Elephants, torches and processions in Fort Kochi

During the Keralan breakfast (for the interested consisting of fresh papaya, appam and egg curry) my homestay host, Roy, has told me about an ongoing festival in the old town of Kochi, Fort Kochi. The festival, which is of Portuguese origin, is celebrated every year between December 23 and 31, and Roy promises it to be a true cultural experience, including both fires and elephants.

Arriving into Fort Kochi several hours before everything is expected to start, exactly when is rather unclear and after speaking to five persons I believe I had gotten seven answers, there is not much happening. I do, however, find myself at a Hindu temple, where the preparations have already started. In the enclosure an elephant is chained, and right next to it people are decorating the temple itself. Next to a mandala painting on the ground, an old man is sitting on a lanky plastic chair, seemingly monitoring the whole process. Work is slow and there is a certain calmness here, while the rather opposite rules on the outside.

On said outside, in other words, the city of Kochi, it is business as usual. Sure it is calmer than most Indian cities, but the noise lever can still not be described as temperate. People shouting, people driving and people selling fruits, spices, phone cards and street food. A true Indian compote of noises and aromas, so to say. 

Walking down towards the waterfront, the setting soon gets calmer. Still, there are one or two hours left until the festival shall start for the day and this is where the elephants participating are prepared for the night. Three elephants, among those the one from the temple, are decorated with big golden shields for their forehead and trunk. Fifty-or-so drummers are playing their music and on the open field, there is a mix of people enjoying their time.

An hour later, I am back in the center of Fort Kochi, and the sun has just set. After all, the setting of the sun seems to have been the most precise measurement of time. Suddenly the same cadenced drumming as before is closing in. A few hundred meters down the street, a procession of elephants, drummers and fire are closing in. It takes its time as it stops every 50 meters or so, but after a while, the procession finally reaches my position on a metal staircase outside a local shopping center. The elephants stop right in front of me, and for a few minutes, big torches glisten in their shields. The atmosphere is magical and even though there are hundreds of people around me, I really get a feeling of truthful homage for these majestic animals. A feeling that I kept with me, even after the drums of the procession faded away.

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