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Posted on Feb 25, 03:36PM | IANS
Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 25 : Billed by Guinness World Records as the single largest gathering of women in the world, a staggering four million devotees are expected to cook offerings as part of the famous Attukal Pongala festival to be held here Tuesday.
The women line up on either side of the roads in the capital city to cook their offering ("pongala") on makeshift stoves of bricks and firewood.
In the last edition of this annual event, organisers said more than 3.5 million women took part.
The state government has declared a half-day holiday Monday, and a holiday Tuesday for all educational institutions and government offices in the capital city.
Devotees worship at the temple in the heart of the capital city dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathi, believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic "Silappathikaaram".
The "pongala" event marks the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal Pongala festival, often referred to as the equivalent of the Sabarimala pilgrimage for women.
The offering is prepared using rice, jaggery and coconut, boiled on low heat for about four hours; Brahmin priests spray sacred water from the temple on the cooked rice, and the women then pack their offerings and begin their journey home around 2.30 p.m.
Only those who arrived three days ahead of the big day have managed to find a spot near the temple to set up their stove; others will line up on the streets across the city.
According to legend, Kannaki destroyed Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the king of Madurai wrongfully imposed the death penalty on her husband.
After that, Kannaki travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal. Women are said to have cooked "pongala" to appease her.
"All arrangements are complete and the Kerala police have deputed more than 5,000 officials to oversee the event. The state government has sanctioned Rs.3.45 crore for the conduct of the festival," State Devasom Minister V.S.Sivakumar said.
The women who take part in this festival dress up in brand new clothes and arrive with pots and raw material needed for cooking the offering.
At around 10.15 a.m Tuesday, the chief priest of the famous Attukal Bhagavathi Temple will light the makeshift stove with fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
The fire the priest lights is then passed on to the stoves of women who line up on either side of the roads.
As the festival has now become famous far and wide, women devotees from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu too join those from other parts of the state and the capital city to take part in Attukal Pongala.
The railways runs special trains and attaches additional coaches on several trains to facilitate the travel of women arriving in the city from Tamil Nadu and northern Kerala. The state-owned transport department will run special women's services on this occasion.