Kanyakumari | The Christmas crib extravaganza in this Tamil Nadu village will also feature Elon Musk this year


I’m in Palapallam village in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district two Sundays before Christmas, and a group of workers working to create the biggest Christmas crib they’ve made yet are finally resting.

Work is underway on this year's crib about the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

Work is underway on this year’s crib about the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. | Photo credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

With the scaffolding in place, the structure is almost two stories high. New concrete statues that will tell the story of Jesus Christ through the Old and New Testaments are drying on a new white base coat. Old pictures, including angels, apostles and kings, waiting to be painted, are all huddled in a corner looking like they’re ready to punch each other.

Among them is a headless statue of the future Elon Musk. A laminated image of it is placed next to it for reference. Soon, Musk will welcome the people of Palapallam and the visitors who come to see the mammoth Christmas crib.

The protagonists of this year's edition take care of the final touches together with their photographic references.

The protagonists of this year’s edition take care of the final touches together with their photographic references.

“Isn’t Elon Musk creating a brain chip to implant in people’s minds? I think they will soon start adding and deleting our thoughts at the click of a button. It’s a sign of our doom,” says R. Helden Selvakumar, treasurer of Winstar Sports Club, Palapallam. , echoing the popular sentiment about the entrepreneur who has been making headlines every day since taking over as CEO of Twitter.

Silver Jubilee

Palapallam's 2019 Edition Noah's Ark Cradle.

Palapallam’s 2019 Edition Noah’s Ark Cradle.

For 25 years, the organization, which has more than 250 members, has been making large theme-based Christmas parties that usually depict an area of ​​importance to Christianity or biblical concepts. The exhibition is open from December 23rd to January 1st. In the past, they have built structures based on Noah’s ark, heaven, hell and the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

For Christmas day, this building made of straw, iron, wood, cement and plaster of Paris will be lit up in all colors. A 25 cent plot of land nestled between a row of nondescript houses will become Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, a historic site of great importance to Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Images of angels, apostles and kings.

Images of angels, apostles and kings. | Photo credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

“This is the biggest we’ve done so far. It’s our 25th year doing Christmas toes, and we’ve decided to go all out, keeping a budget of Rs 25 lakh aside. Our goal is for people to experience a day at the Dome of the Rock,” says NCJ Balakrishnan, secretary of Winstar, adding that there will also be some cribs from previous years in this edition.

Tourist attraction

A crib from past editions.

A crib from past editions. | Photo: Special Arrangement

Visitors from all over Kanyakumari and surrounding districts form queues of around 3 km, to the next village, to enter the show and click selfies. With viral crib videos touting tranquil Palapallam in southern Tamil Nadu as a ‘must-visit’ place during Christmas, the stakes for the organizing team have never been higher. As the town is around 50 km from the Kerala capital, Thiruvananthapuram, Malayali visitors have also added Palapallam to their Christmas tourism itinerary.

According to Balakrishnan, the motivation to create these inventive structures came from seeing similar cribs made in the neighboring village of Karungal. M. Ramesh Verghese, the organizer of the Karungal cradle group, says that every year a competition was held between some villages in Paloor, Villiyavelai and Palapallam.

“Year after year, the size of the crib increased. Competition, intense and friendly competition, was common every year. The chief guests were VIPs, including politicians and businessmen, who would choose a winner. We won many times,” says Verghes.

“The pandemic has affected the pace of work”

A crib from past editions.

A crib from past editions. | Photo: Special Arrangement

While the competition has been suspended, Balakrishnan says their club has been consistent in producing these cots on a large scale, which has become a matter of pride for the village. With the exception of the last two pandemic years, every year they have tried to outdo themselves with strange themes and redundant structures. “Today, if you search for Palapallam online, chances are you’ll be greeted with our photos first. cuddly (cradle),” he says.

The work of preparing the crib usually starts at the end of October. Winstar members vote on the issue, and an executive committee, made up mostly of NRI members, calls out the finer details.

Donations and patronage also come from locals, many of whose families work in construction and the labor market in countries such as the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. “Because of the pandemic, funds have been slow this year. And that has affected the pace of work,” says Balakrishnan.

According to him, many residents of Palapallam migrate abroad because they do not see a future in the town, where the local industry is mainly brick kilns and korea processing, both of which have limited opportunities for growth. Although agriculture was once the mainstay, people no longer depend on it for their regular income. “The yields from coconut and banana plantations are almost enough to support a family,” says Balakrishnan.

During the nine-day festival, much of the club’s income comes from food stalls set up around the cradle – selling everything from corn to cotton to chat. They also have tickets and raffle tickets. “He’s definitely making money now. We put all profits into the organization as this is a charitable trust. We have helped build houses for the poor in Palapallam. We also run an emergency ambulance service that has been used a lot in the last two years,” he says.

A sign of unity

The exercise of cradle-building has the air of religious harmony. While Christians are in the majority in Palapalam, the land where the cradle has been established for the past four years belongs to a Hindu.

An artisan working on crib figures.

An artisan working on crib figures. | Photo credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Artisan Suresh Kumar, who has been working on the sculptures, says that it does not matter which religion they belong to, as the experience is rewarding. “I am happy to bring my family to Palapallam every year and show them what I have done,” says Thiruvithancode, a resident of the area.

Although Palapallam is now a mini tourism attraction, Balakrishnan says he is not sure how long the cradle show can last. Although they have tried to encourage young people to take up roles and responsibilities in the club, he says that the new generation who prefer to emigrate abroad are not ready to pull off an event of this magnitude and make the necessary effort to maintain the tradition. alive

“We often skip meals near the opening date because there is so much work to do. We hardly sleep. Unfortunately, such commitment is lacking in the younger generation. They do a job, but it’s not enough,” he says.

The future is uncertain. But maybe Musk has the answer.

sanjana.g@thehindu.co.in

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