Strict directives by forest department leave Thrissur pooram organisers in a tough spot

A circular issued by forest officials on April 11 directed the organisers of Pooram that fireworks, presence of pole-mounted fire (Theevetti), and percussion ensemble should not be allowed within 50 m of the elephants during the parade.
Image of Thrissur pooram used for representational purposes.
Image of Thrissur pooram used for representational purposes.

THRISSUR : As the pooram ceremonies began with the hoisting of festival flags on Saturday, a circular issued by the forest department has landed the organisers of the world-famous event in a spot.

The circular issued by D Jayaprasad, Principal Chief Forest Conservator and Chief Wildlife Warden, on April 11 directed the organisers of Pooram that fireworks, presence of pole-mounted fire (Theevetti), and percussion ensemble should not be allowed within 50 m of the elephants during parade. The circular also banned the use of capture belt and iron ankush by unauthorised elephant squad members.

Other instructions in the circular include examination of elephants about 12 hours ahead of the parade by a team of veterinary doctors, ensuring proper care for elephants during parade like supply of water, juicy fruits like watermelon etc., insurance for elephants, mahouts and the crowd if more than five elephants are paraded and keeping a distance of 3m between elephants during the parade.

The circular has invited sharp responses from the Elephant Owners’ Federation. They have threatened not to provide elephants for the pooram, if the forest department does not withdraw the circular which imposes strict restrictions on elephant parade during festivals.

Gireeshkumar, of Thiruvambady devaswom, said: “If percussion is allowed only 50 m away from the elephant parade, it will create a situation wherein the elephants will be standing in Thekkinkadu Maidan while the percussionists will have to perform from Swaraj Round. How can we conduct the festival with such instructions? As the organisers of the festival, we request those who issue such directions to at least visit the Thrissur Pooram venue once and then make such directions.”

Kerala Elephant Owners’ Federation also called the circular absurd as it contains instructions that are impractical. “Issuing such instructions that are difficult to practise can only be considered as an attempt to sabotage the festivals in Kerala including Thrissur Pooram,” said K Mahesh of Kerala Elephant Owners’ Federation.

The federation said that elephants wouldn’t be provided for rituals of Thrissur Pooram from April 16 if the circular is not withdrawn. “After months of hard work, we are here welcoming the pooram of the year. But what the forest department is doing now is dampening our spirits. Isn’t the government supposed to stand with us to organise the festival which is a symbol of religious harmony?” asked a festival fan.

Ministers hold talks, decide to withdraw the directive

As the uncertainty continued, Devaswom Minister K Radhakrishnan and Revenue Minister K Rajan held discussions with Forest Minister A K Saseendran. Following the talks, it was decided to withdraw the order. Since it was a public holiday on Saturday, an official order could not be issued, said sources.

A High Court order issued on April 12 has directed the authorities to follow the instructions in the circular issued by CCF while organising festivals, including Thrissur Pooram. The court also instructed Thrissur Pooram organisers to submit the fitness certificate of all elephants which are to be paraded in the festival by April 16 to it. “We don’t know what we will do about the direction as it is totally impractical. It is only for Thrissur Pooram that two teams of 25 experts, including forest, veterinary and police officers, examine the elephants to be paraded. No other festivals have such large arrangements taking public safety into account,” said Rajesh G, secretary, Paramekkavu Devaswom.

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