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Above: Displaying of fireworks is an integral part of the festival which is held at the famous Vadakkunnathan temple in Thrissur/Photos: keralaphotos.in

In a big relief to the organisers of the 221-year-old Pooram festival, the apex court has allowed the display of fireworks

By NV Ravindranathan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram

Displaying of fireworks has been an integral part of the celebrations of the festival. Hence we see no reason why the festivities should be suspended.”

These words from a three-member bench of the Supreme Court on April 12, allowing two temples in Kerala’s Thrissur to display fireworks during the famous Pooram festival came as music to the ears of millions of enthusiasts from around the world. The festival has been celebrated with pomp and pageantry for over 220 years. The managing boards of the two temples—Thiruvambadi and Paramekkavu—had filed a petition before the apex court, seeking an exemption from the Court’s October 2018 judgment to allow for the traditional display of fireworks during the Pooram festival. In that judgment, the Court had said that only less polluting “green” firecrackers can be sold in the market and, that too, only through licensed traders. The Court had also imposed restrictions on the timing of bursting of crackers during festivals like Diwali and Pooram.

In an interim order, the bench comprising Justices SA Bobde, Mohan M Shantanagouder and Indira Banerjee allowed the Thiruvambadi and Paramekkavu Devaswoms in Thrissur to display fireworks during the Pooram festival being held at the famous Vadakkunnathan temple.

The annual festival, celebrated since 1798, will take place between May 7-14 this year. The Court directed the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) to grant the approval for fireworks within three days from the date on which the temples moved the application. While decreeing that all usual customs may be observed, the Court made it clear that the organisers must ensure that barium is not used in the fireworks. The bench noted that the temples get the fireworks manufactured through their own licensees. The Court added: “They may do so subject to the written approval to be granted by the PESO recording the new formulation that can be used in the firecrackers.” The Court, however, cautioned the temple boards and said they must take care that the fireworks manufactured for the festivities are used and retained by them and do not find their way into the market. The fireworks will be displayed according to the usual customs of the temples, the bench said.

In its judgment delivered in October last year, the Supreme Court had said that only less polluting “green” crackers can be sold, that too only through licensed traders. The Court had banned the online sale of firecrackers and restrained e-commerce websites from carrying out such sales. It had also fixed the duration for bursting of crackers. On Diwali and other religious festivals, bursting of crackers is allowed between 8 pm to 10 pm. On Christmas and New Year’s Eve, it will be allowed only between 11.45 pm to 12.45 am. The Court also said that crackers can be burst only in designated areas.

On the prayer made on behalf of the fireworks manufacturers to permit manufacture of fireworks with a barium substitute, i.e. barium nitrate, the Court said it was not inclined to allow it at this stage as the matter is still under consideration of PESO which has agreed to look into the best formulation that may be permissible for the manufacture of firecrackers.

Over the past several years, the Pooram festival has been running into trouble as vested interests have, time and again, intervened to suspend the festival, citing various reasons. As the Pooram festival sees the participation of nearly two million people, it is the most widely celebrated festival in central Kerala. It is noted for the unparalleled beauty of the percussion ensemble and the spectacular parade of the caparisoned elephants and the Kudamattom ritual—a rhythmic changing of the ornamental umbrellas giving shade to the deities mounted on the elephants. It attracts several domestic and foreign tourists as well. It is at the culmination of the event that the display of fireworks is held, and thousands throng the Vadakkunnathan temple premises and its surrounding areas spread over 10 square kilometres to indulge in the festivities and savour each exquisite moment of the cultural bonanza.

As the temple procession and the parading of elephants are integral to the Pooram festival, efforts by vested interests to get the Court to ban the event did not succeed. While it is a fact that several elephants are subjected to untold suffering in the name of parading them in temple festivals, the Pooram organisers have been credited for giving maximum possible care and attention to the jumbos.

After the “elephant lovers’” attempts to rob the Pooram of its charm failed, some self–styled environmentalists entered the scene to move the Court, citing various violations in the display of fireworks. They cited instances of fireworks organisers committing serious lapses, leading to fire accidents. The fireworks display during the festival is carried out as a competition between the Thiruvambadi and Paramekkavu temple boards and, as such, the contractors are known to indulge in unfair means to generate more sound and glitter, often putting human lives at risk. In spite of all such negative elements associated with the event, the festival has been an exemplary model of communal harmony.

“As Thrissur shares the composite culture of people living in complete harmony and peace, they join wholeheartedly to make the event a huge success. In fact, Thrissur Pooram is the most spectacular cultural festival on the planet. Still some vested interests want it to be stopped,” said Professor M Madhavankutty, secretary of the Thiruvambadi Devaswom. He added that this festival sees a lot of cross-religious participation that is responsible for the communal harmony that Kerala is known for.

As the Pooram festival involves the year-long labour of thousands of people, it helps to generate employment and boosts the purchase of consumer goods in and around Thrissur, resulting in high-value economic activity. As the business community around Thrissur predominantly constitutes Christians and Muslims, the Pooram festival gets the full backing of the business community. “Ultimately this coexistence of different communities and people belonging to different economic strata adds to the unifying character of Pooram,” said Rajesh, secretary of the rival Paramekkavu Devaswom.

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