A highlight of any trip to Kerala is the chance to experience its extraordinary festivals, staged at temples across the state throughout the winter months. Spectacular elephant parades are a prominent feature of most of them. Up to 13 tuskers, draped in gold caparisons, stand in ranks in the courtyard surrounding the main shrine, each with a team of three bare-chested Brahmin boys on their backs performing routines with peacock-feather fans, yak-tail whisks and colourful silk parasols (symbols of divinity).
Facing the phalanx will always be a troupe of ear-splitting chenda melam drummers and traditional trumpet players, who accompany the pachyderms as they move in stately, highly choreographed processions around the temple. The music builds to a crescendo when the parade completes its circuit and the largest elephant carrying the deity stands directly in front of the shrine. Performances of lamp-lit Kathakali, devotional music and other, still more ancient, theatre forms are held in the temple precincts afterwards – a wonderful opportunity to experience Keralan ritual in its authentic context.