For first time in history, Attukal Pongala to be held as mere ritual
Thiruvananthapuram: For the first time in history, the famed Attukal Pongala in the month of Kumbham, one of the world's largest all-women religious congregations, will be held as just ritual at the Bhagavathy Temple here.
The temple priests will offer Pongala in ‘pandarayaduppu’ as a ritual. The festival will begin on February 19 with the devi idol decorated with kappu being consecrated. The Pongala is held on February 27. On the night of Feb 28, the festival will conclude.
In a trust board meeting held on Sunday, it was decided to ban devotees this year in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier government had suggested to conduct registration and allow a fixed number of devotees. But considering the situation and difficulty in following Covid protocol, it was decided to completely avoid the Pongala festival.
The ‘thattanivedyam’ and ‘pushpabishekam’ rituals will also be avoided.
Devotees will be allowed entry to the temple ensuring social distance. Temple arts will be performed on a stage setup outside. Decision on annadanam will be taken after discussion with police and higher authorities.
However, the devotees can offer Pongala in their own houses, temple trustees informed. But the priests will not conduct the Pongalanivedyam.
Preparing 'Pongala' is considered an auspicious ritual of the annual festival of the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple.
Braving scorching heat and humid climate, women from all over Kerala and outside the state converge in grounds and both sides of the highways, roads and bylanes across the city and prepare 'Pongala', a mix of rice, jaggery and scraped coconut in fresh earthen or metal pots to appease the Goddess.
The offering is made in makeshift brick stoves, placed on both sides of the roads.
As per local legend, the Pongala festival commemorates the hospitality accorded by women in the locality to Kannagi, the divine incarnation of the heroine of the Tamil epic 'Silappadhikaram' while she was on her way after destroying Madurai city to avenge the injustice to her husband Kovalan.
The temple is called the "Women's Sabarimala" as only women perform rituals, while it is predominantly men who undertake the pilgrimage to the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala.
In 2020 March, Pongala was held as usual even amidst the Covid pandemic. Though foreigners were banned, there were no restrictions on devotees.
However, the festivals including Painkuni Festival, a ten-day festival at Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple were postponed and later held adhering to Covid protocol.