One occasionally reads about Indian festivals at which people dress in costumes, musicians play traditional elephants and huge decorated elephants march majestically down the street. I was always impressed by these stories and the photos that accompanied them but, never in my wildest dreams, thought I would find myself in the middle of one, or two.
The drive to Palakkad from Calicut was supposed to take four hours so I sat back in my seat for a long drive through small towns and farmland. After a pleasant ride I saw the strangest thing – an elephant climbing out of the back of a truck. What? I asked the driver to stop so I could watch for a few minutes. After at least 20 or 30 photos, I got back in the car so we could get to Palakkkad.
A few minutes later three of these dramatic tuskers in formal parade regalia walked by our car on their way to the local temple. Apparently the Mannarghat/Karimba Temple was holding its annual Ayeppam “Utsaram” Festival. Many people were accompanying the elephants to the temple while more awaited their arrival in the temple yard. As the elephants entered, they were greeted by a group of men dressed in white dhoti and playing various drums and horns. I made my way to the back of the musicians and enjoyed the sights and sounds. I was amazed at the wondrous sights and sounds. After the performance ended I walked back to our car in a daze.
I thought my day had been made: Kerala temple festival, traditional music, and three caparisoned elephants on parade! I was very happy as we made our way to Palakkad. I have to confess that we were running a bit late but the traffic did back up due to the reasons I listed above; I wasn’t the only spectator.
After a delightful visit and delicious luncheon, we headed back to our hotel in Calicut only to have one more unsurpassable elephant encounter…
Half way back to Calicut the traffic on the main road (only one lane in each direction) came to a complete stop. Our wonderfully patient driver told me there was another festival ahead and the car would be stuck for a while. My husband and I jumped out of the car and joined all of the people walking toward the action. As we approached, the sides of the road were lined with vendors selling snacks and trinkets. People were dancing in the street wearing colorful headdresses and costumes; percussionists dressed in white kasavu mundu (traditional garb) played and danced. Hundreds of others watched the excitement with their children.
Soon the main attraction arrived. Yes, you guessed it, elephants. All of them were males with huge, magnificent tusks. This time, eight huge caparisoned elephants marched their way down the street toward the temple. Apparently it is a really big deal to have so many elephants at one event. Some of them are owned by temples, others owned privately. Elephant owners are proud to lend their animals and keepers for the day.
After the elephants passed by on their way to the Temple Utsavam, young men brought out their stereos and loud speakers loaded in the back of their trucks so dancing in the street could begin. One thing I noticed was how friendly the people were and how they wanted to include me in their celebration. Everyone was so excited by the celebration that the police had a challenge to control the crowds and get the traffic moving again. It took a while for our driver to get to us but we finally found him and headed back to the hotel.
I had a full day, visiting relatives and three pachyderm sightings in different locations along the Palakkad Highway. I wonder if I had seen some of the same elephants in multiple locations or if I had really seen 12 different elephants. I guess I will never know the answer – it is one of the mysteries of life.
What an amazing day!
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