Holy smoke of Pongala turns Capital into Yagna Bhumi

via Pioneer News Service | Thiruvananthapuram published on February 22, 2008

About 22 lakh women offered Pongala to seek blessings of Attukal Amma, deity of Attukal Devi Temple, in Thiruvananthapuram during the Pongala festival on Friday.

The turnout of devotees at the all-women festival, recognised by the Guinness Book of World Record as the largest religious congregation of women at one place, went up by seven lakh this year.

Millions of women devotees offered Pongala (porridge) to Attukal Amma with the city turning into a sea of women.

Cutting across caste, class and even religious barriers, women converged on the capital city to cook Pongala of rice and jaggery in fresh earthen pots on makeshift hearths, seeking the blessing of the presiding deity of the shrine.

Devotees squatted in rows on city roads, streets and by-lanes as early as on Thursday night, almost fifteen hours before the ritual began at 10.00 am Friday, when the ‘holy hearth’ near the temple was lighted by the chief priest or Tantri.

Within seconds, the fire exchanged hands and thousands of hearths were lit making the rice-filled pots bubble and boil over.

Even amidst the heat and dust, there had been no complaints from the women who had flocked to Thiruvananthapuram from far and wide, even from outside the State and country.

Movie stars and other celebrities were also seen rubbing shoulders with ordinary people while offering Pongala to the Devi.

Malayalam film and TV stars Chippy, Kalpana, Kalaranjini and veteran actress KPAC Lalitha were seen offering Pongala to Goddess Atukal Amma.

Chippy said her only wish was that she be able to offer it all her life.

Kalpana and sister Kalaranjini, who were offering Pongala for the fifth consecutive year, said they were doing this without any aspirations. “We are doing this for the devotion we have for Attukal Amma,” Kalpana said.

Filmstar Suresh Gopi, who inaugurated the Annadanam arranged by Sahridaya Vedi said, “My happiness has no borders now. This was the first time I could physically come here and take part in the festival here.”

It is believed that Attukal Bhagavathy, the deity of the temple, is an avatar of Kannaki, the heroine of Tamil epic, Silappathikaram.

According to the local ballads after destroying Madurai, Kannaki travelled 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 kilometres 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 the dream, the Goddess is believed to have instructed the devotee to construct a temple, dedicated to her in a sacred grove at Attukal.

Several organisations and police had worked round the clock for the smooth conduct of the festival and there were no complaints for the public also.

Even two-wheelers were not allowed beyond a point in several parts of the city and women were seen cooking Pongala almost fifteen kilometres away from the temple.

The temple authorities had made arrangements for the priests to spray the holy water on all the pots in the city. Around three hundred priests were deployed for this purpose.

Director General of Police Raman Srivastava was present on premises of the temple since early morning to supervise the crowd and check security arrangements.

A team of more than 3,000 policemen and around 700 women constables were deployed in different parts of the city and temple premises.

Sevabharathi volunteers were seen moving around with the police to manage the crowd.

Food was provided in all parts of the city with several voluntary organisations and individuals rising to the occasion. A huge contingent of fire fighting professionals was deployed in and around the city.

Radhadevi, who had come all the way from Thrissur to offer Pongala for the thirteenth year said, “Whenever the Pongala is over I feel that I am missing something and the Goddess has been kind to me and has supported me through the life.

“She has given me everything and now I have enough resources to live life easily and all my children are well-settled. These are all the gifts to me by the Goddess of Attukal and I longed to come here and offer pongala to her every year till my last breath.”

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