ByÂ Thomson Chakramakkil:
Beachcombing the holiday-maker’s “Handbook to Discovering Kerala’’ has been more or less fruitless when it came to rooting-out an indigenous tourist landmark for my hometown and the so-called cultural capital of the state, Thrissur. This is precisely what drove me to set out with a camera and a bottle of water on an otherwise lazy Tuesday morning to scout around the unexplored heart of this magnetically charming town in central Kerala, located some 70 kilometres away from its highly acclaimed counterpart and commercial capital of the state, Kochi.
Where to start from was certainly not a question worth asking since the entire town is built around the VadakkumnathanÂ temple, a thousand year old Hindu shrine that forms the heart and soul of the town. The VadakkumnathanÂ temple hosts a prestigious cultural event known as Thrissur Pooram, which is, incontestably the first thing that will show up if you hit ‘Thrissur’ on Google. The temple is seated on a small hillock known as ‘Thekkinkad Maidanam’ which is surrounded by a lush-green teak forest that provides an indescribably beautiful inner-sanctum-feel to the temple. It is amazing how one could find such serenity in this ancient shrine, keeping in mind that the hillock is circled by the Swaraj Round which is virtually the busiest road in Thrissur, bustling with vehicles round the clock. Swaraj Round is a one-way circle that connects all the major roads from different parts of the district to the town and is unquestionably a brilliant traffic-management prototype. It has the peppiness of shops, restaurants and other business establishments on one side while the unruffled greenery of the teak trees on the other. Talking of business establishments, humungous textile showrooms and jewellery stores form the lion’s share of the town’s trade and have a major role in the formation of its cultural corpus.
While on a stroll through the silent teak forest, I came across a majestic tusker cleaned and groomed into holiness, all set for a festival somewhere in town. The motorists in Thrissur are pretty used to the idea of large elephants taking up their share of space in the already narrow roads. All the same, everyone watches an elephant with the curiosity of a five-year-old when it passes by with all its charm.
Once you get across the Swaraj Round through the newly constructed subway, abundant with beautiful artwork (not cheap graffiti, mind you), to reach the Municipal Office Road, you’ll find a bunch of lateral links into the busy Jai Hind market. Jai Hind market is a place which can be, in the 21st century vernacular termed “totally happening”. One would find all sorts of shops and street vendors here, starting from the ones selling fancy jewellery to cheap electrical gadgets. Take a few steps down the cobbled streets of Jai Hind market and you’ll witness one of those awesome Christian architectural wonders revealing itself in front of you with all its glory. The Basilica of our Lady of Dolores, known as ‘Puthanpalli’ to the people here, is unmistakably the tallest Church in the whole of Asia, located right at the core of this small town. The gothic, white spires of the church stand tall watching over the town and can be seen from almost any part of it. Near the basilica is a taller tower with an illuminated cross on its head. This tower, known as the Bible Tower, also happens to be the tallest church tower in Asia, and presents tourists with a bird’s-eye view of the city stretched out in front of it.
The religious neutrality of the city’s inhabitants is simply incredible. The Thrissur Pooram, the annual temple festival conducted here, bears testimony to this phenomenally respectful co-existence. The lion’s share of the town’s population forgets its religious ambivalence and gathers near the Vadakkumnathan temple to witness ‘Kudamatam’, the ceremonial display of umbrellas. ‘Kudamatam’, which literally translates as ‘change of umbrellas’, is a point of the celebration at which different temples in the district compete against each other by displaying a great variety of colourful umbrellas. In this grand ceremony, umbrellas are held out by mahouts seated on spectacularly adorned elephants. Considering how worthy an experience Thrissur Pooram is, there is no wonder that people from all over the world come to this small town to witness this visual extravaganza. As an icing on the cake, this marvellous event is followed by a breath-taking display of fireworks which can be seen and heard from well over many miles.
In the interest of brevity and considering the fact that it’s impossible to encapsulate the colour and elegance of this town into mere words, the rest of the town is out there, with arms wide open for the traveller in you. While I wouldn’t go as far as to claim that Thrissur is the most beautiful town in the world, it certainly made me realize that the best memories aren’t made all that far from home.