Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 16 IANS | 6 months ago

Close to four and a half million women devotees cooked sweet pongala - a concoction of rice and jaggery - on simple hearths on roadsides to offer to the presiding deity at Attukal Bhagavathi temple here Sunday.


The temple - in the heart of the city - is dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathi, believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic "Silappathikaaram".

The event takes place on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal Pongala festival - known as the Sabarimala pilgrimage for women.

The festival began with the chief priest lighting the traditional hearth at 10.30 a.m. in presence of devotees.

The sacred fire was then passed on to the devotees, who were lined up on either side of the road, to cook their offering using rice, jaggery and coconut.

Dressed in new clothes, women laden with earthen pots, bricks (for the hearths) and kindling seemed to have overwhelmed the city to cook pongala for the occasion.

Post noon, the temple priests sprayed holy water on pongal cooked by women as part of the ritual.

A home maker from Kottayam, who was attending the festival for the first time, said: "...trust me, this is something that has to be seen to be believed....I am sure my problems would be resolved...."

According to legend, Kannaki destroyed Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the king of Madurai wrongfully imposed the death penalty on her husband.

Kannaki then travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal and women were said to have cooked pongala to please her.

This festival has now been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records - thanks to Diana Janet, a US national who has focussed on this festival in her PhD thesis.

"I am here for the 15th time.... Believe me the heat or other inconveniences..., everything is taken care of by the Devi," said Manjula Nair, a resident of the capital.

The state transport department and the Indian Railways made special arrangements for the travellers. Resident associations provided free lunch, butter milk and lemon juice to women.

For the cleaning part, Thiruvananthapuram Corporation fulfilled its duty of cleaning up the city, full of bricks and other things, in a few hours.

(Posted on 16-02-2014)