Kerala is a land of colorful festivals, which have a long history and tradition behind them. Kerala’s innumerable festivals however stand out because of their uniqueness.
This article refers to the multicolored culture and the festivals celebrated in God’s own country, Kerala. Kerala is the home of a variety of festivals that are celebrated all through the year.
Kerala is home to a variety of festivals. In Kerala the dance forms mesmerize you, the music will take you to the world of muses, and festivals and celebrations continue throughout the year. The canvas of God’s Own Country is painted with hues and shades of paradise as the people celebrate festivals.
Kerala is a secular state with culture and religion interlaced together. Many religions have reached Kerala from time immemorial making an evergreen mark on the culture of the state. All the foreign religions were welcomed warmly by the people of Kerala. Buddhism and Jainism were the earliest religions to come to Kerala. Christianity came to Kerala through St. Thomas, the doubting Thomas, even before it reached Rome. Muslims were the other sect of people who came here with the advent of Arabs in the seventh century. The Jews fleeing the diaspora also found their refuge in Kerala. All these made Kerala into a melting pot of a variety of cultures that were absorbed and integrated into the heritage of the state resulting in a harmonious existence.
Secularism is one of the unique features of Kerala where each religion reveres the other’s practice. The population of Kerala consists of Hindus, Christians, and Muslims, each having an exclusive role to play in the society. The multi-racism of Kerala resulted in the blend of tradition, festivities, culture, art, and literature.
Temples of Kerala are not just a place of worship, they are the platform for artistic expression. The Chakyar Koothu is a mono act evolved in temples based on Sanskrit plays. Krishnanattam, Ramanattam, and Kathakali are the art forms that were presented in the places of worship.
One of the notable features of the festivals of Kerala is that every community and religion takes part in each other’s festivities promoting a sense of secularism. Celebrations are kept sweet and simple and age-old traditions are followed even in modern times.
It is the national harvest festival of Kerala celebrating the return of King Mahabali. It is celebrated by people of every religion and community. The festivities continue for about ten days in the months of August/September. All houses are decorated with floral beds.
Snake Boat Races
The snake boat race is considered to be the biggest water sports adventure in the world. With 110-120 men competing in a single snake boat, it is the world’s biggest team event.
FAMOUS SNAKE BOAT RACES IN KERALA
Champakkulam Moolam Boat Race Thursday, June 28 Pamba River at Champakkulam
Nehru Trophy Boat Race Saturday, August 11 Punnamada River at Alleppey
Uthradam Thirunal Pamba Boat Race Friday, August 24 Pamba River at Neerattupuram
Payippad Jalotsavam Monday, August 27 Payippad Backwaters in Alappuzha
Aranmula Boat Race Wednesday, August 29 Pamba River at Aranmulaa
In Malayalam the word ‘Pooram’ refers to temple festival. It is characterized by the procession of a number of elephants with music. It usually occurs in Central Kerala between the months of October and April. Thrissur Pooram, Uthralikkavu Pooram, Arattupuzha Pooram are some of the famous poorams.
It is a part of the agricultural festival that usually comes after the harvest. Bulls are raced across the paddy fields.
It is a festival that is exclusively for the women folk of Kerala culminating with the traditional dance form of Thiruvathira kali. Women observe fast during this festival.
Thiruvathira falls on the month of Dhanu (December-January) and is a women’s festival. It commemorates the death of Kamadeva, the cupid of Hindu mythology. The aim of the celebration is conjugal harmony and happiness. The dance form Thiruvathirkkali is associated with this celebration.
The first day of Malayalam month Medam is celebrated as Vishu in Kerala. It is Kerala’s equivalent to Punjab’s Baisakhi (or Vaisakhi) or Assam’s Bihu and Bengal’s Poila boisha. Malayalis welcome the astrological new year with the Vishu festival.
A good start is considered as half done. Always an importance is put on beginnings across the globe. In Indian culture, Prayer to God are always offered before the start of any undertaking in order to remove potential obstacles and stresses the importance of beginning things properly, All these offerings symbolises the humble admitting of the limitations of human power and are means of supplicating to the Divine for Favorable outcome.
Here in Kerala the start of the Zodic New Year when the sun enters into Sidereal Aries, Ashwini Nakshatra is celebrated as Vishu is observed on the first day of the Malayalam month of Medam (April-May) and is also regarded as the harvest festival of Kerala. The major attractions of Vishu festival are Vishukkani, Vishukaineetam and Vishubhalam. As Vishu marks the first day of the Zodiac New Year, it is an appropriate time to offer prayers to Lord Vishnu. In Indian astrology, Vishnu is seen as the head of Kaala Purusha, the God of Time.
