Millions offer Pongala at ‘Women’s Sabarimala’

via PNS | Thiruvananthapuram published on February 20, 2011

Kerala’s capital city, Thiruvananthapuram, virtually turned into a Yagasala on Saturday when over 35 lakh women converged on it to cook Pongala (rice-jaggery pudding) to offer to the Goddess of the Attukal Devi temple. They set up open hearths for cooking the Pongala on all roads of Thiruvananthapuram 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, marking the high point of the temple’s nine-day annual festival. Annie, Chippi, Priyanka, Kalpana and Karthika were some of the film actresses who cooked Pongala near the temple for the Goddess.

Temple authorities said the turnout this year was a record. About 30 lakh women had offered Pongala last year at the Attukal temple – also known as Women’s Sabarimala. The temple 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 Saturday after the chief priest of the temple kindled the fire in the Pandara Aduppu, the main hearth arranged in the courtyard of the temple, escorted by the Mantras rising from lakhs of throats. The flame for kindling the main hearth was handed over from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple by the traditional chief priest.

Immediately after this ritual, fire was kindled in all the more-than-35 lakh hearths spread across the city by the devotees. The women cooked the Pongala to be offered to the Goddess in fresh earthen pots decorated with flowers using firewood they themselves had brought. Women from Kerala, neighboring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and even foreigners prepared Pongala for the Devi.

The ritual concluded at 3.00 pm with the sprinkling of holy water in the Pongala pots. Over 200 priestly assistant were engaged in the job of sprinkling the holy water in the millions of pots. The annual festival of the temple would come to an end at midnight Sunday with the performance of the ritual, Guruthi Pooja.

Filmstar Kalpana, who prepared Pongala at a spot near the temple, said she would perform the ritual as long as she could. “I started offering Pongala to the Goddess after she gave me a daughter as per my wish,” she said. “My only wish is that I must be able to perform this till the end of my life,” she said.

It is believed that Attukal Devi, 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 on the southern border of today’s Thiruvananthapuram city before moving on.

There is another belief among the locals of Thiruvananthapuram that Attukal Devi temple 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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