The Thrissur Pooram, Kerala’s most popular temple festival, has run into controversy with a set of ornate umbrellas that are to be displayed atop elephants during the event featuring images of Hindutva icon V.D. Savarkar.
The umbrellas and other paraphernalia for the 36-hour event — which begins on Tuesday morning and concludes on Wednesday afternoon — were displayed on Sunday at an exhibition.
Along with Savarkar, the controversial umbrella features stalwarts such as Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose, Swami Vivekananda, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Tamil poet Subramania Bharati and Kerala’s social reformers Mannath Padmanabhan and Chattambi Swami. Savarkar was an accused in the Mahatma’s assassination but was acquitted for lack of evidence.
If not withdrawn following the uproar, the umbrella — one of over 100 to be used during the festival — will be displayed on Tuesday.
The festival has been held at the Sri Vadakkunnathan Temple in Thrissur for more than 200 years, and is the most important entry in the state’s festival calendar.
While the government-run Cochin Devaswom manages the Sri Vadakkunnathan Temple, the elephant displays are organised by the privately run Paramekkavu Devaswom and Thiruvambady Devaswom, which manage a series of nearby temples. The controversial umbrella belongs to the Paramekkavu Devaswom.
Sunday’s exhibition was inaugurated by former Rajya Sabha member and actor turned BJP politician Suresh Gopi, considered close to the Paramekkavu Devaswom.
Paramekkavu Devaswom secretary Rajesh G told reporters on Sunday that nothing would be done to spoil communal harmony, but the temple body has yet to formally announce the controversial umbrella’s withdrawal.
“We haven’t taken any decision to withdraw the umbrella,” a Devaswom official, who declined to be named, told The Telegraph on Monday. He refused comment on Rajesh’s assurance.
Congress politician Padmaja Venugopal was among the first to react to the Savarkar umbrellas.
“Thrissur Pooram doesn’t have caste, religion or politics. It’s a festival of communal harmony,” Venugopal, daughter of former chief minister K. Karunakaran, wrote on Facebook.
“It’s the Kerala government that gave permission to sneak in Savarkar, who betrayed the freedom struggle and was an accused in the Gandhi assassination case. Even the local MLA is from the Left, which rules Kerala and the Thrissur corporation. It’s in such a place that the Sangh parivar is being allowed to run its agenda. It’s a shame.”
Each of the two Devaswoms, Paramekkavu and Thiruvambady, fields 15 caparisoned elephants. Each side’s elephants display more than 50 sets of colourful umbrellas during the popular kudamattom (changing umbrellas) ritual.
In addition to these, both sides also exhibit “special umbrellas” — eight each this time — to honour freedom fighters, social reformers, or anyone who has made a positive contribution to society. The Savarkar umbrella comes under the “special” category.
At the kudamattom, specially trained men change the umbrellas in unison standing atop the elephants, setting up a friendly contest between the two Devaswoms.
Many social media users have objected to the controversial umbrella, seeing in it a Sangh parivar agenda vitiating a festival celebrated by people of all faiths.
“Editing history to make way for fascism finds an ever fresher method…. #Savarkar was never a freedom fighter, but a traitor, who betrayed the freedom struggle and wrote mercy petitions 9 times to the British which resulted in receiving Rs 60/ per month as pension for this deceptive coward!!!!!” Tweeted Kishore Haridas Meleth.