Pooram: a guide to India's greatest Elephant festival

Pooram. Festival. India. Elephant.20100424-P1030723 by brianholsclawCreative Commons Attribution

Location: Vadakkumnatha Temple, Thrissur, India

Dates: held in the Malayalam month of Medam (April or May)

Level of participation: 1 - watch big elephants and big fireworks

The city of Thrissur is Kerala’s festival hotspot and Pooram - the elephant procession to end all elephant processions - is the festival that outranks all others. Introduced as a spectacle around 200 years ago, it’s an inclusive celebration bringing together Hindus, Muslims and Christians, though it’s mostly about the elephants.

In the main parade, two teams of 15 beautifully caparisoned elephants face off across the temple grounds. On each elephant’s back, a man holds a parasol taller than the elephant itself, while another waves a yak-tail fan like a feather boa. As the pandimelam (temple orchestra) plays, the parasols are exchanged among the men standing on the animals. All the while the drums continue to bang through the day, and in the night there’s a pyrotechnic display of elephantine proportions, with fireworks going snap, crackle and pop for up to four hours.

Essentials: it can be a long day in the temple grounds, with festivities starting at 6am and pounding and clattering their way through about 36 hours, so bank some sleep if you can.

Local attractions: the Vadakkunathan Temple is one of the oldest in Kerala and crowns the hill at the centre of Thrissur. Only Hindus are allowed inside, but the mound surrounding the temple has sweeping metropolis views.

More info: Kerala Tourism (www.keralatourism.org)

See other top festivals in May here.

This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.

This article was first published in December 2010 and was refreshed in April 2013.