Traditional fervour, heavy turnout to mark Attukal Pongala in Capital

via Pioneer News Service | Thiruvananthapuram published on February 21, 2008

Thiruvanathapuram, the capital city of Kerala, will come to an enthralling standstill on Friday with more than a million women queuing up on streets to offer Pongala (porridge) to the deity at Attukal Devi Temple.

By late Friday morning, all the streets will be off limits for men as women devotees standing in rows would cook Pongala with rice and jaggery in earthen pots on hearths as an offering for the Goddess who in return fills their lives with prosperity.

Festival organisation committee said all preparations had been done for the smooth conduct of the Pongala festival, which finds mention in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest participation of the women.

According to the legend, the goddess of the Attukal temple is an avatar of Kannaki, the heroine of Tamil epic Silapathikaram.

After destroying Madurai in Tamil Nadu with the fire of her revenge, Kannaki travelled to Kerala and rested for a while at Attukal before moving on.

There is another belief among the locals of Thiruvananthapuram that Attukal Bhagavathy 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 the vision of the goddess in the dream. In the dream, Attukal Amma is believed to have instructed him to construct a temple dedicated to her in a sacred grove at Attukal.

Through the past several years, Attukal Pongala has grown into one of the most important religious festivals in the State with women from all parts of Kerala flocking to Thiruvananthapuram.

Friday has been declared a local holiday in the city, and even on Thursday the city was almost closed with thousands of women vying among themselves to get the nearest place to the temple to set up their hearths for preparing Pongala.

Four-wheeler traffic has been prohibited in Thiruvananthapuram from Thursday and for outsiders the city will remain closed on Friday.

The area around the temple had taken a different look much at the beginning of the week itself with vendors selling garments, kitchen utensils, cosmetics, toys, etc occupying the pavements.

Devotional songs have enveloped the area near the temple with divine ambience for the past few days.

Besides devotees several pot sellers from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu come all the way to Thiruvanathapuram for the festival.

Rajalakshmi, a pot seller said, “I have been coming here for the past ten years. The prices of my pots range from Rs 15 to Rs 25. Business is good, thanks to Attukal Amma”.

Others like Geetha and Sarojini are also happy that they have been doing brisk business for the past three to four days and earning almost Rs 1,000 per day.

Attukal Pongala recently found mention in Guinness Book of World Records as the largest women congregation at a single festival. It is believed that around 10 to 20 lakh women gather here for the festival.

Growth has, in fact, been a constant feature of Attukal Pongala. As one devotee, who has been participating in the ritual for over the past two decades puts it, “Twenty years ago, Pongala was mostly celebrated in the area around the temple. I remember a time when we cooked Pongala within the temple compound right before the eyes of Attukal Amma. Today all roads in a six-kilometre radius of the temple are taken over by lines of devotees participating in the ritual”

Christine from Finland, who is here for third consecutive Pongala said, “I was tense during my first Pongala in 2006 and when the Pongala boiled in the pot I felt relieved at the thought that my offering was accepted by the Goddess”.

Another remarkable facet of the ritual is that it crosses all boundaries of class and religions, fostering the spirit of equality. Affluent ladies and film stars rub shoulders with women from the slums while they stand in rows on the streets to cook Pongala for the deity.

One can see women helping each other in cooking Pongala with firewood – mostly parts of coconut tree as many not being well-versed with the technique of cooking on open hearths.

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