Thrissur (Trichur), a busy market hub and temple town roughly midway between Kochi (74km south) and Palakkad (79km northeast) on the NH-47, is a convenient, albeit traffic-clogged, base for central Kerala. Close to the Palghat (Palakkad) Gap – an opening in the natural border made by the Western Ghat mountains – Thrissur presided over the main trade route into the region from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and for years was the capital of Cochin state.
Today, Thrissur is home to several influential art institutions and prides itself on being the cultural capital of Kerala. One of the state’s principal Hindu temples, Vadukkunnathan, is here too, at the centre of a huge circular maidan that hosts all kinds of public gatherings, not least Kerala’s most extravagant, noisy and sumptuous festival, Puram. The town derives most of its income from remittance cheques sent by expatriates in the Gulf – hence the predominance of ostentatious modern houses in the surrounding villages. The hinterland also serves as a storehouse, dotted with communities and pilgrimage sites where both contemporary party politics and ancient art traditions are pursued with great enthusiasm, despite the disruptive impact on local life of mass out-migration.