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Kerala Temple & Elephant Festivals Essential Guide

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Kerala Temple & Elephant Festivals Essential Guide

Elephants line up at a temple festival in Kerala.

www.flickr.com user spisharam
Kerala temple festivals are elaborate and exotic. The main attraction at these festivals is the elephants. Most Hindu temples in Kerala own elephants, the majority of which are donated by devotees.

The festivals form part of each temple's annual rituals. They're often a tribute to the temple's presiding god, who emerges from inside the temple once a year. Each festival has a different set of legends and myths behind it, depending on the temple god.

When are the Festivals Held:

From February to April, with each temple festival running for around 10 days. Shorter elephant pageants held at various temples typically last for one day. Kerala Tourism has a handy event calender showing the dates of temple festivals and elephant pageants in Kerala for the forthcoming couple of years.

Where are the Festivals Celebrated:

At temples throughout the state of Kerala, in south India. The biggest and most colorful festival takes place at Vadakkumnathan temple in Thrissur and is called Thrissur Pooram. It happens during the Malayalam month of Medam (April/May). Another important festival not far from Thrissur is the Arattupuzha Pooram, which has around 60 elephants in attendance.

How are the Festivals Celebrated:

While everyday temple rituals are modest, temple festivals take place on a grand scale and are a highlight on the social calenders of Kerala's population. The festivals feature large processions of bejeweled elephants, drummers and other musicians, colorful floats carrying gods and goddesses, and fireworks.

What Rituals are Performed During the Festivals:

Detailed temple rituals are conducted by a tantri (the main temple priest) according to the temple god. Rituals involving the god statue in a Pallivetta (Royal Hunt) and Arattu (Holy Bath) are the focus of the festivals of some Kerala's major temples. During the Thrissur and Arattupuzha Poorams, gods from surroundings temples make their annual visit on elephant back to pay their respects to the presiding temple god.

What to Expect at the Festivals:

Plenty of crowds, elephants, noise, and processions. Music is an important part of the temple celebrations and the frenetic percussionists, of which there are plenty, manage to whip up quite a sound. Cultural programs, including classical music and dance performances, also take place.

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