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Kathakali is a very formal visual art which takes years of study to perform correctly. Here, a Kathakali actor prepares his make-up (which can take well over two hours) from all natural, handmade preparations just as they have done for hundreds of years. this was for a special festival performance at the palace of Nilambur in Kerala, a place largely overlooked by travellers.
This elephant was being fed and rested prior to a huge, night-time temple procession as part of Nilambur's Patutsav festival celebrations. Up to 40,000 people come to visit Nilambur for the festival. The procession takes place between two Hindu temples in an area of Nilambur that is sacred to Hindus - the old Royal Palace is also situated here; only hindus are permitted to live in the houses in this compound and visitors are required to be respectful and not eat meat whilst in this precinct. The elephant, whose name I sadly cannot recall, is also the star of numerous Mollywood (the Kerala equivalent of Bollywood) movies, and is in his mid-forties. All the elephants used for the procession, three this year, are males -introducing a female would allow certain urges to take over the proceedings and it would all be a lot less solemn than it is supposed to be. Feeding the elephants is fun too - getting a football sized ball of sticky, masala-spiced rice and pushing it elbow deep into the elephant's mouth is slightly nerve-wracking at first, but the elephants are gentle. They get about 12 kilos of rice, several bunches of bananas, whole pineapples, quarter kilo cakes of coconut jaggery (a non-processed sugar), mangoes, etc. as well as feeding all day long on greenery from palms, etc. It's no longer legal to catch wild elephants, and most of those that were caught from the wild are now in the care of temples who rely on donations for their care.
I attended my friend Sumi's wedding in Nilambur this year. The Hindu wedding takes place on a stage at the front of a huge hall which is filled completely. Much payasam is consumed, fed to each of the happy couple by numerous family members as a blessing, amongst many other rituals to seal their marital bond. The stage is also rammed with photographers and videographers galore, all with studio flash setups and what looked like builders lamps for the videographers, which between them meant that the thousands of people watching in the hall didn't see all that much - they were highly intrusive, but all normal procedure it would seem. These coconut oil lamps that ran across the whole of the front of the stage provided an element of serenity to the proceedings. After the ceremony, the guests from the hall are allowed into the dining area - everyone is fed a traditional meal called Sadya, a variety of vegetarian preparations with rice, papadums, savouryu dried banan chips, salt-filled dried chillies, yoghurt, rasam (a type of soup), and payasam for dessert. It's delicious, and a favourite of most Hindus in the area, but I wasn't prepared for the cattle run when the door was opened, middle-aged women in beautiful saris who normally carry themselves with such stately calm were pushing others out of the way and climbing over each other to get through the door and get a good seat, and with about a thousand per sitting, you can imagine how that goes. I tried to get a shot, but was barged out of the way by the aforementioned ladies before I could get a shot I was happy with. I prefer to remember the calmer moments anyway.
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