The vibrant pageantry of the Thrissur Pooram festival in many ways encapsulates the rich cultural, religious and political heritage of this ancient town. At its very center is the Shaivite Vadakkunathan temple situated atop a hillock named the Thekkinkadu Maidan, a landmark around which the town has developed over centuries. The hillock is also the venue of the Pooram festival, the highlight of the town’s annual cultural calendar.
Once the capital of the Kochi ruling dynasty, Thrissur has variously been under the power of the Zamorins, the Portugese, the Dutch and the English. It was also briefly a tributary of Hyder Ali of Mysore. His son, Tippu Sultan, too, invaded the city and burned a few of its churches.
Historically a center of Hindu scholarship, Thrissur has at the same time served as the gateway to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Thomas the Apostle set foot on the coast nearby and the country’s first mosque, Cheraman Juma Masjid, opened here in AD 62. Old churches and mosques dotting the landscape are a common sight. Thrissur is also Kerala’s cultural capital and home to various institutions that nurture many classical performing arts.
SAKTHAN THAMPURAN PALACE
A two-storeyed building built in the traditional ‘naalukettu’ architectural style. High roofed, with thick walls, spacious rooms and floors paved with finely smoothened Italian marbles besides displaying certain elements of Kerala-Dutch architecture. The palace was converted into a museum in 2005 and consists of numerous galleries – bronze statues from the 12th and 18th centuries, granite sculptures from the 9th century to the 17th century, a gallery of numismatics displaying ancient coins in circulation in the former province of Kochi and neighboring kingdoms, a gallery depicting milestones under the rule of the Kochi royal family, an epigraphy gallery showcasing the evolution of ancient scripts besides other spaces displaying megalithic artifacts, vessels of bronze and copper from the erstwhile royal family. The palace was once home to Ramavarma Thampuran (also known as Sakthan Thampuran) of the erstwhile Princely State of Cochin between 1790 and 1805.
Kerala’s only museum dedicated to mural arts features an extensive collection of murals from all over Kerala besides a rare trove of megalith tools, earthen pots, burial urns, black and russet coated wares, excavated material from the Indus Valley Civilization and a site at Kodungallur, and palm leaf manuscripts.
ATHIRAPILLY AND VAZHACHAL WATERFALLS
The Athirapilly Waterfalls is perhaps the largest in Kerala and part of a unique riparian eco-system. Cascading from a height of 80 feet and surrounded by a stunningly beautiful landscape composed of forests, streams and rivulets feeding off the Chalakudy River. Further upriver, extending to the horizon is the Sholayar range of mountains, part of the Western Ghats, rich in endangered and endemic species of flora and fauna. It is the only place in the Western Ghats where visitors get to view four varieties of the endangered Hornbill species.
Situated 22 km outside Thrissur city, Peechi Dam was started as an irrigation project for the surrounding villages in Thrissur. Today, it also caters to the drinking water needs of the population of the city. Built across the Manali River, the dam is a vast catchment area. Extensive botanical gardens and cascading fountains enhance the tourist experience. Elephants are not an uncommon sight on the far banks of the Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary.
KUTHAMPULLY HANDLOOM VILLAGE
A clan of weavers arrived in Kerala from Mysore more than 500years ago and settled beside the Bharathapuzha River and began weaving cloth for the erstwhile rulers of Kochi. Due to this continuous patronage over the years and the peaceful surroundings their descendants continued to live here.
Today, their descendants continue the tradition of hand weaving Kerala’s richly exquisite and mostly ceremonial garment, the‘kasavu’. Kuthampally is today home to around 600 Brahmin families. The handwoven ‘kasavu’ saris are still very popular as are the dhoti, veshti and ‘set mundu’.
An Industrial Cooperative Society had to be set up in 1972 to promote the weavers’ interests.
One of the most famous Vaishanvite temples of South India, according to legend the temple was built around 5000 years ago. The presiding deity here is the Hindu god Vishnu, worshipped in the form of, Krishna. The deity is seen upright holding a conch, a discus, a mace and a lotus.
PUNNATHURKOTA ELEPHANT CAMP
Two kilometers from the Guruvayur temple is the Punnathurkota Elephant Camp, a 10 acre property that once belonged to a former ruler of the area.elephant camp of Punnathurkota. Between forty to sixty elephants of all ages and sizes live here – from the cute toddler to the ageing tusker!
Punnathurkota also houses a training school for mahouts. Visitors come to watch the elephants here – sheltered under tall leafy trees, feeding, playing, bathing in the large pond here.
MURAL PAINTING INSTITUTE, GURUVAYUR
It took a fire at the temple in 1970 to give birth to the Guruvayur Devaswom’s Institute of Mural Painting in 1989. The blaze damaged the sanctum sanctorum and also destroyed the paintings on the three walls within. When the walls were to be repainted again, very few artists were found to have the necessary skill to do it. It was thus that the institute was born to train future generations of traditional mural painters.A National Diploma is awarded to students on successful completion of the five year training course.
KERALA KALA MANDALAM
Founded in 1930, the Kerala Kala Mandalam is situated on the banks of the river Nila near Cheruthuruthy. Many of Kerala’s performing art forms like Kathakali, Kutiyattam, Mohiniyaattam, Panchavaadyam have found a new lease of life and nourished by the Kerala Kala Mandalam. The system of teaching here follows the ancient Gurukula Sambradaaya system that requires student and teacher to live, eat and sleep under the same roof.
FFringed by lush coconut groves and with a breathtaking views of the sea, Nattika is a small village about 25 km from Thrissur and the historic temple towns of Kodungallur and Guruvayur.