Whiff of Onam on Atham today
Onam is here and today, the celebrations begin with Athaghosham. In the midst of our routine schedule, fortunately, we set apart some time for traditional activities. SREEKUMAR. V looks at the kind of celebration that Tripunithura has planned for today.
GIVING PREFERENCE to State or national festivals over the local one, even when that local one happens to be Tripunithura Athaghosham, is an unfortunate practice. Festivals with firm local roots should be encouraged, keeping an eye on its tourist potential. But to the people of Tripunithura, this is not so. The official apathy they receive during Atham days has yet to be rectified. This year also, the tale is not very different.
Ever since the festival was `democratised' there has been a clamour for allotment of government funds and for inclusion in the State's tourist calendar. From last year onwards the Tripunithura Municipality has given the festival a direct, commercial dimension. Apart from the regular footpath vendors who deal with products from the handicrafts and cottage sectors, a trade fair was organised. It did help add money to the kitty. "Last year we did not know much about the financial implications in allotting space for a trade fair. We bargained for something less than Rs.2 lakhs and got it. Later we knew that the event managers of the fair went back with a huge profit. This time we have asked for more," revealed one of the Municipal councillors. This year, as an added attraction, the organisers have arranged a boat ride from Elamana Boat Jetty to Kumarakom for a reasonable price.
The budget for this year's Athaghosham is Rs. 10 lakhs, which the organisers hope to raise through sponsors, donations, advertisement hoardings etc. It is a pity that till today the State Government has turned a blind eye to a festival that has such a lot of historic significance. This year, as an added attraction, the organisers have arranged a boat ride from Elamana Boat Jetty to Kumarakom.
"All these years we have managed to survive on the generous help of the public. The Municipality has set apart a sum of Rs. 50,000, while the State Government has, till last year only given us a pittance of Rs 25,000. And this year we have not got this too. Again, the tourist department has not accorded the status that this festival deserves," said K.K.Mohanan, Tripunithura Municipal Chairman.
The tourism department, however, disagrees with this allegation. "Athaghosham has always been a priority event for us. It has been included in our brochure on fairs and festivals. The Onam festivities or the tourism festival in Ernakulam district kicks off with this historic event. It is wrong to say that we have not included this in our calendar," countered an official of the tourism department.
Irrespective of all this the festival still has a unique significance. For it is a harbinger of Onam, a festival full of splendour and gaiety.
Traditionally linked to the erstwhile Cochin Royalty, Athachamayam, was supposed to be a reminder of those times when everything had a natural grand dimension and where unviable hierarchies amplified even the ordinary. It is this sociology that is worth remembering as its history. . There are many stories connected with this unique festival where both the king and the commoners converged, one in his full glory in royal garb and the other in plebeian obsequiousness.
According to one version, Athachamayam was a triumphant march of the Maharaja of Kochi, with or without military intent from Tripunithura, the then capital of the Cochin state, to the Vamana Temple at Thrikkakara. To many, it is unmistakably a military venture. To others it is an occasion to show off uninhibited regal pomp. But to quite a few, it is merely a celebration to herald Onam, the festival of peace and equity, remembering the days when everything was in abundance.
The Maharaja gave `darshan' to his innumerable citizens during this day. People from all walks of life, including the priest of the church of Karingachira, Champil Arayan, Nettoor Thangal would greet the king. Thus Athachamayam symbolised the secular tradition of this tiny kingdom, invoking the memories of those days when secularism was not a doctrine but a way of life.
With the attainment of Independence in 1947, the king and the kingdom went into oblivion and Athachamayam too retreated into the painless chambers of forgetfulness. The political hurricane that swept all Asia knocked down this royal march too, with the last monarch, sensing the flow of history, deliberately kept himself away from the festivities. Anyway, people's fondness for this carnival refused to die out and the people of Tripunithura took the initiative to revive this festival, not simply to recreate the past in its entirety but to trace the silken threads of historical continuity.
It was revived somewhere in the 1960s, without the King and only the people.
"Under the able leadership of T.K. Ramakrishnan, former minister, A.G. Raghava Menon and Raghava Shenoy, both persons having firm local roots, a committee was formed to ensure that the festival would be organised regularly," points out T. Raveendran, the General Convener of this year's Athaghosham Committee. And to this day this system prevails.
Till now, true to everyone's wish, Athaghosham finally merged to become part of Tripunithura's ethos, always attracting thousands of people. Last year almost two lakh people participated in various events connected with Athaghosham. Since the formation of Tripunithura Municipal Council in 1980, Athaghosham is conducted under its joint leadership. Thus the popular leadership overseeing this festival is complete. Indeed this festival, with its parallel in the boat race conducted annually at Aranmula, has come a long way from its heady royal days, neatly shedding its excessive royal trappings.
The procession held in connection with Athaghosham is famous and the highlight of the week-long festival. Art forms of ancient and modern times, with its rich tapestry of history and heritage, floats and folk dances add colour and substance to this procession. It might be repetitive with a certain fixed pattern that tends to be redundant. There are also competitions, variety entertainment programmes held as part of the festival.
Athaghosham is not a mere pageant, it is a unique experience, an event that lingers long in our memory.
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