Coming after pandemic-related curbs, thousands of women celebrate annual Attukal Pongala in TVM

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Actress Chippy Renjith at Pongala | Photo: Mathrubhumi

Thiruvananthapuram: The state capital of Kerala became a 'yagyashala' -- where rituals are performed -- as thousands of women devotees from various parts of the state prepared 'pongala' on brick hearths lining the roads of the city to celebrate 'Attukal Pongala' on Tuesday.

Several rows of brick hearths were lined up around the Attukal Bhagavathy temple here with many women, cutting across age barriers, wearing white hats or covering their heads to beat the extreme heat as they prepared offerings for the presiding deity of the shrine.

Where the last two years saw women preparing 'pongala' in their homes due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year tens of thousands, including TV and movie stars, arrived in Thiruvananthapuram from across Kerala and even from neighbouring Tamil Nadu to celebrate the festival with full religious fervour.

Incidentally, this year's festival comes on the eve of International Women's Day, which falls on March 8.

The 'pongala' -- a mix of rice, jaggery and scraped coconut -- or various other kinds of sweet delicacies were prepared in fresh earthen or metal pots.

The festivities began around 10.40 am after the chief priest lit the 'pandara aduppu,' the main hearth at the Attukal temple.

Following this, thousands of women, including transwomen, devotees lit their makeshift brick stoves and began preparing the 'pongala' or sweet delicacies like 'payasam' and 'therali'.

The ceremony will conclude in the afternoon with the sprinkling of holy water by temple priests at an appointed time.

The pongala festival marks the finale of the 10-day ritual at the shrine.

Preparing 'pongala' is considered an auspicious all-women ritual as part of the annual festival of the Attukal temple here, popularly known as the "Women's Sabarimala".

The temple is called the "Women's Sabarimala" as only women perform rituals, while it is predominantly men who undertake the pilgrimage to the revered hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala.

In anticipation of the huge turnout this year after the COVID-19 pandemic, police and the fire department had put in place extensive arrangements, including deploying more personnel and restricting vehicle movement and parking in the city, to ensure that the festival is celebrated without any inconvenience to the public and the devotees.

The ritual had made it to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day when 2.5 million took part in it.

As per local legend, the annual festival commemorates the hospitality accorded by women in the locality to Kannagi, the divine incarnation of the heroine of Tamil epic 'Silappadhikaram' while she was on her way to avenge the injustice meted out to her husband Kovalan, after destroying Madurai city.


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