Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thrissur Festival

February 8 2009
There was a sign over the door of the train carriage whether or not the WC was occupied. I presumed they meant “water closet” a term frequently used by the British. The squat toilet also had a little light next to “IC” for Indian Closet??
A note on Indian dress. When a woman is not wearing a sari she usually has on a Punjabi. This is a very comfortable 3 piece outfit with baggy pants, a long (at least to the knees) top and a “dupatta” or scarf that is elegantly draped over the shoulders with the tails hanging down the back. I think the British developed the pajamas from this outfit. Anyway I like to wear them and simply slipped off my bra after I had made the beds and slipped between the sheets.
I woke up frequently and saw what looked like scrub desert pass by, then lush paddy fields and then again succulents like agave in another desert area and then there were trees the next time I looked. It always seemed to be very flat.
John shook me awake. “We’re there.”
Count the bags. Get my glasses. “John your glasses” Can’t find my dupatta. Wake up the Danes and he is lying on it on the top bunk. Count the bags again. Grab my bra from the little net behind the bed. Scramble off the train and stand there stunned. This lady is not a pretty sight without a bra. But we have all our bags.
There is no man standing there holding a welcoming sign with our name on it. John walks off down the platform to find him and I stand swatting the swarm of mosquitoes with my dupatta, boobs drooping to my belly.
John returns with the driver and five minutes later we are at the hotel. It is locked tight and we can’t wake the staff. I suggest phoning. It works and the door is unlocked to reveal a “bed” just inside the door where this night worker had been sleeping.
We are lead by flashlight to the lift and cram in and he pulls the gates closed. We were about 100 pounds overweight. There was no air-conditioned room available (how long ago had we made this reservation?) but we would be moved tomorrow. It is already tomorrow! Anyway we happily flop onto the bed. There is just a fitted bottom sheet and pillow. Who cares I’m tired.
The Indian penchant for blowing their horn does not cease at night.
“OH!” I left my earrings on the train. Darn!
The Muslim call to prayer reminds me that I should at least try to sleep. My light Punjabi is flapping in the gale from the fans and I thought a towel might hold it down. I retrieve the towel from the bathroom, there is only one. Without the luxury of a tumble dryer the sun dried towel is like stiff cardboard. It waited down the Punjabi just fine.
I gave up trying to sleep at 8:00 and took a shower. There seems to be no need for shower curtains in this part of the world so the water splashes freely over the floor and commode. Time to do some writing but I was interrupted by the sound of drums and I looked out to see an elephant strolling down the street with a great flowery sign held up behind his head.

I call to John who comes dripping from the shower to peek naked from behind the curtains. As they pass between the overhead cables they lower the decoration.
It seemed like a brand new day. We were showed and refreshed. It was a chore to get t breakfast. An Indian meal would take 10 minutes but scrambled eggs, toast and coffee would take half an hour. We went for the Indian meal as the festivities were scheduled to start at 10:00. Then we were informed they start at 10:30 so we would have time to eat.
We took one of the little “motors” (three-wheeled scooters) about a mile towards the temple before the police manned roadblock and walked the rest of the way. The crowds became increasingly dense. All happy families brilliantly clad, groups of men and women all heading in our direction.
First we went under a temporary structure like a fifty foot temple built from wood the whole purpose of which was to hold lights for the evening and would be dismantled tomorrow.

There were 3 matching ones at the other two roads that formed the T junction where the real temple sat.
In this state of Kerala non-Hindu are not invited into the temples whereas in the other States on India we are welcome.

As we approached the temple we were confronted by enormous whirling tops. These 20 foot tall kaavada were covered with stylized bunches of flowers that stuck out all around and the form itself was a mass of little plastic flowers. They sort of reminded me of the floats at the Parade of Flowers but they were all psychedelic pinks and greens or shocking pink and purple or primary colors that come so bright in plastic. (There was none of the beautiful blends of colors so prevalent in the women’s clothes across India.) This whole structure was balanced on the head of a man who turned in circles and sometimes bobbed up and down.
There were eight of these kaavada turning at various speeds in the courtyard of the temple. There was a band attached to it with horns clarinets type instruments, drums and cymbals and more drums. This group was from a particular village and there were several more communities waiting to get into the courtyard. They all had their own bands and they all played and twirled and spun at the same time but not in time.
The smell of dust mingled with the perfume from the jasmine necklace Chandran, our driver/escort had given each of us on arrival. I was grateful for the bottle of water he had made us purchase on the way.
By 11:30 stalls began to appear selling homemade drinks (the kind it is wise that visitors avoid) flower leis and plastic brick-a-brack for the children.
The first band of twisting kaavada had moved behind the first temple building and into the next courtyard and then into the open area where the stalls has been wheeled. They were off duty and sat in the shade of their kaavada.
Another group arrived. Each group took a turn surrounded by increasingly ecstatic dancers waving their hands in the air and jumping up and down. Only the men participated in all of this. Women clustered for a good view and children in their finest traditional clothes peered on.
We were invited into a building that was a wedding hall with wide verandas all round. We were led upstairs and out onto the top of the portico where there were several signs saying VIP protecting rows of ubiquitous plastic chairs. I felt a little guilty and that I might get kicked out but it turned out that it was for the press and gringos. Any Caucasian wondering in the dust below was invited up. At most we saw a dozen foreigners mostly rather scrappy dressed grey-haired wanderers. I hope I give a better appearance than they do.
Taller kaavada arrived and twirled. These were accompanied by 20ft tall flat decorations fringed with peacock feathers. A group of smaller kaavada appeared outside the temple walls and we were informed that these were children, meaning youths. The whole place was a mass of moving color throbbing music, though I could not detect any melody and jostling bodies. But it wasn’t densely packed except where the dancers were going crazy.
My glasses were covered with dust.
I was taking so many pictures I thought my camera would complain.
We were exhausted so walked back towards the hotel to take get some food and take a nap before the evening festivities began. We met three elephants on the way.

We returned as the sun was losing its strength to come across the same three elephants but they had moved up the road a little. Now they were festooned with umbrellas.

Luckily we were invited back up onto the balcony when we reached the temple grounds. I could not have stood all day. Now there were nine gold clad elephants, each with men standing on top holding umbrellas. Six elephants faced each other on the street and another three were in the middle facing the temple.


With each trio of elephants there was a band of sixty musicians. Fifteen each of trumpets; great bugle like things that were about three feet long and curled over their shoulders, two rows of different drums and a row of symbols. There was so much din I could not hear my camera clicking.

At times the men on the elephants would stand up and hold disks in the air while others would hold what looked like a big fluffy ball of wool.

The dancers were going crazy, throwing each other in the air.

The crowd was crammed as close to the animals as they could get.
It was all a stunning experience. Too much color and sound for one very long day.
Sorry folks, but that is all I can add to the blog today. I have so many more pictures but some Internet cafes are better than others.

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