We arrived in Thrissur early to watch the jubilant minor elephant processions, but when we made for an early leave a very large crowd was forming and we couldn't justify missing the spectacle for which thousands were coming. We thought we'd take a seat on the curb and watch from the distance. We couldn't have been more wrong. A well intended police officer told us, "There's a place for you people." Then seeing my amusement at the term 'you people,' he meaningfully looked to his partner for the politically correct term. 'Tourist' was supplied. Anyways, we were directed to the only seats at the event, which were set on a red carpeted pavilion protected by guards right at the entrance to the temple, centre stage.
In reality the VIP box was mostly made of sweaty, poorly dressed white young tourists, but it also contained an impressive collection of what I can only assume is India's upper crust. We sat next to an elegant woman accompanied by three girlfriends. She was a devotee returning every year and was able to explain the events as they unfolded, namely 15 elephants walk down from the temple, 15 more follow, then they switch umbrellas, not with eachother but with a highly organized army of volunteers, in honor of the blue god, Krishna.
An hour later when the first decorated elephant came through the temple door there were easily a million people gathered. A path just wide enough for 15 elephants abreast was being held off by a thick rope supported a line of hand holding policemen dressed in adorable safari getups. They held there line well until the first set of elephants made their procession, but it was with a tumultuous riot-like atmosphere that the young men held back by the ropes gained ground, kicking up dust and cheering as the police retreated to protect only the ground immediately surrounding the elephants and our seats, of course.
Eventually 101 elephants and riders toss around brilliant ornamental umbrellas changing colours in a coordinated and seemingly arbitrary order to the sound of beating drums and traditional horns. Applause followed each exchange with extraordinary energy and the elephants remained cooperative with dancers on their backs, umbrellas on their heads, and photographers in their face. The colours of the
changing umbrellas, temple flowers, golden elephant masks, and Krishna statues were a feast for our point and shoot cam.