One of the most spectacular festivals of Kerala, Thrissur Pooram is the biggest and most colorful temple festival of Kerala. The term Thrissur is derived from Thiru-Shiva-Perur, which means the City of the Sacred Siva. Pooram means a group or a meeting. The celebrations are visual splendor, the grand assembly of caparisoned elephants, amazing pyrotechnic displays and ensembles of percussion instruments. Thousands of enthusiastic people irrespective of caste, color or religion gather at Thrissur to participate in the festivities. It is believed that the goddesses and gods meet each other on this occasion. Sakthan Thampuran (1775-1790), King of the erstwhile Cochin State had introduced this festival. The celebrations start in the wee hours of the morning and last till the break of dawn on the next day.
In ancient time, Thrissur was also known as Vrishachala (Vrisha means Nandikeswara) and Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva in the South. Thrissur Pooram is celebrated at the famous Vadakkunnathan Temple. Thrissur has two other well-known temples including Thiruvambadi Temple and Paramekkavu Temples. Vadakkunnathan temple was founded by Lord Parasurama. The temple complex is spread over nine acres and is surrounded by 64 acres of land called Thekkinkadu or forest of Teakwoods. The four gateways of the temple are carved out of wooden pillars with rare architectural techniques. The temple has been declared a national monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains Act.
A legend has it that once, due to the heavy rains, devotees couldn’t make it to the Arattapuzha festival. They arrived late. Hence, they weren’t allowed into the temple premises. The embarrassed temple officials informed Raja Rama Varma also known as Sakthan Thampuran about the incident. Thampuran immediately planned another festival which was more extravagant and more rewarding than the previous one. It was marked as the beginning of the Thrissur Pooram festival. According to legend, the parents of Adi Shankaracharya came to Thrissur. They observed penance for 41 days. As a result, Vadakkunnathan was born. Later he was known as Adi Shankaracharya. After his earthly mission, Adi Shankaracharya is said to have shed his mortal body here.
The festival begins with the procession of the Kanimangalam Shasta in the morning. The procession is a custom that signifies the visit of Devi from the Paramekkavu temple and Thiruvambadi temples. Apart from these two temples, eight minor temples also participate in the Pooram. Vadukunnathan Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, remains a spectator during the festival. No offering is received by the temple in connection with Pooram celebration. No special puja is offered on this day. The festival includes a pageant of 30 caparisoned elephants brought from various temples of Kerala. A competition is held which displays the swift rhythmic changing of brightly coloured and sequined Kudamattom by the two sides engage in a competitive display of colourful umbrellas. The procession of the caparisoned elephants is commonly known as Aana Chamayal Pradarsana.
The traditional percussion ensembles such as Pancharimelam, Pandimelam, and Panchavadyam are a visual treat. Glittering fireworks light up the sky. The spectacular fireworks by two rival groups representing Paramekkavu and Thiruvambadi last for three to four hours. By noon, the locals assemble in large numbers at the Thekkinkadu ground with the procession of Thiruvambady Sri Krishna Temple. The procession of the Paramekkavu Devi along with the accompaniment of Pandimelam enters the Vadakkunnathan temple. The classic performance of musical instruments called Elanjithara Melam begins when the procession reaches the Elanji tree inside the temple premises. The high level of excitement is seen when the processions of the Thiruvambady Shri Krishna and Paramekkavu Devi temples face each other. The festival ends with a farewell program for the deities of the Thiruvambadi and Paramekkavu. Pooram is probably the only festival in Kerala that attracts a large number of people to a single event.