Vadakkumnatha Temple, Thrissur, India
Held in the Malayalam month of Medam (April or May)
The city of Thrissur in Kerala, Pooram is the number one festival to see. Introduced as a spectacle around 200 years ago, it’s an inclusive celebration bringing together Hindus, Muslims and Christians, though it’s mostly about the elephants.
In the main parade, two teams of beautifully caparisoned elephants face off across the temple grounds. On each elephant’s back a man holds a parasol taller than the elephant itself, while another waves a yak-tail fan like a feather boa. As the pandimelam (temple orchestra) plays, the parasols are exchanged among the men standing on the animals. All the while the drums continue to band throughout the day, and in the night there’s a pyrotechnic display of elephantine proportions, with fireworks going snap, crackle and pop for up to four hours.
1 - watch big elephants and big fireworks.
It can be a long day in the temple grounds, with festivities starting at 6am and pounding and clattering their way through about 36 hours, so bank some sleep if you can.
For Pooram, your greatest safety concerns are two fold. Getting stomped on by elephants, or getting stomped on by people.
The Elephants in Pooram are domesticated, and also chained quite heavily. However, they are still prone to bursts of anger, given that they are submitted to fairly arduous conditions. There is the slight possibility that an elephant could get restless, which could cause commotion in the crowd...
Which is where the real problem lies. Pooram is a very densely populated festival. Thousands of people pack in to witness the event, and the closer the elephants, the denser the crowd. If something erupts, or there is unease in the crowd, there could be the potential for a stampede. The desire to get close to the event to truly soak in the atmosphere may be great - but make sure you are not so packed in that you cause yourself danger.
For further reference on crowd safety, take a look at this article on how to survive a stampede.
The Vadakkunathan Temple is one of the oldest in Kerala and crowns the hill at the centre of Thrissur. Only Hindus are allowed inside, but the mound surrounding the temple has sweeping metropolis views.
More Info: Kerala Tourism
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