‘Women’s Sabarimala’ Pongala festival begins

Sunday, February 28, 2010

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM - More than three million women devotees patiently stood in lines, stretching up to main roads of the city, to pay obeisance at the Attukal Bhagavathi temple here on the occasion of mega festival Pongala Sunday.

The devotees carrying bricks, firewood, rice, jaggery and coconut waited to make an offering of cooked rice to the presiding deity, believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic “Silappathikaaram”.

The ritual of cooking the offering started when the chief priest lit a pot of fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The fire was then passed on to the devotees, who had begun arriving here a few days earlier to bag a place near the temple, dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathi, to light their kilns.

The offering is made on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal Pongala festival, which is often referred to as the equivalent of the Sabarimala pilgrimage for women.

The offering is prepared using rice, jaggery and coconut and is cooked in three to four hours’ time. Only when the priests spray sacred water from the temple on the cooked rice, the women pack their offering and begin their return journey.

Gopinathan Nair, president of the Temple Trust said that all arrangements have been made for the smooth conduct of the festival.

“More than 3,000 police personnel, including 500 women, have been deployed and it is going on smoothly,” said Nair.

Veteran singer K.J. Yesudas and a few political leaders were also present on the occasion. Leading south Indian actors, including the regulars like Chippy, Kalpana and Praveena were seen busy preparing the offering.

The Guinness Book of Records listed the festival as the world’s largest annual gathering of women in 1997, when 1.5 million devotees converged here Feb 23.

According to legend, Kannaki destroyed the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the king of Madurai wrongfully imposed death penalty on her husband. Kannaki then travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal and women are said to have cooked pongala to appease her.

Filed under: Religion

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