'Anyottam' or the elephant race is a unique ritual that marks the start of the annual festival at the famous Guruvayoor Temple in Thrissur District.
Elephants are lined up at the Manjulal, a huge banyan tree about half a kilometer away from the temple by noon. Just before the race, the mahouts throw bells around the elephants. And at the auspicious moment, priests run out of the temple signifying the start of the race.
The elephants take off with the mahouts perched on the top, and there will be a couple of people who run with each of the elephants taking part in the race. The sounds of the 'melam' or the percussion instruments, normally gets replaced with the cheering and the clanging bells as the pachyderms race on. However, when the elephants reach near the temple, they are led single file inside the temple complex. The elephant who wins the race, will be the one which will carry the lord's 'thidambu' or the idol during the last day of the ten day festival.
There is an interesting legend behind the 'Aanyottam' ritual. Long, long ago, the Guruvayoor temple was a subordinate temple of the Thrikanamathikalam Temple. And the elephants were brought from this temple for the festival at Guruvayoor. Once the authorities at Thrikanamathikalam refused to send the elephants for the annual festival at Guruvayoor. However, the legend says that the elephants broke the chains and ran all the way to Guruvayoor. The Aanyottam festival is held to commemorate this event.
The 10 day annual festival will begin on 20, February and go on till the 29th. The 'anayottam' ritual will be held on Saturday, 20 February.
Guruvayoor is easily accessible by road and rail. The nearest airport is Cochin International Airport which is about 78kms away. The Coimbatore Airport is about 156kms away.