Cochin Carnival : A Rousing Welcome To The New Year

Kochites welcome every New Year in a special way and January 1st marks the culmination of the weeklong Cochin Carnival’s festivities every year. This is a red lettered day for all Fort Kochites. As I had the day off,I had decided to make it to the Cochin Carnival this year. But unfortunately, some other things cropped up at Thrissur on the very day and it concluded only by around noon. All I had in my mind after that, was to get to Veli Ground at Fort Cochin where the Cochin Carnival procession would begin. I started feeling restless as I had an inkling that I would be late for the show. However I tried to keep calm and drove well within the allowed maximum speed limits through the heavily packed traffic from Thrissur till Fort Cochin. During the drive, it crossed my mind that I had never really known how this carnival originated, and the reason behind this celebration. I was sure that there would be a beautiful story for this grand event. 

Cochin Carnival, is a feeling and a celebration, held annually during the last week of December at Fort Cochin, and finally it ends on 1st January. The Carnival is also a cultural reflection of the rich heritage of Cochin. The Carnival is in continuation of the Portuguese culture. The Portuguese ruled Cochin during the colonial era between 1503 and 1663. They used to celebrate and welcome the new year with huge parties and fiestas. Even after the Portuguese left, this tradition continued.However after a few decades it faded away.Then in the year 1984, this tradition had a revival.A few youngsters from Cochin reinitiated the celebration during the year 1984 by organising a beach festival party which was supported by other 150+ youth groups. Since then there has been no looking back and the Carnival has just got bigger and bigger year on year. Both tourists and locals await these celebrations.

The inauguration is usually held at Vasco da Gama Square. One of the most awaited event of this carnival is the massive procession on New Year's day. The procession is an amalgamation of different cultures which in itself reflects the soul of Fort Kochi. The Ideology behind this mega event is to promote peace, highlight social issues, and also to promote an array of activities like bike race, beach football, boxing, cycling, swimming and the like. Even cultural shows, food festivals, and so forth are held as part of this carnival celebration. Another attractive event conducted as a part of the Carnival, is burning down the Pappanji. A giant Pappanji (which is a Portuguese word for an old man) is installed at the ground and the same is torched at the stroke of midnight on 31st December every year. This makes the carnival even more fascinating. This signifies burning down the ills of the year gone by and initiating a brand new year with high hopes. 

I was fortunate enough to reach the Veli Ground by around 3:00 PM IST, from where the procession would start every year. While waiting I could see that the empty roads were slowly being occupied by people, both locals and tourists. Slowly few of the participants also began showing up in their flamboyant costumes. I immediately pulled out my Sony A7M3 with Zeiss Batis 25mm f2 lens and set off to capture as many vibrant frames as I could . I had challenged myself to shoot the entire carnival procession with a single lens and that too with 25mm focal length. There were numerous photographers like me trying to capture this amazing event. Most of them were amused to see that I was using only a single lens throughout event. They were asking if I was crazy to cover such a wonderful event with only one lens, and that too a wide one. I loved this combination as the camera body + lens is light enough to carry around without any hassle. It also saved me from the otherwise unavoidable shoulder and arm aches that are usually aftermaths of long hours of shoot. 

The vibrant colours were a pleasure to my eyes and there were upteen number of fun moments to catch up with. That is when I saw Narada talking over the Mobile phone enquiring whether his friends would join him soon. I began to wonder whether his friends were Lord Siva, Vishnu, Indra, Agnidev, Vayudev and the innumerable gods in Hindhu mythology.
This is when a poor begger approached me asking if I had a few coins to spare. I almost reached for my pockets and thats when it struck me that he was yet another participant. The details of his makeup and clothing were so perfect that my mind was just allowing me to accept that he was a participant. Finally seeing my disbelief, he pulled out his participation number card. He was literally in seventh heaven when he realized that his makeup and costumes were perfect and realistic. A few minutes later, there were a lot of participants who walked in, and it was an interesting sight to see them interacting with the crowd. Loud music blared in the background and a small group of youngsters went by dancing along with the participants. They were enjoying every moment of the event.

As the steady stream of contestants and floats began, so did the spectators, crowding sidewalks and even the roads. It soon became extremely difficult to manage the crowd and The Cochin Carnival delegates were trying hard to get the roads cleared for the participants to move on. That's when the Kerala Police team jumped in along with these delegates and made way for the procession to continue uninterrupted.

Meanwhile, imaginations were running wild. Kayamkulam Kochunni with his highwayman Ithikkara Pakki joined the procession. They were bragging about their loots and escapades and threatening the invaders. I was impressed by the detail of the costumes and makeup. They enacted the folklore stories so well that they appeared real. To my amusement, it was not just our local heroes who made it to the Cochin Carnival, even Captain Jack Sparrow was there with his story.

Veli Ground soon turned out to be a battleground as the trending PUBG squad came in. They were challenging for the last man standing. All fun aside,there were a number of floats that send out strong social messages too. This included subjects like alcohol and drug abuse amongst youngsters and the effect it has on their families, water conservation and the like.

The Cochin Carnival with all its extravaganza makes Kerala one of the most ideal destinations to celebrate New Year. During the months of December – January the climate is ideal for sightseeing with hardly any rains and with an average temperature of around 28C. It is also better to book hotels and resorts well in advance for your New Year in Kerala as there are chances for the rates to skyrocket during the peak season. Also Fort Kochi is peppered with a large number of decent homestays, which can also be tried.

How to reach Fort Cochin:

1. By Road: Cochin is well connected by road, from all the major cities. By private cars, you could drive from the city to thoppumpadi bridge and from there to fort cochin. You could also get car rentals, like ZoomCar or online taxi services like Uber, Ola etc. By Bus you could avail the transport services provided by KSRTC as well as the private bus services in and around Cochin city. 

2. By Rail: Ernakulam South Railway station is the nearest to fort cochin. You could easily get around in and around city as well as to Fort cochin once you reach there by Road. 

3. By Air: Cochin International Airport, approximately 30 km from Ernakulam City Centre. You could easily get flights across the country and globe. From there you could travel by Road.

4. By Boat: Cochin has a very excellent system of transport via boat. There you could even make use of Ro-Ro ( Roll on and Roll off ) ferry services. 

Things to see around at Fort Cochin: 
1. Chinese Fishing Nets (Cheenavala) and Fort Kochi BeachFort Kochi 
2. Santacruz BasilicaCathedral Grounds, Fort Kochi
3. St. Francis ChurchChurch Rd, Fort Kochi 
4. David HallParade Grounds East, Fort Kochi
5. Bastion BungalowFort Kochi
6. Dutch Palace (Mattancherry Kottaram), Palace Rd, Mattancherry
7. Jew Street and Paradesi SynagogueJew Town, Mattancherry

*All the pictures were taken using Sony A7M3 and Zeiss Batis 25mm f2.0 lens.

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Rahul Devakumar
Creative Media Studio

We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.


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