Temple festivals are major attraction, that brings together people from various walks of life who get to immerse themselves in spiritual , cultural, culinary experience. Across India, temple festivals that kick start post harvest season is celebrated with great fan fare each one having its own unique traditions. This year i was lucky to be in Ernakulam, Kerala during the festival time @ Ernakulathapan Shivan Temple.It’s one of the grandest festivals in Ernakulam.
About temple : The Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva , as per practice the deity is reverently called Ernakulathapan , which means Lord of Ernakulam. The presiding deity of the temple is in Gourisankara form, located in main sanctum sanctorum, facing west towards the Arabian sea. The Lingam in the main sanctum sanctorum is considered to be Swayambhoo (Divinely derived). On the northern side of the main sanctum sanctorum, one can see the small shrine of Kirthamoorthy where the original Lingam worshiped by Arjuna is still worshiped. On the southern side, a small shrine for Lord Ganesha is seen. There is a small area behind the main sanctum sanctorum, considered as abode of Goddess Parvati, hence the east gate is known as the Devi Gate. Outside the Inner temple circle, shrines for Lord Aiyappa and Nagaraja are worshiped. Temples dedicated to Lord Subrahmanya and Lord Hanuman (Udupi Madhwa Sampradaya style) are located near Shiva temple as well.
A common characteristic of the festival is the hoisting of a holy flag which is then brought down only on the final day (8th Day) of the festival. Highlight of the festivity is Panchari Melam. Panchari Melam a percussion ensemble, is one of major forms of chenda melam(ethnic drum ensemble), and is the best known and most popular temple percussion genre. It comprises of instruments like chenda, ilathalam,kombu and kuzhal. Panchari Melam is performed in its elaborate form during temple festivals within the walls of the temple.The Panchari Melam represents “Satthva Guna” and elevates listeners to higher pedestals.
The ensemble starts at main entrance to inner part of temple, slowly circling the shrine clockwise while playing.A Panchari Melam has multiple stages, each of them totaling specific set of beats(96,48,24,12 and 6). The crescendo rises with each phase and eventually culminating with 6 beat cycle.
The semi-circular procession, with caparisoned elephants ( Elephants decorated with nettipatam) totaling SEVEN ( varies temple to temple) , is led by the deity of temple – Ernakulathapan kept on tusker in the center.This routine known as Sheeveli takes place in morning ( first 4 days of festival) and evening( all days) during the festival days. Each day troupe is led by eminent players – Padma Shri Peruvanam Kuttan Marar, Prakashan Marar and Kizhakkoottu Aniyan Marar were veterans who performed at this years festival.
At sunset , temple glows in splendour with decoration lightings, oil Lamps lit around the temple walls , which provides perfect backdrop for Sheeveli ritual.Public join to rhythmic beats of melam by lifting their hands and gesturing the beats is sight to behold especially when it reaches crescendo. You can find people of all age groups in sync with tunes played out to deity.
There are stories of the Melam players recognizing people from public who assist them with beats. One need not have knowledge of music, presence alone alleviates you to divinity.
On 7th day evening of festival is PakalPooram where in Lord is taken out for procession along with panchavadyam and it culminated at Durbar Hall ground where Chenda melam lead by Kizhakkoottu Aniyan Marar was performed in front of 15 caparisoned elephants. Ground swells with crowd watching the umbrella’s which are exchanged multiple times.
Fireworks illuminates the night sky bringing to end the festivity on the penultimate day.On the final day around evening, in a solemn ceremony the flag is lowered and the deity is then taken for the Arattu ( holy bath ) in the nearby temple tank. After that starts the famous Arattu procession with the accompaniment of Panchavadyam. The procession terminates at Durbar Hall Ground. The grand fireworks then bring the curtain down to this week long festival.
Which ever era it dates back to , the idea of temple festivals was established with intent to promote the culture and harmony across citizens. How else can you explain the multiple platforms provided by organizing committee for artisans be it local art forms , carnatic music, classical dance forms, light music performances, drama…. every genre covered. Even in this digital era to see huge crowds assemble and promote the culture was reassuring sight, which reiterates that core fabric of society cant be shaken.
Vendors – food joints, toys, flowers, traditional earthen products,books, balloons ( in shapes and designs of latest cartoon characters to attract kids) make their presence felt as part of festivity.
One cant help but feel enriched by the whole experience of festival…. belief that we can co exist as society burying our differences and moving ahead with positive spirit displayed by one and all during the 8 days of festivity.Nothing is impossible, it isn’t as negative outlook as portrayed by sections of media or people brooding in the metro’s.