I happened to be in the native town of two of my blogger friends. One is Mr. Joseph Pulikotil, a man on the move and Ms. Chitra who writes about her pilgrimages. She is also a fashion jewellery designer who hails from that place but presently resides at a place known as Dindigul. I am talking about Kochi an important seaport on the south western coast of India previously known as Cochin which falls in the state of Kerala, also known as Gods own Country.
There is a suburb known as Tripunithura which is on the mainland and was the residence of the medieval kings as also their capital. Their family deity was the Hindu God “Vishnu” for whom they created a temple which is referred to as “Poornathrayeesa”. Amongst all temples in Kerala, this one is significant. Here the Lord Vishnu is seen to be seated under the hood of his adorable serpent known as “Sheshnag”. The sanctum sanctorum is round in shape wherein bronze idols of all the incarnations of Lord Vishnu are also kept. Childless couple come and pray here and there is a strong belief that they have children thereafter.
Round the year there are many temple celebrations but the one that is dearer to the hearts of the people is known as “Vrishchikolsavam”. This festival lasting 8 days falls in the month of November/December. Last year when I was there, it commenced on the 23rd November with the holy ceremonial temple flag going up. Incidentally elephants are an integral part of temple festivities in Kerala and on the 26th November they were dressed up in their outfits made of Gold. It was a special day known as “Trikettai” (Planetary position and not based on English Calendar) and many rituals followed. A Gold bowl is placed wherein the devotees drop their offerings termed as “Kanikya”. Thousands of people were queued up awaiting their turn. Though it seemed that it would take a long time to reach the Golden Bowl, the clearance was much faster.
Normally Foreigners are not allowed to be in the temple precincts but things have changed and I found quite a lot of them enjoying the cultural extravaganza. As a matter of fact tour operators to remain in business discovered a way out. There is an organisation known as Arya Samajam and they help converting people to the Hindu fold with proper certification. Some visitors opt this method to gain entry into temples as a temporary measure. But now, barring the sanctum sanctorum, in most of the temples, all other areas are accessible to all.
During temple festivals, the replica of the main deity (Tidambu) is carried around in a procession and every temple has at-least one Elephant over which the deity is seated. The temple at Triupunithura, I am talking about, engages some 25 elephants out of which 15 take part in the festivals and others are stationed as stand byes. The elephant at the centre performs the duty of carrying the deity (Tidambu) over its head along with a “shield” known as “Kolam”.During these eight days, and for various rituals, various renowned groups of artists exhibit their talents in handling a plethora of musical instruments. The performances have different styles are known as “Tayambaka”, “Melam”, “Panchavadyam” etc. They last for over 3 hours at a go with a slow beginning gaining momentum with faster beats and the climax is nothing but ecstasy. Thousands of people enjoy the performances and some of them seem to be well acquainted with the intricacies of the rendering. The mob frenzy is some thing to be seen to believe.
On one night the famous “Kathakali” was scheduled and the artists were busy dressing them up while a Bharatanatyam performance was going on within the campus. It was interesting to observe the intricacies of the Kathakali make up which takes couple of hours to complete. It looks like a sort of endurance test for the artists for their facials to be completed. In between there was also a performance of vocal music (Carnatic) in a separate hall. The variety of things going on within the temple campus was most intriguing as there were many options to choose from which was not too easy. Interestingly, there is no entry fee to savour any of these performances.
Tripunithura has thus become a cultural centre where you find all sorts of cultural activities year round with emphasis on cultivating and continuing the various art forms to which Kerala is home.
Here is a small video just to enable you all to appreciate "Melam"