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Heli Tourism

Enchanting Kerala


ISSUE: 202

JUNE 2010

Feeding of elephants at Vadakkumnathan Temple

The feeding of elephants according to traditional beliefs in Kerala is a unique festival. To witness this one of its kind festival in the world, you have to be in Kerala during the Malayalam month of Karkidakam, which corresponds to June/July. This ritualistic feeding ceremony (locally known as Aanayoottu) takes place inside the premises of the famous Vadakkumnathan Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, which is situated in the heart of Thrissur city. The festival falls on the first day of the month of Karkidakam.

The month of Karkidakam as per traditional healthcare practices in Kerala is meant for body rejuvenation based on the principles of Ayurveda. This particular period, which is also the time when the southwest monsoon is active in Kerala, is considered by practitioners of Ayurveda as the best time for the body to respond to Ayurveda therapies.

On the festival day, which usually is marked by intermittent rains, elephants are brought inside the premises of the Vadakkumnathan Temple for the special feast. The elephants first pay obeisance to the presiding deity and they themselves are subjected to worship later during the course of the feeding ceremony. Here, the elephants are lined-up in a single row and facing them would be thousands of people in an excited mood to feed the elephants and getting ready with their offerings. The ceremony also is rooted in the belief that worshipping the elephants and giving them delicious and healthy food is a way to propitiate Lord Ganesha, the elephant-faced God, who removes obstacles from one's pursuits.

The special feed of the elephants basically contain sugarcane, rice, ghee, coconut and jaggery. The feeding session begins with an offering by the chief priest of the temple. Aanayoottu literally means feeding the elephants with specially prepared food. This special food is prepared as per Ayurvedic principles, which is meant for enhancing the well-being of the domesticated elephants.

Elephants are an integral part of Kerala culture. The presence of richly adorned elephants transforms many festivals in Kerala into a lively and grand affair attracting thousands of people. Earlier, the feeding of elephants held in temples didn't have public participation. Later on, after taking into account the sentiments of the local people the event eventually took the form of Aanayoottu festival.

Vadakkumnathan Temple, where the grandest of all elephant feedings in Kerala takes place, is one of the largest and ancient Shiva temples in Kerala. This temple is a classic example of the Kerala style of architecture with beautiful murals depicting various episodes from the epic Mahabharata. The shrines and the koothambalam (traditional theatre for Kutiyattam performance), a part of the temple complex, display exquisite carvings in wood. The temple is believed to have been built by Sage Parasurama, one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The sprawling Thekkinkadu ground, encircling the Vadakumnathan Temple, is the main venue of the world famous festival - the Thrissur Pooram, celebrated annually in April-May.
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