Fort Kochi’s grand-old New Year giant to get a fresh look after BJP sees resemblance to PM Modi

BJP workers disrupted the installation of Pappanji. They said the resemblance was an attempt to humiliate the Prime Minister.

ByK A Shaji

Published Dec 29, 2022 | 8:06 PMUpdatedDec 29, 2022 | 8:13 PM

Pappanji-Fort Kochi

At midnight on 31 December every year, an old man’s effigy is burnt in Fort Kochi, a foremost tourism destination in Kerala, as part of the Cochin Carnival.

The white-bearded, nattily-dressed old man called Pappanji — grandfather in Portuguese — represents the passing year and the lighting of the effigy symbolises the burning of all ills before ringing in the New Year.

Made of straw and clothes, Pappanji reflects the coastal region’s continuing affinity towards Portugal.

The carnival, a secular festival, is an occasion of gaiety, and on 31 December, all roads of Ernakulam lead to the Parade Ground in Fort Kochi from early evening.

On 29 December, three days before burning the “grand old man”, a controversy erupted after BJP workers alleged that the Pappanji bore a resemblance to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Throughout the day, BJP activists thronged the Cochin Carnival Festival venue, accusing the organisers of engaging in a large-scale conspiracy to defame the prime minister.

They also filed a police complaint, alleging that the event organisers were trying to humiliate the prime minister by making an effigy resembling him.

Pure coincidence, say organisers

Meanwhile, the carnival organisers pointed out that the resemblance was purely coincidental, but the protesters did not relent.


Pappanji that courted controversy. (Supplied)

They levelled communal charges against the organisers. As the protest intensified, the police also suggested changing the face.

Under immense pressure from the police and BJP, the organisers agreed to change Pappanji’s face.

“The organisers have agreed to change its face. The present form resembles Prime Minister Modi and we won’t allow them to install it,” BJP’s Ernakulam district president KS Shyju told South First.

The work on the installation resumed after the BJP workers had dispersed by evening.

A tradition dating back to 1885, the burning of Pappanji is integral to Fort Kochi’s Christmas-New Year celebrations.

This year, the festival organisers built a 50-foot-tall solemn, grim Pappanji that towered over Fort Kochi.

The Pappanji’s in the past two years were merely symbolic due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the old man returned in his tallest-ever avatar this time.

A secular event

According to former Kochi mayor KJ Sohan, the burning of Pappanji is a secular festival of Fort Kochi. The Pappanji this time represented the slayer of coronavirus, he said.

Setting Pappanji ablaze at Fort Kochi in 2011. (Wikimedia Commons/Ajeeshkumar4u)

Setting Pappanji ablaze at Fort Kochi in 2011. (Wikimedia Commons/Ajeeshkumar4u)

For tourists flocking to Fort Kochi, the lighting of Pappanji is a much-awaited, decades-old annual spectacle.

“The grandfather is not the Santa Claus, who greets people,” Sohan clarified. “The lighting of the effigy represents the death of time, personified as a man,” he added.

Before setting it ablaze, Pappanji would be paraded with music and fanfare around Fort Kochi.

The organisers said the Pappanji this time was made with eco-friendly materials, and the grand old man’s face was entirely made of paper, while the frame was of metal.

This is the first time that Pappanji has got mired in a political controversy with communal overtones.