Nostalgic trip and The tale of two festivals

Last week saw us leaving to our home town – Gods Own Country – Trivandrum, Kerala. The idea behind the trip was two fold, it was the festival time in Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple near my home and it was also festival time in Thamarkulam Devi Temple which was near my wife’s home. I had missed the Shiveli (procession) in Sri Padmanabha Swamy Temple for last 6 odd years and was yearning to see one, also wanted my son to have a feel of the spectacle. And my wife was more than interested in going to her home and added to that the festival in their temple. So lapping up the festive spirit we set out for Kerala.

The festival in Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple is special time for all of us living around the temple precincts. For 20 odd years I had witnessed the spectacle year after year (occurring twice a year). And at different stages of life it meant different things. In early stage at age of 4-5 the attraction around it was the elephant. I still vividly remember those days when my grand father would hand hold me and take me near the elephant. The other major attraction then was to run in front of the elephant. The run was fun with lots of kids around moving in razzle-dazzle. In the last day of the festival after Aratu its race among the deities (of Lord Padmanabha, Lord Narasimha and Lord Krishna) in the Shiveli night, so the elephant which heralds the deities with drumming has to keep up the pace and it also runs. It was easily the most fun part running ahead of a speeding elephant. As time progressed, shivelis were spent with the accompaniment of friends and what beckoned were the pristine white sands all around the temple. It was the vast play ground for us, to play police and thief, make mountains and houses in wet sand(if it rained). During those days it was a gala time of games and fun. Then as years passed, it was more of meeting with friends in a favorite corner in temple just sit and chat and debate about all the topics in the world. It was 10 days of fun and merriment, exam or no exam, homework or no homework, come what ever may we reach temple by 8.15pm and make sure we stay there till the end around 9.30pm. This trip I could not witness all the 10 days, all I could make it up was for 2 days. But still it was mesmerizing and nostalgic. More importantly, I could make my son have a hang of it, though he is just too small for assimilating it. But he was enthralled by elephant, the sounds and lights. And of course kids love sand ain’t they? He just loved running around in the sand all alone. It’s really sad this generation kids living in metros just miss out on this small fun’s of life.

The other end of the spectrum distant from my home, I also witnessed another festival for the first time in my life at my wife’s place. If Padmanabha Swamy Temple was a spectacle organized by the temple, with we being just mute spectators thronging around and enjoying every bit of it, the festival I witnessed in a small rustic Devi temple was just the opposite of it. It was a festival of the community, by the community, and for the community. Every minute aspect of the festival was done by the people living around. It was a 5 day affair and rituals steeped in traditions like Thottam Pattu. During the course of 5 days traditional singers render these songs depicting the life of the goddess. Late nights were leisure hours with various entertainment programs like Kathakali, Drama and music lined up each day. This was the first time I saw a live Kathakali performance. The performance went up from 11pm to 6am and I witnessed two plays – Keechaka Vadham and Daksha Yagam. I must say it was an experience of life time for me. I really rue now that I missed up understanding and watching Kathakali during my days in Kerala. In Sri Padmanabha Temple during the 10 day festival, everyday night Kathakali is performed from 10pm. My son also caught up with Kathakali very well and its vivid tapestry, colors and sounds enamored him. He is now daily asking can we see Kathakali?  At one end I always wondered why in Temple festivals they include drama, music etc. What correlation does it have with religious traditions or anything to relate with bhakti. I was dead against this kind of madness that happens around temple all over Kerala. But now I feel, its just a time for the community to get together spend some time and enjoy. And if Kathakali and drama add to that fun and give happiness to people then why not? Again in festivals like this which organized by families living around the temple, I felt it was ok, as long as people are enjoying it and everything is within the limit. And after all these festivals are the only fillip to dying art forms like Kathakali and dramas. The last day of the festival, the goddess was heralded in caparisoned elephant and taken around the by lanes near by for para edupu and festival culminated in a shiveli around the shrine.

So it was a gala time of 7 days in Kerala this time, barring the sultry and vexatious weather. I surely look forward to travel around the same time next year.

PS:- It was mango season all the mango trees which I saw in tvm were ripe with raw mangoes, I had yummy time everyday afternoon eating raw mangoes spruced up with salt. Oh! my mouth is watery as I type this 🙂

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