Vishukkani, a ritualistic display which considers that the scene when one first open the eyes on Vishu morning is an indication of what one can expect in the year to come and an effort is made to assure the first scene the Vishukkani in the early morning of Vishu day.
Kerala’s most spectacular elephant and fireworks festival, Thrissur Pooram attracts large number of devotees and spectators from all parts of the state, country and other parts of the world as well. Billed as “the festival of festivals”, the annual spectacle comprises processions of caparisoned elephants, orchestra of drums, horns and cymbals, religious ceremonies and fireworks.
Sakthan Thampuran, the Maharaja of the former Kochi State was the pioneer of this festival in the late eighteenth century. The Pooram started with the convergence of processions from eight temples in and around at the famous Vadakkumnathan Temple located on a hillock in the heart of the city. The extensive Thekkinkadu Maidan, en circling the Vadakumnathan temple, is the main venue of the Thrissur Pooram festival.
Since the word pooram literally means a group or a meeting, it was believed that every year the dynastic gods and goddesses of the neighboring provinces met together for a day of celebration.
The festival is celebrated from April – May by two rival groups representing the two divisions of Thrissur Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi contesting with each other in making the display of fireworks splendor and more colorful. Each group is allowed to display a maximum of fifteen elephants and all efforts are made by each party to secure the best elephants in South India and the most artistic umbrellas, several kinds of which are raised on the elephants during the display. And then ‘Kudamattam,’ competition in the swift and rhythmic changing of brightly colored and sequinned parasols is conducted. The whole event takes place in rhythm to the traditional orchestra ‘ Pandimelam’.
Hindus celebrate Maha Shivratri, all over the world in Kumbam (Feb-March). It commemorates the day on which Lord Shiva consumed the deadly poison (Kalakuda visham) to save the world from destruction. The offering of special pooja and abhishekhams, and the presentation of cultural programs in all the Shiva temples celebrate the day. The annual Sivarathri festival held on the banks of River Periyar at Alwaye, is one of the most spectacular local festivals of Kerala, which attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the state. It has been compared to the Kumbamela at Prayag.
Literally, Navarathri means Nine nights. This festival is celebrated for Navagraha Naayagi (Nine nymphs). It is called by different names in different parts of India. In Karnataka, it is called Dasara, in Bengal – Kali Pooja, and in this state it is known as Saraswathy Pooja. Saraswathy is known as the goddess of Knowledge. On this day all tools and books are kept for Pooja. Children who are to begin their schooling are made to write the first alphabet in rice with their fingers.
The birthday of Lord Krishna is celebrated with great importance on this day. It is held in the month of Chingam (Aug- Sept). Devotees visit the Krishna temples where special Pooja and cultural programs are held.
This festival is celebrated in the month of Vrischikam (Nov – Dec). The display of light in the evening is a unique part of the festival.
Attukal Pongala is a ritual celebrated in Attukal Bhagavathy temple every year. The Pongala Mahotsavam is the most important festival of the Temple. It is 10 days 10-day-long festival that comes to an end with a special sacrificial offering namely Kuruthitharpanam at night. On the ninth day of the festival, a large no of women from all religions, from within India and abroad gather in and around the temple premises to offer the Pongala which is cooked by themselves. Pongala is made with rice boiled with jaggery, coconut gratings, ghee with other ingredients in open small earthen pots. On Pongala day, women are only allowed to enter the temple premises. Attukal Pongala is noted for the largest annual gathering of women in a single place on a single day in the world who come here to dedicate the sweet Pongala thus to please the goddess. It is also known as the Sabarimala of women.
Makara Jyothi or Makaravilakku
Most spectacular and glorious sight in Sabarimala is Makarajyothi. Pilgrims gather at Pampa on the day before the Makara Vilakku (light which appears in the hills during the month of Makaram or January) festival held in January. Much controversy surrounds the appearance of this light. Latest reports say that the Makaravillakku is the symbolic deeparadhana (worship of the deity by the lighting of traditional wick lamps)in the hills at some distance from Sabarimala, where a temple used to stand earlier. On the last and seventh day of the festival, pilgrims congregate to catch sight of the Makara Jyothi’, a celestial star that appears in the sky. Devotees believe that sighting the light brings them good fortune and divine blessings. Lakhs of devotees flow to Sabarimala every year for a ‘darshan’ (sight) of this ritual. People from different walks of life participate in this Sangamam which is called the Pampa Sangamam.
