Cochin Carnival: Pappanji burns, New Year dawns


At the stroke of midnight on December 31, fireworks lit up the sky over Fort Kochi as elsewhere. But, unique to the coastal heritage town, the celebrations travelled back in time.

A dapper, elderly fictional character, fondly called Pappanji, was burnt in effigy in a custom that traces its roots to the Portuguese legacy of the town. The burning of Pappanji, the figure distinctively designed each year by artists of renown, marks the culmination of the Cochin Carnival, which runs over a week and is a huge draw among the youth. This year’s designer was Bonny Thomas, a Kochi Biennale trustee, and over a lakh people watched the burning on the historical Parade Ground of the beach town.

The carnival features art forms of ethnic and cultural variety, adventure sports, traditional games, sports contests and music as varied as folk, rock and pop. It is only natural that the multicultural and multi-ethnic Fort Kochi is home to the carnival, which is governed by a committee of local administration officials and representatives of people’s forums. The Kochi Biennale Foundation, which organises the Kochi Muziris Biennale with Fort Kochi as its nerve centre, too is involved. This time, the foundation supported a New Year’s eve rock concert.

The carnival began in 1985, to mark the signing of a UN proclamation declaring the International Youth Year. It turned into an annual celebration, closing with a multicultural parade featuring tableaux and art forms every January 1. Though battered by Cyclone Ockhi, west Kochi bounced back to celebrate with programmes such as a wrestling championship, Kalaripayattu, a beach motorbike race and double kayaking. There were the usual theatre shows, plays and folk and film music. Vigorous crowds were in attendance.

Thirty-three years after its inception, the carnival continues to fire the imagination of both young and old. It has grown bigger, better, more creative and vibrant and even more participatory with each passing year.

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