Thripunithura Attahchamayam: The start of the ten-day Onam festival

Onam the traditional harvest festival of Kerala is celebrated with great fervor throughout the state in the month of August. Onam which last ten days welcomes ancient asura King Mahabali’s spirit which is believed to visit his kingdom every year with a colourful reception starting on ‘Atham’.

Atham, the day which heralds the 10-day Onam festivities is celebrated with great enthusiasm at Tripunithura in Ernakulam district.

From time immemorial rituals related to Thiruvonam in the district begin with the Tripunithura Athachamayam where the Athachamayam take on colourful hues, bringing memories of the legend of Mahabali and his kingdom and also the rule of Maharajas of erstwhile Kochi state.

Tripunithura, once the capital of Kochi state was also known as the land of the Maharajas. With the attainment of Independence in 1947, the king and the kingdom went into oblivion, but the royal remnants still remain in the form of residential buildings and forts and the many descendants of the royal family known as Varmas who still reside here.

During Atham, Thripunithura put on a festive look and vendors line up the streets selling all kinds of wares including conical mounds made of clay representing Mahabali and Vishnu, called ‘ Trikkakara Appan’. These are beautifully decorated with flowers and placed in the dung-plastered courtyards on the Thiruvonam day.

In olden days, the Maharaja of Kochi along with the Kozhikode Zamorin used to conduct the festival and special poojas at Trikkakkara Vamanamorthy Temple on Atham day.

Athachamayam was a triumphant march of the Maharaja of Kochi from Tripunithura to the Vamana Temple at Thrikkakara. It was an occasion to show off regal pomp as well as to herald Onam, the festival of peace and equity, remembering the days when everything was in abundance. Later the royal procession confined first to the now dilapidated royal quarters, Puthen Bungalow and then to the Hill Palace in Tripunithura. The Maharaja gave ‘darshan’ to his innumerable citizens during this day.

Representatives from all communities accompanied Kochi kings during Athachamayam. They included a priest from Karingachira Church, Nettur Thangal (Head of Nettur Mosque) and Chembil Arayan to represent the fisher folk.

Athachamayam is the only one day in a year when all the people, irrespective of caste and creed were allowed to enter the Kottakkakam (Fort). The last such Athachamayam was held during the reign of Rama Varma Pareekshtih Thampuran. When Kochi state emerged with the India Union, Athachamayam too disappeared from the Cultural scenario. But in the early sixties, the people of Tripunithura decided to revive the festival. Athachamayam was renamed Athaghosham.

Since the formation of Tripunithura Municipal Council in 1980, Athaghosham is conducted under its joint leadership. With the participation of thousands of Artists from all over the state, they have designed a new Athachamayam. Now people from all walks of life actively participate in this people’s festival and again this has become the formal beginning of the 10 day celebrations in Ernakulam district. The procession retains its majestic charm and is conducted in a spectacular manner.

After the flag hoisting and the lighting of the lamp, a ceremonial parade is taken out in the narrow streets of Tripunithura town, headed by Lord Mahabali. Art forms of ancient and modern times, floats and folk dances add colour and substance to this procession. Thousands of people participate in the parade. It is an occasion to witness almost all folk art forms of the state.

Folk art forms such as Theyyam, Kummatti, Kolkali, Mayilattom, Karakattom, Kummi, Poykal, ammankudam, pulikali, Kathakali, aatakavadi, panjavadyam, chendamelam etc are displayed in the parade. Floats depicting immortal moments from epics like Mahabharatha and Ramayana and from the Bible as well as current social issues, reflects the wide acceptance of Athagosham. Myths and legends of yore in the forms of gods and Goddesses lent colour and meaning to the procession. There are also competitions, variety entertainment programmes held as part of the festival. Apart from the regular footpath vendors who deal with products from handicrafts and cottage sectors, a 10-day trade fair is also organised in Thripunithura.

Athaghosham is not a mere pageant, it is a unique experience, an event that lingers long in our memory.


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