More of Kerala Culture

15 September 2019 – More of Kerala Culture

We have been in India now for 6 months. In that time, we have seen poles like this adorning the grounds of Christian Churches and Hindu Temples, but never at a Muslim Mosque. I’ve never seen such a pole, in all the countries I have visited, other than in South India.

I’ve asked several people what this pole is, and have gotten various answers – so I decided to do my own research. It appears that in South India, where fatal lightening during the rainy season is common, long metallic poles have been erected, to provide a good ground. Traditionally, these poles used expensive metals such as traces of gold, silver, copper, bronze etc, as they were found to be more effective (better conductors). Later, to prevent the theft, either small temples were made near these poles, or these poles were made part of the temple. After many centuries, it became then an integral part of temple and Church architecture. Today, many Kerala Churches, try to replicate the original design by including the metallic post, with a cross on top. In the present day, this post is typically used by the Church or Temple staff as a flag pole. They will hoist a flag or pennant at the start of temple or church festival.

Last week, we were invited to the private home of our friend Varghese for an Onam lunch. Onam is an annual Harvest Festival, a big deal here in Kerala, a 4 day state holiday – on par with Christmas back in Canada.

Though originally a Hindu festival, non-Hindu communities of Kerala participate in Onam celebrations considering it as a cultural festival. The meal, of course, was entirely vegetarian and home-made. It was delicious and had many different tastes.

Here, Varghese’s two sons pose with the family Royal Enfield 350 Bullet, fully restored. I love the classic look and feel of this bike.

Yesterday, we drove to Thrissur to witness the Pulikali (Tiger Dance), one of the ancient folk art forms of Kerala. On the fourth day of the Onam festival, artists paint their bodies like tigers with stripes of yellow, red and black and dance to the rhythm of traditional percussion instruments such as thakil, udukku and chenda. The Swaraj Grounds in downtown Thrissur plays host to this carnival that has people appearing in various unique hues and masks, with the locals and visitors alike joining in on the revelry.

As we were walking through the city (after parking the car), of course we stumbled upon the usual cows laying down in the street. Nobody owns these cows, they just roam around wherever they want. These ones, of course, are sitting in the shade on the road.

Then, of course, we made our way through the crowds to the city centre, encountering literally hundreds of people who want to say hello and take a selfie with us. Now, I’ve started the policy that if they want a selfie with us, then I want one with them!

There was kind of a drunken ambience with the crowds, although I saw no vendors selling liquor, nor anyone that seemed to be drinking alcohol or using drugs of any kind.
While waiting for the parade to start, we spent several hours “people watching” – just watching average people walk by.

“The streets of Thrissur swelled with people from across the State and the world to view this special event.” That description from a review sounds exciting, but there are a few facts missing. For example, I read in the news that there were more than 1,000 police officers on hand for traffic and crowd control. Yes indeed, I did see a lot of police officers but I thought they were largely ineffective. This is what we came for, what we expected to see, based on Internet reviews.

Together with Peter and Donna (from SV Kokomo), we sat on a steel water pipe from 2:20pm to 6:45pm waiting for the procession to pass by – and still there was no sign of the parade. We had initially been promised that the parade would pass by at 4pm, and that was changed to 5pm. I think if we had stayed, sitting on that pipe, it might have been 11pm by the time the parade passed.

The crowds were massive, in my estimation at least 100,000. The crowds were mostly well behaved but when you got near the dancers, there was a fair amount of pushing and shoving going on. It was dark and very, very crowded. I also read that there were more than 300 people (men and women) dressed up as tigers, but in reality, we probably only saw about 50. This is the first float we saw, and we were very close to it.

It was being reversed, yes, driven backwards down the parade route.

Although there were good viewing opportunities from the road side, side walk or neighbouring grounds, in my opinion the police made no attempt to clear the actual road way. The road was so congested with viewers, the crowds, that the floats and parade had great difficulty making any headway. It was dangerous, something that is not seen in any parade that I’ve seen in a Western country.

This is the second float we encountered.

After this float, a crowd of people followed that were holding a rope and pushing the crowds back, as the “Tigers” came into view.

Finally, we saw some “Tigers”.

14 the tigers.jpg

This YouTube video, although not in English, does provide a visual explanation of the effort that these artist undertook to get into costume.

In retrospect, I’m glad to have had the experience, but it was quite unsafe and overall left me with an unpleasant feeling. There were just too many people, and too much trash – and the crowds made it a risky venue. I would have much preferred to watch this event from the safety and comfort of my home, on the Internet. I have to recall that this tour was indeed my idea. Oh well, this is India.

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