Certain rituals and rites are performed during the festival season at not only at Sabarimala but also in temples that have Lord Ayyappa as the main deity. These include ’Ayyappan’ ‘Kalamezhuthu’ and ‘Ayyappan Pattu’. Kalamezhuthu,’is an amalgamation of two words the ‘Kalam’ or image’ and ‘Ezhuthu’ meaning ‘writing’. In Kalamezhithu, skilled artists make powder drawings of the images of the deities.
Padi Pooja (worship of the holy steps) is considered the most important and costly ritual in Sabarimala. The tantric duties are performed by the famous Thazhamon Brahmin family of Chengannur. Usually, padi pooja is conducted after the deeparadhana in the evening. Red silk cloth, coconuts, cloth for kalasa (pooja of deities like Lord Vishnu), nilavilakku (lamp), flowers, camphor, incense, etc., are placed on each of the gold-plated steps. In the olden days, padi pooja was conducted once in 12 years, but now the ritual is conducted whenever the temple opens.
Deepavali is the most colourful festival in India and people from across the country celebrate this 5-day festival. The Hindu houses are decorated with beautiful candles and colourful lights in order to celebrate this festival. People celebrate it as a triumph of good over evil. Deepavali, also known as Diwali in some languages of the country associates with different tales. In fact, different regions of the country have different tales related to this festival. However, the lights show the victory over dark or good over evil.
The main attraction of Adoor, Pathanamthitta is the very famous and old Hindu temple Sree Parthasarathy Temple taking centre stage in the town. This temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna who was a charioteer to Arjuna during the Kurukshetra war. The premise of this temple is the arena for the Adoor Gaja Mela. Adoor Gajamela has a unique elephant pageant that is held as part of 10-day annual festival. The highlight is undoubtedly the majestically costumed nine elephants with towering parasols that take part in a spectacular parade.
Thaipooyam Mahotsavam Koorkenchery
The annual Thaipooyam festival will be celebrated at Koorkancherry Sree Maheswara Temple. The place lies about 2 KM away from Thrissur and 60 km from Cochin International Airport. People from different parts of Kerala come together in this festival.
This festival has the colorful ritual Kavadiyattom offering to Sree Subramanya. A group of devotees moves in a frenzy, taking steps in a rhythmic manner and it makes an exotic sight. Kavadies are usually of different sizes and shapes, each with its own significance. Ambalakavadi is shaped like a temple with 6 to 8 feet high. Pookavadi is the one decorated with artificial flowers.
All Christians celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus Christ on 25th Dec. Holy Mass is held in all the churches in the state. Carol singing, setting up of Christmas trees in all churches and homes, exchanges of cards, and receiving gifts from Santa Claus are all integral parts of the festivities associated with the birth of Jesus Christ. There is a feast in every Christian home with meat as a special item, and the celebrations of Christmas leave good memories in every heart.
This is another important festival of Christians, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter usually falls in March-April, after 40 days of fasting and penance. Christians go for midnight mass, as a memory of the resurrection of Jesus, 2000 years ago.
Muslim Religious Festivals
The Bakrid commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham) offering of his only son as a sacrifice in obedience to God’s command. The Muslims enjoy hearty feasts on Bakrid day. The rich may sacrifice a he-goat or a bullock and distribute it among Friends, relatives, and the poor. The famous Haj is performed after the celebration of Idul Azha.
Eid al-Fitr is celebrated after the conclusion of the Ramzan fast when Muslims give up all kinds of food and drink during the day and spend the major part of the night prayer.
Miladi Sharif, celebrated on a large scale in April, Commemorates the birth of the prophet. This celebration has acquired its present dimensions only in recent times. Previously the day was observed by the Muslims by reading what is commonly known as Maulud which is a short treatise in Arabic celebrating the birth, life, work, and sayings of the prophet or some saint.
Muharram is another festival celebrated by Muslims on the 10th day of Muharram the forbidden month, which marks the beginning of the Hijra year.
Beemapally Uroos or Chandanakudam Mahostavam
The Beemapally Uroos or Chandanakudam Mahostavam at Beemapally near Thiruvananthapuram is one of the most colorful of Muslim festivals in Kerala. It is said to be the death anniversary of Beema Beeevi, a devout pilgrim lady who came to Kerala from Mecca. The festival begins on the 1st of Jamadul Akhar of the Hijira Era (October) and lasts ten days. Carrying earthen posts smeared with sandalwood paste and the mouth of the pot tightly closed with a Jasmine garland around the edges, thousands of pilgrims go around the mosque and the hallowed tomb of the devout lady in procession. Then the earthen port with money is placed at the tomb as an offering.