The Kerala government on Monday decided to limit Thrissur Pooram, one of the biggest temple festivals in the state, to just rituals without public presence or celebrations.
The decision was taken by the state administration after meetings with the festival’s organisers who wanted some leeway to allow the presence of people. Now, only those directly connected with the festival, including temple musicians, priests and organisers, would be permitted near the venue in Thrissur city.
The state Covid core committee meeting also decided to go for night curfew from 9pm to 5am starting Tuesday in view of the rising Covid cases. But there won’t be any restriction on essential services, including public transport.
While Thrissur Pooram received government clearance before the April 6 state elections in view of the reduced Covid cases at that point, many, including writers, expressed fears of the festival turning into a super-spreader like the Kumbh mela as it usually attracts over 10 lakh people.
One of the most popular and colourful temple festivals that parades large numbers of caparisoned elephants amid traditional percussion ensembles and fireworks, Thrissur Pooram has traditionally been a major tourist attraction for travellers from the West.
But now that daily Covid cases are inching towards 20,000 and the state’s reputed healthcare system is once against under duress, people from all walks of life have come out against permitting visitors to the festival to be held on April 23 at the Vadakkunathan Temple.
The festival is a competition of sorts between two temples — Paramekkavu Bhagavathy temple and Thiruvambadi Sri Krishna temple — whose committees spend big money to prove their might in the courtyard of the Vadakkunathan Temple.
The administration had initially ordered that only those who have RT-PCR negative certificates and have had at least one vaccine shot would be allowed anywhere near the premises in the heart of the city. But in view of the precarious Covid situation in the state, the administration decided to allow entry only to those who have completed their two-dose vaccinations.
With the rising demand for cancelling the festival or limiting it to just rituals, state chief secretary V.P. Joy on Monday convened a medical review board to assess the risks of such a large gathering. A final decision would be taken on the board’s recommendation, said government sources.
The BJP had already slammed the district administration for “intolerance” and “false propaganda” against the festival.
“Some adamant officials, including the DMO (district medical officer), are unleashing false propaganda against Thrissur Pooram,” the party’s state spokesman Sandeep Varier said in a Facebook message.
Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress on Monday backed any move to have a rituals-only event. “There is nothing wrong in allowing the rituals, but we need to keep in mind the backdrop of Covid-19. Since the situation is very bad, we need to proceed by following all safety protocols based on a consensus after discussions with all sides.”
Spiritual leader Swami Sandeepananda Giri made a fervent appeal to the people to speak out against organising the festival. “I humbly request the people of Thrissur to make sure Kerala’s cultural capital wouldn’t become a city of funerals,” Giri, a critic of the Sangh parivar, wrote on Facebook.
Noted writer N.S. Madhavan was among those who demanded the festival to be scrapped since the state’s positivity rate is more than 17 per cent. “That’s dangerously high. Stop super-spreader gatherings like Thrissur Pooram.”
Kerala reported 13,644 fresh Covid cases on Monday from 87,275 samples tested over 24 hours, a positivity rate of 15.63 per cent. The state had reported 18, 257 cases on Sunday from 1,08,898 samples.