30 lakh women offer Pongala at Attukal

via PNS | Thoruvananthapuram published on March 1, 2010

About 30 lakh women from Kerala and outside the State attained the blessings of the goddess of the Bhagavthi temple of Attukal in Thiuvanantyhapuram city on Sunday by offering the Pongala (rice-jaggery pudding) they themselves cooked on open hearths. The Pongala hearths, starting right at the temple premises, filled all the roads and by-lanes of the Thiruvananthapruam city in a 10-km radius of the temple.

Celebrities including film stars, bureaucrats, politicians, spouses of top political leaders, etc cooked Pongala for the goddess on Sunday, which marked the high point of the nine-day annual festival of the temple. Parvathi Omanakuttan, IPS official R Sreelkha and film stars Kalpana, Chippy, Beena Antony and Priyanka some of the celebrities who sought the goddess’s blessings by cooking Pongala.

Temple authorities said the turnout this year was a record. About 25 lakh women had offered Pongala last year at the Attukal temple, also known as Women’s Sabarimala, which had found a place in the. Guinness Book of World Records for the largest convergence of women at one place at the same time. The entry was made in 1997, when 1.5 million devotees converged here on February 23, the festival day that year.

The ritual of offering Pongala to the Goddess started at 10.30 am Sunday after temple priest Muraleedharan Namboothirippad kindled the fire in the Pandara Aduppu, the main hearth arranged in the courtyard of the temple, escorted by the cheerful Manthras rising from lakhs of throats. The flame for kindling the main hearth was handed over from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple by Tantri Chennas Dinesan Namboothrippad.

Celebrated playback singer KJ Yesudas, wife Prabha and son Vijay, Devaswom Minister Kadannappally Ramachandran and several other distinguished personalities were present to witness the kindling of fire in the Pandara Aduppu. Immediately after this ritual, fire was kindled in all the three million hearths spread across the city by the devotees. “I have been offering Pongala to the Devi for the past seven years,” said Sumathi, a 33-year-old woman from Kasaragod. My only request to the Devi is that I should be able to come here next year also,” she said.

The ritual concluded at 3.15 pm with the sprinkling of holy water in the earthen Pongala pots. Over 200 assistant priests were engaged for the job of sprinkling the holy water in the Pongala pots of the millions of devotees to reach the Goddess’s blessings to them. The eight-day annual festival of the temple would come to an end on Monday night with the ritual Guruthi Pooja.

The Pongala festival was held amidst tight security for which 3,000-odd police personnel, including 600 women police personnel, had been deployed. The entire city had been monitored from a specially set up control room through CCTV. Thousands of volunteers were engaged for reaching assistance for the devotees. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation and the Southern Railway had made special arrangements for transporting the devotees.

It is believed that Attukal Bhagavathi, the deity of the temple, is an avatar of Kannaki, the heroine of Tamil epic Silappathikaram. According to local ballads, after destroying Madurai, Kannaki traveled to Kerala where she rested for a while at Attukal before moving on.

There is another belief among the locals of Thiruvananthapuram that Attukal Bhagavathi temple – located a couple of kilometers off the southern end of Thiruvananthapuram city – was built centuries ago by the head of a prominent local family who had a vision of the Goddess in a dream. In this vision, the goddess is believed to have instructed the devotee to construct a temple, dedicated to her in a sacred grove at Attukal.

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