Huge amounts of money are lavished upon many, varied, and often all-night festivals associated with Kerala’s temples. Fireworks rend the air, while processions of caparisoned elephants are accompanied by some of the loudest (and deftest) drum orchestras in the world. Thrissur’s famous Puram festival is the most astonishing, but smaller events take place throughout the state, with everyone welcome to attend. Between December and March it’s possible to spend weeks hopping between village theyyems in northern Kerala, experiencing rituals little altered in centuries. The snake boat races in June, August and September are an incredible sight, while Christmas sees paper lanterns and fairy lights decorating homes and churches. Kerala’s Hindu festivals are fixed according to the Malayalam Calendar, so dates change from year to year – see keralatourism.org.

Swathi Sangeetotsavam (Jan). Held in honour of composer Sri Swathi Thirunal (maharaja of Travancore 1813–46), free evening performances of Karnatic and Hindustani music take place on the raised porch of Thiruvananthapuram’s Puttan Malika Palace, with spectators seated on the lawn.

Maha Shivrati (Usually early March; the moonless night). The night of the worship of Shiva is an all-night vigil at temples across the state. A shivalingam rises out of the banks of the River Periyar near Kochi, attracting thousands of devotees.

Vishu (Mid-April). A festival of lights and fireworks on Hindu New Year’s Day. On this day it’s believed that the first object seen is auspicious, so items including rice, fruit, flowers and gold are set out in homes.

Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race (Second Sat in Aug). The most spectacular of the boat races attracts huge crowds to Punnamda Lake near Alappuzha (see p.1043). Following a grand procession, the magnificently decorated longboats – each carrying more than one hundred oarsmen rowing to the rhythmic vanchipattu (“song of the boatman”) – compete in knockout rounds. Similar races can be seen at Aranmula (Aug–Sept) and Champakulam (June–July).

Onam (Ten days in Aug or Sept). Kerala’s harvest festival is marked by singing, kathakali, pookalam (floral “carpets”), traditional food and in Thrissur, pulikali (the dance of the tigers). Four of the days are state holidays.

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