If there’s one thing that South India has more than plenty of, it’s temples. In keeping with that, Kerala is no stranger to spiritual shrines. With a wide array of festivals and fairs being held at these temples, they are an integral part of South India’s culture. There are endless customs, rites and rituals that are central to these festivals, as well.
Two of the most widely known rituals in Kerala are Pallivetta, which means the Royal Hunt, and Aarattu, which means the Holy Bath. The Aarattu Festival is of special significance in Kerala, at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, located in Trivandrum.
First, a bit of history
The Aarattu Festival is more of a ritual rather than a festival, which is linked to temples in Kerala. Ever since these festivals have been celebrated, the ritual has been observed. However, since time immemorial, the Aarattu ritual has been observed with a great deal of ceremony and importance, due to which it has almost become a festival in itself. Therefore, unlike other parts of the South, the Aarattu Festival is a bigger deal in Trivandrum.
The festival itself
The Aarattu Festival at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple is unique, in the sense that it is the one of the few temples that celebrates the ritual as an actual festival, but also in the sense that when the idols of the temple are taken for the holy bath itself, the head of the royal family of the erstwhile state of Tranvancore accompanies the entourage. As for the holy bath, the idols are taken to Shankumugham Beach, where they are purified in the sea. The entire spectacle is a sight to behold, as a grand procession is led from the temple to the sea.
Another temple where the Aarattu festival is celebrated is at the Sree Krishnaswamy Temple, in Ambalapuzha. While it does not match the pomp and brilliance of the celebrations at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, it still is a sight to remember. Here, the festival kicks off with a flag-hoisting ceremony, after which the idol is traditionally bathed and purified. Another distinguishing feature of the festival here is that a sweet preparation, Ambalapuzha Palpayasam, is offered to the lord.
When should I visit?
The Aarattu Festival is celebrated not once, but twice every year – once in the months of October and November, and again in the months of March and April. During both times, the festival is a ten-day affair. This is particularly convenient, as you can avoid the heat during March and April, and choose to visit during October and November, when it’s relatively cooler. Just remember to check dates beforehand!
When you’re here, you can book one of many hotels in Trivandrum, and choose to stay for just one day, or stay the full ten days that the festival goes on, and experience the brilliance of it all. Getting there is easy, especially if you’re in Trivandrum, as the temple is well-known by locals.