The government has said that people should have either taken both vaccine doses or should possess a negative COVID-19 certificate.

File image of Thrissur pooramFile image / PTI
Coronavirus COVID-19 Sunday, April 18, 2021 - 21:30

With just four days remaining for one of the largest gatherings in Kerala, the Thrissur Pooram, questions continue to be raised about the logic behind allowing the festival to be held amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Though the state government has imposed restrictions, many demand to know how effectively the restrictions can be implemented.

On Saturday, Kerala’s Health Minister KK Shailaja told the media that there will be no change in Thrissur Pooram and it will be conducted with restrictions. She said that permission for the same was given when the number of cases was trending downward.

“Many preparations have been made for the festival, so it is not possible to cancel it entirely. It will cause many problems. Clear instructions have been given to conduct it with caution which the Devaswom committee has been agreed to. Even those who test negative should still wear masks, apply sanitisers and keep as much distance as possible from each other,” the Health Minister said.

Thrissur Pooram is an annual temple festival held in the state every summer. It is the single largest Hindu festival in Kerala in terms of the scale of people attending the festivities.

The Pooram is a competition of sorts between two sides, with five temples on either side. They are led by the Parmekkavu Bhagavathi temple and the Thiruvambadi Sri Krishna temples. Every year since it’s inception, the festival is celebrated on the premises of the Vadakkunathan temple at the centre of Thrissur town.

In 2018, a report released by the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) projected a participation of over 10 lakh people that year from across the state. On average, the Pooram attracts over 2 million people from all 14 districts.

The year 2020 was the only time in the history of the state that the Thrissur Pooram was cancelled, following the nation wide lockdown due by Coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the second wave of the pandemic causes record high cases in Kerala, the state government is yet to call off the festivities this year, stating that cancelling the festival “will cause problems”.

As things stand, the rules say that only those who produce a negative COVID-19 certificate or those who have both vaccine doses can take part in the Thrissur Pooram. Those who meet the criteria can download passes for taking part in the Pooram from the ‘COVID-19 Jagratha’ portal by submitting either certificate. The passes can be downloaded from Monday onwards from the website.

The Thrissur District Administration has also issued guidelines specifying that protocols like physical distancing measures must be maintained and face masks should be compulsorily worn.

However, activists warn that holding the Thrissur Pooram will have disastrous consequences.

According to Thrissur-based animal rights activist and the Secretary of Heritage Animal Task Force VK Venkitachalam, it would be a herculean task to control the crowd from gathering to witness the festival.

“Usually over one lakh people assemble in 1.5 acres of land in the temple premises to witness the ‘kudamattam’ event alone in the Pooram. Even though restrictions say those with only passes will be allowed in, the problem is how it will be practically implemented,” says Venkitachalam.

The ground where people gather is not a closed space, and Venkitachalam points out that even if 3,000-4,000 police officials are deployed, how can they control the situation when a crowd of 10,000 people rush in.

“It is also to be noted that passes are required to enter the temple premises where the Pooram is held. But, people will throng the side roads and other arterial roads in the region from where they can watch the festival,” Venkitachalam adds.

He further said that even basic protocols such as physical distancing were not followed on Saturday when the Thrissur Pooram was officially inaugurated. In the visuals of ‘Kodiyettam’, a formal inauguration ceremony, scores of people could be seen standing close to each other, violating norms.

Watch visuals of Kodiyettam:

On Saturday, Thrissur district was among districts in the state which recorded over 1,000 cases in a single day. The state reported its highest single-day spike of 13,835 COVID-19 cases on Saturday.

The Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP), a scientific outfit in the state, has also asked the state government to conduct Thrissur Pooram as a ritual-only event without people’s participation, as it was done last year. 

“The situation is the same as last year’s. The government ought to have more stringently said people’s participation will not be allowed,” Muraleedharan AP, President of KSSP told TNM.

He added that the present situation shows how people view scientific knowledge and what the consequences of such a gathering could be. 

The Parishad has also said that the recently-held Kerala Assembly polls was one of the reasons for the rise in COVID-19 cases in the state again. “For one month in the run up to the polls, there had been massive gatherings, violating COVID-19 regulations. This is one of the major reasons for the present-day spike. The government should at least stop all kinds of gatherings now in the state,” KSSP said in a statement.

Muraleedharan also raised concerns on the effectiveness of COVID-19 protocol implementation. “Even in small gatherings like weddings and other events, we see widespread protocol violations. For events like Thrissur Pooram, such violations can be disastrous,” he said.

The Indian Medical Association has also said that the Pooram should be conducted with more restrictions.

"People should strictly adhere to COVID-19 protocol and the participants should be vaccinated. There are five people from five villages who are associated with rituals. Only those people should be allowed to participate in the festival in order to avoid a huge crowd," IMA Kerala Chapter state president Dr. PT Zacharias told TNM.

Dr Biju, noted filmmaker and District Medical Officer (Homeopathy) of Pathanamthitta, has also opposed conducting the festival.

“The election fete is over. Now, it is Kumbh Mela there..here it is Thrissur Pooram..What a beautiful place..Wonder in which era these people, administrators, politicians and festival lovers live..These are the real ‘viruses’. Coronavirus will bow down in front of them,” Dr Biju wrote on Facebook on Sunday. 

(With inputs from Saritha S Balan, Sreedevi Jayaraj)

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