The Singapore Pooram – United in culture, Diverse in celebrations

SIngapore Pooram 2023: Photos Rajeev Variyar

Pooram is an annual festival, which is celebrated in temples dedicated to goddesses Durga or Kali held especially in Valluvanadu area and other adjoining parts of north-central Kerala after the summer harvest.

Among all the Pooram’s, The Thrissur Pooram is an annual temple festival held in Thrissur, Kerala. It is held at the Vadakkunnathan (Shiva) Temple in Thrissur every year on the Pooram day—the day when the moon rises with the Pooram star in the Malayalam Calendar month of Medam.  In Singapore, The Singapore Pooram was held on 28th May, Sunday 2023, at The Meadows, Gardens by the Bay.  Incidentally the Pooram star was still in action in the Malayalam almanac though in its last phase in this month of Edavam.

The program started at 8:30 AM with the traditional “Thalappoli” – Thalappoli is a ritual ceremony performed as a vow in Hindu temples in Kerala, India. Decked in beautiful traditional clothes and Kerala ornaments, the women, mainly girls, line up with holding a thalam (a metal plate) in their hands filled with fresh paddy, flowers, rice, coconut (usually broken into two pieces), a lighted lamp and go around the temple with kurava (traditional form of sound), shouts and playing of instruments.  The Thalappoli lined up with the drummers in from t of the VIP waiting area, to welcome the Guests of Honor for the event and then onto the stage.  The event was graced and inaugurated by Mr. Vikram Nair (Member of Parliament – Singapore), Mr. Ramamurthy and Mr. Lee Hong Chuang.  After the inauguration mementos were handed over to the GOH and the man artists for the event were felicitated. There was a mega group song where 400 + enthusiasts participated and entered their names into the Singapore Books of Records for the largest Indian group singing with 405 participants.

No Pooram is complete without the elephants and drums and here in Singapore too, arrangements were made for two Elephants (Singapore Kesavan and Raffles Ramachandran) named after a gaming competition wherein 100’s of enthusiasts participated giving their best shot at naming the elephants.  The elephants on display were, mechanical elephants shipped from Thrissur, Kerala. 

The main highlight of the day was the ensemble of percussionist led by Padmashri Mr. Matannur Shankarankutty Marar.  The beats started with the Pancharimelam (Panchari Melam (or simply panchari), is one of the major forms of Chenda Melam (ethnic drum ensemble) and is the best-known and most popular in the kshetram vadyam (temple percussion) genre. Panchari Melam, comprising instruments like Chenda, Ilathalam, Kombu and Kuzhal, is performed during many temple festivals in central Kerala, where it is presented in arguably the most classical manner.  Panchari is a six-beat thaalam (taal) with equivalents like Roopakam in south Indian Carnatic music and Daadra in the northern Hindustani classical).  

Next in concert was the Panchavadyam, led by Mr. Chotanikkara Vijayan Marar.  Panchvadyam, literally meaning an orchestra of five instruments, is basically a temple art form that has evolved in Kerala. Of the five instruments, four- timila, maddalam, ilathalam and idakka — belong to the percussion category, while the fifth, kombu, is a wind instrument.  Panchavadyam bases itself on the seven-beat thripuda (also spelt thripuda) thaalam (taal) but amusingly sticks to the pattern of the eight-beat chempata thaalam — at least until its last parts. Its pendulum beats in the first stage (pathikaalam) total 896, and halves itself with each stage, making it 448 in the second, 224 in the third, 112 in the fourth and 56 in the fifth.

The third part of the concert Pandi Melam was again led by Padmashri Mr. Matannur Shankarankutty Marar.  Pandi melam isa classical percussion concert or melam (ensemble) led by the ethnic Kerala instrument called the chenda and accompanied by ilathalam (cymbals), kuzhal and kombu.  A full-length Pandi, a melam based on a thaalam (taal) with seven beats, lasts more than two-and-a-half hours, and is canonically performed outside temples. It has basically four stages, each of them with rhythmic cycles (thaalavattam) totalling 56, 28, 14 and seven respectively.

Towards the end of the day the event was graced by Ms. Indranee Rajah, second minister for finance, Singapore.  She as the Guest of Honor for the evening events and addressed the audience.  

Another highlight of the event was the Kodamattum – literally meaning changing umbrellas.  This is a key part of the Pooram where competitors mounted on elephants on either side display their colourful umbrellas as part of the celebrations.  

The  event was also represented by various diverse organisations presenting their celebrational twist with music and dance, but under a United cultural theme, thus making Singapore Pooram, vibrant and enjoyable.

Overall, the event was well conducted by The Singapore Pooram Committee, without any incidents or emergencies.  Though the weather was hot and humid it did not manage to lull down the enthusiasm from the crowd (around 10,000 +) throughout the day.  Arrangements were made with great planning, such as tented area with two stages for the various events to be conducted.  The mechanical elephants were placed in the open for everyone to have their photo opportunities with the grand mammals.  F&B stalls surrounded the ground in a semi-circle with a variety of eatables available throughout the day.

Last but not the least a big pat and kudos to the organizers and volunteers, who worked tirelessly for over couple of months to make this event a grand success.

Until the next Pooram….signing off from The Meadows…….Subu R Iyer.