. A boat drifts past bearing women in white traditional Kerala dress, with red shoe flowers in their back hair, who sing the hauntingly melodious vanchi-pattu or the boat warriors ballads.

There are a hundred oarsmen in each boat and four cheerleaders. A drum beat pulses stacatto, egging them on and on. This drum beat is actually a smashing sound made by one of the cheerleaders hammering away at the vedi thandi or a central spot on the floor of the boat.

The oarsmen seem possessed by a demonic energy, sprayed with water, drenched with sweat.

Supplies of golden bananas, crisp tapioca fritters, loaves of freshly baked bread and fruit juices arrive in tiny canoes for the tourists who are shouting themselves hoarse, caught up in the general excitement.

Catherine who is sitting, or rather standing on the chair beside me, has demolished four kariks or tender coconuts and calls for more.

The boats are neck to neck and one edges ahead by an inch, to hurl itself across the finishing line with a supreme final effort. There is absolute pandemonium for a while with the tourists yelling and the spectators jumping into the waters to congratulate the winners.

It takes a few minutes to register that the water carnival is over Catherine is despondent but cheers up at the thought of the next day’s show. “In any case” she declares”! ;love elephants more.”

The third and final day dawns in Trivandrum, Kerala’s lovely green capital city, built on five hills. In the central stadium, the mighty elephants wait patiently, their great ears fanning back and forth.

Suddenly the sky is filled with thousands of coloured bits of paper dropped from a special display aircraft. The show is beginning. The temple musicians build up the pancha vadyam a musical display of five instruments, the chenda, madalam, elathalam, kuzhal and the kombu.

By now the tourists have got over their awe of the elephants, and walk up close to click picture after picture. The stadium seats are overflowing. The whole of Kerala responds with incredible enthusiasm to festivals.

Somehow the feeling is one of enjoyment rather than excitement. It’s like settling down happily in a theatre seat, knowing in advance that the performance will be spectacular. The last two days have given us reason to expect only the fabulous.

The elephant show is followed by a hilarious tug of war between the elephant Wynad Mohana and a hundred youths. Clearly the huffing and puffing youths are no match for the stolid tusker who seems to exert hardly at all. The youths pull and the elephant tugs, then suddenly, almost deliberately, Wynad Mohana lets go he rope. Crash…. Hrmph…Boink. The young boys collapse in a heap while the giant animal seems to grin from ear to ear.

There is a cultural fiesta after this-Kalaripayat, Mohiniattam, Bharat Natyam… The spectators who till nowhere languorously draped across the chairs, now stiffen to collective attention as the kalaripayat gets underway.

This marital art is believed to be the forerunner of all oriental forms of martial art. Taught initially at kalaris or schools for the warrior clan, kalaripayat has survived in all its glory to date.

A team of muscled, bare-chested men leap on the performing stage. Each bends gracefully at the feet of his guru for his blessings, and the demonstrations begin. It is fascinating to watch the oiled glistening ebony skin, flashing limbs in a flowing symphony of motion.

The aging guru also participates, his body still tightly wrought and flowing in even more fluid motion than his shishyas. The expression of surprise at attack, anger and retaliatory fury, are beautifully expressed on their faces. There is no accompanying music, only the thud of their feet on the stage and the clash of metal weapons.

There is petering away of sound, a flagging of spirits, that marks the end of the festivities. It would all have been over on a forlorn note, but for the final gathering by the sea at Trivandrum’s premier beach resort, Kovalam.

Kovalam is a sheltered natural bay that has an illusory quality about it. A sheet of pure silver sand curves into an arc that is bordered on one side by the azure waters, and on the other by a sumptuous spread of green palm groves.

The night air is fragrant and fresh. Chairs are placed under thatched umbrellas on the sand. The tourists stand around in little groups talking animatedly, exchanging notes. Mr.Jayakumar, Director, Kerala Tourism, looks pleased. When asked as to whether he was happy with the turnout, he says that the response has been fantastic. “The idea was to give the visitor a glimpse of Kerala’s rich heritage, a taste of Kerala so to speak, and in that I think we’ve succeeded.”

Bright lights, the soft sand under our feet, and the cool sea breeze washing over us make for a heady experience. Suddenly a million fireworks explode in unison, renting the sky with indigo, magenta and silver stars. The Great Elephant March is at an end, it is goodbye then, until the next magara maasam or the month of January, when elephants and men will meet and celebrate once again, playing host to the new year on the loamy rich soil of kerala.

 Email this page