Bonny Thomas, the artist who designed Pappanji this year, tells TNM about the history of the unique tradition of Kochi.

Kochis iconic giant Pappanji is getting ready for New Year celebrationsPappanji of 2018 / Courtesy: Kochi Muziris Biennale
news Human Interest Wednesday, December 25, 2019 - 15:38

Cochin Carnival, the largest New Year celebration in Kerala, is underway in Kochi. And the iconic giant ‘Pappanji’, an integral part of the Carnival celebrations, is being built at the Parade Ground in Fort Kochi. The effigy of an old man, 'Pappanji' is burned down on the midnight of December 31 taking the festivities to its epitome.

‘Pappanji’, which in Portuguese means grandfather, is an effigy of an old man wearing a suit and with a long beard. The tradition has its roots in the colonial history of Fort Kochi and it has a history longer than the inception of Cochin Carnival itself.

Thousands flock to Fort Kochi on the night of December 31 to witness the burning of Pappanji, a tradition unique to Kochi. According to the local belief, Pappanji’s burning symbolises waving goodbye to the past year and welcoming the New Year.

The almost three week long Cochin Carnival celebrations which started on December 8, will conclude on January 1 with the famous Carnival rally.

Speaking to TNM, Bonny Thomas, the artist and writer who is designing and constructing Pappanji this year, tells us how this tradition of burning Pappanji came into being and became a part of the Carnival celebrations.

“This tradition was passed onto Kochi from the Portuguese people who were the earlier colonisers here. Pappanji in Portuguese means grandfather, and it was their tradition to make effigies and burn it on the midnight of December 31. People used to make small effigies of Pappanji in the past, but it became an iconic event as we see now after Cochin Carnival made this custom as part of their official celebration,” tells Bonny Thomas.

Cochin Carnival was started in 1985 by a group of youngsters in Kochi back then. The event was started following a beach fest held as part of the United Nations’ ‘Youth Year’ celebrations.

“From then on, one giant Pappanji is made at the Fort Kochi beach by the Carnival organisers. It has continued since then. It was after the inception of Kochi Muziris Biennale in 2012, that artists began to take over the creation of Pappanji,” says Bonny, who is part of the founding team of Kochi Muziris Biennale.

According to him, partnering with Biennale, further made the unique event famous in other countries.

56-year-old Bonny, a native of Kochi, had been designing the model of Pappanji for the past three years.

“With artists getting involved in designing Pappanji, the models started to get more creative but this was not widely accepted by the public. The people have a traditional notion of how Pappanji should look, though each year it will be different. That is how the Carnival committee decided to handover its design to me,” says Bonny.

This year children to get a hand in making Pappanji

To incorporate local participation in making Pappanji, Bonny has decided to conduct a workshop for children on making Pappanji.

“They will be taught how to make decoratives with papers which can be incorporated to make Pappanji,” says Bonny.

This year’s Pappanji will be about 40 feet high and the model has been fixed. Bonny and his team have completed constructing the base for the effigy.

Model of Pappanji for the year

Though traditionally, Pappanji used to be fixed at Fort Kochi Beach, for the past few years, the event has been shifted to  the Parade Ground as the beach has been shrunk.

With green protocols being declared by District Collector for Cochin Carnival celebrations, Pappanji will also be made with eco-friendly materials. “Its base is made of metal so that it doesn’t fall off while burning. Sack, clothes, straw and coconut fibre will be used to make the effigy. Light crackers will also be embedded,” says Bonny.

Music shows, various competitions and other cultural programmes are also being conducted in Fort Kochi as part of the Carnival Celebrations.

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