Millions offer Pongala at ‘Women’s Sabarimala’

via PNS | Thiruvananthapuram published on March 7, 2012

Over 30 lakh women on Wednesday cooked Pongala (rice-jaggery pudding) on open hearths on the streets of Thiruvananthapuram and offered to the Goddess of Attukal Devi temple, turning Kerala’s capital city into a virtual Yagasala.

The women devotees set up hearths to cook Pongala on the streets of the city in a ten-km radius of the temple, known as Women’s Sabarimala.

The ritual of offering Pongala to the Goddess started at 10.30 am Wednesday after Tanthri Chennas Dinesan Namboothiripad (chief priest of the temple) kindled the Pandara Aduppu, the main hearth arranged in the courtyard of the temple, to the accompaniment of the Mantras rising from lakhs of throats.

Once this ritual was over, the lakhs of women devotees kindled the hearths they had set up everywhere in the city. 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, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and even foreigners prepared Pongala for the Goddess.

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. Pongala offering was the main ritual marking the conclusion of the annual festival of the Attukal Devi temple that had started on February 29.

The temple had got into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest convergence of women at one place at the same time in 1997, when 1.5 million devotees converged on Thiruvananthapuram city for the ritual on February 23 that year. Temple authorities said the number of devotees offering Pongala for the Devi had been increasing steadily since then.

The festival also looked like a celebration of womanhood with women from very poor families rubbing shoulders with celebrities like film actresses, top officials and wives and daughters of VIPs. “The Goddess finds some way or the other to reach me here on this particular day. I will continue preparing Pongala as far as I am fit in body and mind,” actress Kalpana said.

The Pongala festival was held under heavy security arrangements. Over 5,000 policemen and women constables were deployed in the city, the important spots of which were monitored through a CCTV network of 50 cameras. Ministers and top officials visited the festival venue to ensure that the devotees were provided with the required facilities.

The belief is that Attukal Devi, the deity of the temple, is an avatar of Kannaki, the heroine of Tamil epic Silappathikaram. According to local ballads, after burning down 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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