The islands off mainland Kochi celebrate New Year’s in local colour and customs

Life Style

The staging of ‘Ploripees in the Palace Garden’ by a group of 50 women will be the highlight of the New Year festivities on the island of Gothuruth. An act in the famous drama, Karalman Charitham (the story of Emperor Charlemagne), rendered in the 16th Century Latin Christian folk art, Chavittunadakam, it will be a maiden performance by women.

One of the main islands off Kochi’s 30-kilometre coastline, Gothuruth hosts a two-day year-end festival that culminates in a carnival. Conducted by the Muziris Society, the festival will have day-long programmes including boating on the Periyar, art exhibitions, bike races and folk dances such as kolkali and duffmuttu.

The celebrations will end with a carnival procession from Holy Cross Church to Saint Sebastian Church, the two main churches on the island. “Men with painted faces will walk on stilts,” says Doniya Johnson, a resident, who is coordinating the women for the Ploripees… play. “It is going to be a memorable night for us,” she says. “We have teachers, Kudumbashree workers and politicians in the group. Though girls learn Chavittunadakam in school, they seldom take to the stage in adulthood. The oldest woman in the group is 68-year-old Gracy Josy and the youngest is a class 10 student.”

Women practise Ploripees in the Palace Garden, an act from the Chavittunadakam play Karalman Charitham, as part of the year-end Gothurth Festival
| Photo Credit:
Sholy Stanly Puthezhath


While the year end carnival in Fort Kochi is a well-known celebration that draws crowds from all over Ernakulam
Kochi too have similar celebrations to mark the end of the year. In the past five to six years, the beaches from Puthuvype till Cherai have seen an increase in revellers, says Vypeen-based journalist Sojan Valooran. The Vypeen coast has about nine beaches, including Kuzhipilli Puthuvyppu, Valappu, Malippuram Njarakkal Pallipuram Munambam to name a few.

“All these wear a festive look towards the end of the year, with people, music performances and even pappanji
burnings on New Year’s Day,” he adds. Unlike those in Fort Kochi, the festivities on many of these islands reflect their authentic inherent lifestyle and culture. Their celebrations are unique and are steeped in perpetuate local tradition. This year, look forward to house parties, sing song nights, carolling and beach gatherings. 

Cherai Beach Festival

Cherai Beach Festival
| Photo Credit:
Anoop KS

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Vypeen Island

Across the channel from Fort Kochi lies the 27 kilometre-long Vypeen Island. Part of a chain of islets, Vypeen is now connected to the mainland by the Goshree Bridge, built in 2003. Last year the Vypeen Folkore festival was held to promote graffiti art. It included cultural programmes and a beach festival.

Sarath Menon, a GP and the founder of the Vypeen Music festival, says this year the celebrations are going to be restricted to house parties. “ After the Tsunami, a new sand bank was formed near the coastline. Locals began calling it New Zealand and we have the celebrations on it. Youngsters throng the beach, there’s music and general partying.”

Sarath adds that the Vypeen carnival on the lines of the Cochin Carnival in Fort Kochi includes a procession of people dressed in fantasy costumes, lots of music and dance.


Men with painted faces at the Vypeen Carnival

Men with painted faces at the Vypeen Carnival

The Goshree Bridge also connects Mulavakadu to the mainland. Known more famously as Bolghatty island, Mulavakadu is also known for its wealth of mangroves. “The island is about 3.4 miles long and has only one main road,” says historian and artist Boney Thomas, who grew up on the island at Ponjikkara. His childhood memory of Ponjikkara is of a place where only bicycles plied. “We used to go to the mainland by boats — machuas or vanjis.”

From what Boney recalls, not much has changed as far as year-end celebrations go. The only change is the replacement of handmade decorations with readymade ones. “We had the akaasha vilakku or sky lantern to announce the arrival of Christmas. There were no stars made till the late 80s,” says Boney.

Peter Vincent, a retired government official and resident of the island, says: “Groups gof young carol singers go door to door, performing and singing in colloquial dialect.”

Peter speaks about rosary prayer in each house during these days and attending the paathira kurbana (midnight mass), on December 31, in the churches — St Sebastian on Bolgatty and St Mary’s in Ponnarimangalam.

“New Year’s Day is marked by pappanjikali or road side celebrations around the Santa Claus figure,” says Peter. 

Thomas speaks of a snake dance that revellers indulged in and wonders if it is still performed locally. “Mulvakadu had a music club called Tagore Kala Samithi, of which my father was the secretary. The year end was a time when the club and members of the football team got together to celebrate. The evening was full of music and dance. Members would perform a snake dance and others would join in,” he says with a laugh.


While in Kumbalangi, 12 kilometres from Kochi, festivities include be a sing-along song night on December 31,“to welcome 2023,” the Cherai Beach Tourism Mela has cultural programmes and fireworks on December 31, which people look forward to, says Cherai-based freelance photographer Anoop KS.

( With inputs from Anasuya Menon )

Island Party fare

Mutton Liver curry

Mutton Liver curry
| Photo Credit:
Arundhati Sathe

Liver curry and duck mappas

The islands celebrate the occasion with special food. “We cook sardines in 25 different ways,” says local historian Joy Gothuruth. The year-end feast will consist of aapam stew, duck roast, salted meat, liver curry with coconut milk, beef chops and pork vindaloo made with a paste of mustard, birds eye chilli and drumstick skin, says Doniya. Boney adds that duck meat is as a specialty during festive times. “We have thara (duck) mappas and fish moilee, along with many other dishes.” The backwaters of Kumbalangi and Pokkali farming on its land gives the area a rich harvest of fish, “with a distinct taste”. “A variety of fish dishes, roast, curry and fry, are made for special occasions .”

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