If wanderlust is hereditary, then Sandeep definitely got his from Amma (his mom). She’s always up for any experience. She’s an wonderful travel companion and we invited her to spend time with us in Chiang Mai, Penang and Kuala Lumpur. In each place, she appreciate the local festivals but always added, “You should come see our church festivals in Kerala. They are soooo amazing.” Given her enthusiasm, we stayed in Kottayam long enough to participate in the largest local church festival, the Lourdes Church Perunal.
December to March is a festive season in Kerala. It’s the harvest season and the weather is at its best. Moods are up and festivities abound. Many churches in Kerala host perunal around this time to celebrate their faith.
Similar celebrations are held at Hindu temples and mosques. The roots of the perunal likely come from Hinduism, where it was tradition to host temple festivals and parade the temple idols to the river for a ritual bathing. Idols were protected with umbrellas, to symbolically mark their importance and protect them from the elements. Christians adopted the custom with their own figures.
Today, church perunals involve the parish marching from the church to the “mini church” and back, holding umbrellas over their heads, carrying statues, harboring candles and playing music. Every church, temple and mosque in Kerala has an outpost (I refer to it as the mini church), usually on the roadside. It offers an accessible and quick way for followers to pray and give offerings. For the Lourdes Church Perunal the round trip takes about two hours. When the procession returns to the church it is greeted with a fireworks display. The Lourdes procession is one of the largest in Kerala, and I estimated there were at least a thousand participants. Everyone, young and old, filed in two neat rows, steadily supporting their umbrellas or holding their candles. Every few minutes, a drumming troop or statue would be sandwiched in between the rows. It’s the first time I have seen so many Indians behave in such an orderly manner.
The kids aren’t particularly fond of fireworks. “Too loud!” says Ava. “No like thunderstones,” protests Kayan. So we opted to just attend the processional. Parishenors of all ages participated, along with nuns and priests. Even non Christians who believe in the particular power of the church, in this case the miracle of Our Lady of Lourdes.
After two hours of drumming and festive color, the umbrellas were neatly folded and stacked at the church, patiently awaiting next year’s festivities.
We left before the fireworks, but the display was quite large and we caught a few bursts over the coconut trees on our way home. Amma was right, it was soooo amazing.