Travellers flock to Kerala, India for all sorts of reasons – its gorgeous beaches, fascinating backwater region and amazing wildlife, to name but a few. As well as making the most of the wonderful landscape, make sure you check out some of the state’s famous temple festivals too.
You see, Kerala is a region (situated inIndia’s south-west) that’s well known for its incredible culture. Here, you’ll notice an interesting blend of real conservatism when it comes to traditional customs, ways of life and religion, while it’s also one of the most advanced Indian destinations in terms of things like literacy. It’s this combination that helps make it such a fantastic place to visit.
Kerala temple festivals – the basics
So, you’ve decided to tour Kerala – why should you include temple festivals on your itinerary? Well, first of all, they are a hugely important part of the local calendar. Secondly, they’re usually intensely colourful, exciting events that give you a unique chance to get a taste of Kerala culture in all its glory.
Every Hindu temple in the state hosts at least one annual festival (also known as utsavam), which should give you an idea of just how important they are. There is a lot of variety in terms of the size and duration of these events, but most of the key elements remain unchanged.
Typically, each festival will involve some form of ritual art – which you can read more about below – as well as drum orchestras, elephant and firework displays. People usually turn out in high number to watch, while the celebrations often last long into the night.
Ritual art forms
A key feature of many temple festivals is ritual art. There are several types that are particularly popular, including Kathakali theatre, which is one of the things you’re most likely to come across at events like this. Expect to see performers wearing striking costumes and acting out scenes from epic tales – it’s not unusual for shows like this to go on all night. While you can see shorter performances designed for tourists in a number of Kerala hotels, temple festivals give you a great chance to see them as locals do.
Another art form you’re likely to encounter during the celebrations is Mohinattyam. This is a form of dance renowned for being particularly graceful, and it’s usually performed solo by a woman.
Of course, what exactly you see will depend on which utsavam you go to. Known as the most colourful in all of Kerala, Thrissur Pooram is a great one to choose. It is usually held in April at the Vadakkunathan temple in Thrissur – and draws in hordes of visitors. If you’re keen to join them, you can expect fireworks throughout the night, as well as ornamental parasol displays, an elephant procession and music performances.
Often one of the biggest attractions of temple festivals are elephants, and if they’re what you’re most looking forward to seeing, try to go to Chinakkathoor Pooram, which is staged at the Sree Chinakkathoor Bhagavathy Temple. More than 30 elephants usually take part in the displays here, so it really is one of the best places to see them. Plus, if you’re in the area for the days leading up to the festival, you can visit the temple in the evenings to see shadow puppet shows.