Culture of ThiruvananthapuramThiruvananthapuram is the cultural capital of Kerala and was a centre of the arts and literature during the rule of the maharajas of Travancore. It retains its cultural preeminence even today with many festivals of the arts, film festivals and traditional festivals which are celebrated with enthusiasm all over the city.
Many traditions started during the Travancore days continue today, not least those associated with the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Aarat of Padmanabhaswamy Temple is another festival which is significant in Thiruvananthapuram.
Communal Harmony in Thiruvananthapuram
The city is home to followers of all major religions in India and they follow their respective cultural traditions. The city is dotted with many temples and people visit their favourite one on festival days. The Palayam Juma Masjid is the largest mosque in the city. Built in 1813, it is also known as Palayampalli and has a Martyr’s Column, dedicated to freedom fighters, in front. It is next door to a temple and church, together symbolising communal harmony in the city. Churches in Thiruvananthapuram include St. Joseph’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Mateer memorial Church, CSI Christ Church and Life Fellowship Church.
Thiruvananthapuram is a centre for Malayalam literature and men of letters who have graced the city with their presence include Ayyipillai Asan during the 15 century, Unnayi Variyar during the 17the century, Kunchan Nambiar during the 17th century, Valliakoi Thampuran during the 19th century and C V Raman Pillai during the 20th century. Kuaran Asan, the celebrated poet, transformed Malayalam poetry and lived in the city in the early years of the 20th century. The Kovalam Literary Festival held every October and the Hays Literary Festival draws litterateurs and literature aficionados from all over the country and abroad.
Maharaja Swathi Thirunal was himself a composer and greatly enriched Carnatic music with his compositions many of which are still played today in the city. They include deva deva kalayamite and kamala nayana jagadlswara. The Swati Sangeethotsavan is held every year in his honour at the Kuthira Mallika Palace and is exclusively devoted to his compositions. The Swati Thirunal College of Music makes sure the great composer’s legacy endures and is carried forward.
The Kanakakkunnu Palace is where many cultural performances take place in Thiruvananthapuram. The Nishagandhi Dance Festival, which showcases classical Indian dance, is held here every year in January and organised by the Tourism Development Corporation. Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam are the most popular classical dances in the city today. The International Film Festival of Kerala is held every November/December exposing film buffs to the best films from all over the world.
While the city is modernizing, one cannot fail to notice the that many traditional elements of Keralan culture which have been passed down from generations continue to be present. From temple elephants swaggering down a street to traditionally dressed women and men as well as people eating off banana leaves, the sights are many and often found only in this part of the country.
Festivals in Thiruvananthapuram
Thiruvananthapuram acquires an air of gaiety during the festival season. The main festivals celebrated in Thiruvananthapuram are Onam, Vishu and Attukal Pongala. Usually celebrated in August-September, Onam marks one of the most important days in the calendar. It celebrates the return of the mythical Mahabali after he was banished from his kingdom by Vishnu. The day is full of ritual symbolism with a grand feast or Onamsadya holding centre stage. Floral designs decorate the threshold in every home and families gather together from far and near to celebrate. Dances and dramas punctuate the 10 days of celebration. Vishu is a harvest festival that heralds the traditional New Year in Kerala and is usually celebrated in April. Various rituals, an elaborate feast and fireworks form part of the festivities. Importance is given to an arrangement of auspicious articles as part of Vishukanni or the very first thing one sees after waking up on that day. Attukal Pongala is celebrated by devotees of the Goddess Bhagavathy in February every year. Thousands of women gather near the Attukal Bhagavathi Temple early in the morning and prepare an offering made out of rice, jaggery, coconut and banana.
Delicious food is an integral part of every festival here and Keralan cuisine boasts of many unique dishes. Of course, in the land of spices, they are flavoured with a variety of spices. A traditional banana leaf spread or sadya comes with rice served with a variety of spicy coconut curries including aviyal, different thorans and olans, pachidi, and finally payasam to round off the meal.
While secure in its own classical traditions, Thiruvananthapuram also keeps a door open for other cultures of the world. The city is home to a Russian Cultural Centre, an Alliance Francaise and a Goethe Institute and regularly receive cultural ambassadors from those countries.