ATTUKAL Pongala is considered to be the Sabarimala of women. Sabarimala is a hilltop temple in Kerala and basically meant for men. But, girls below menstruation or women above menopause are also permitted to scale the Sabarimala hills beyond Pampa and have darshan at the hill top temple. On the other hand hundreds of thousands of women, cutting across their age, throngs Attukal Devi Temple near Thiruvananthapuram city once a year and perform Pongala there.
This year the auspicious day fell on 26th February. Organisers had declared that they were expecting about 35 lakh women from all over the state. Pongala is a ritual in which ladies cook rice with jaggery or sugar, cardamom, nuts, etc. in the open hearths in firewood. It is a bit similar to Kerala payasam. Lakhs of women devotees come to the city for this festival and are doing the ritual on either sides of the road, even 10 to 15 kilometers away from the temple. The city and surrounding places turn into a temple town during the pongala. Each year the number of devotees increases by several lakhs. Women of all walks of life take it as a divine offer. Therefore, even women ADGs of police, matinee idols, business women, professors, daily wage earners and home makers are virtually rubbing shoulders in this noble endeavour. As lakhs of floating population come to the city, sanitary matters and drinking water (both for drinking and cooking), law and order, etc. are the important requirements to be facilitated. So far all governments, either Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) or CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), have not shied away from this responsibility. NGOs like RSS, NSS, SNDP, Ayyappa Seva Sangham, etc. have always been there to render services to the pilgrims. This year also the situation was smooth. The day before the Pongala even CM Shri Oommen Chandy and his trusted lieutenants had inspected the arrangements and had darshan at the temple. Everybody was comfortable with the euphoria for the best arrangements made to host about 35 lakhs guests next day.
But, on the Pongale day’s morning a rude shock came to more than 30 lakhs strong pilgrims and the state machinery as well as the NGOs. Water pipes broke in several places in the city resulting in acute water shortage. The incident occurred in the previous evening. Authorities ran from pillar to posts to get things done and water supply reinstated, but in vain.
RSS workers, as per their usual style, rose to the occasion and held urgent baittaks (workers’ meetings) not only in different parts of Thiruvananthapuram but also in different parts of the neighbouring districts and made war foot arrangements to supply water to the 30 lakhs plus pilgrims. RSS baittaks took place much earlier than the authorities called for a disaster management meeting. Swayamsevaks tapped all wells and ponds and rivers, all with potable water, and brought them to the roads where the pilgrims were offering Pongala. Fleets of hundreds of vehicles were deployed for this yeoman service. The pilgrims, their family members, authorities and men in street were all praise for Sangh workers for their timely intervention. Even though this service did not hit much headlines or did get any limelight (thanks to the anti Sangh parivar apathy held by media in Kerala in general), everybody knew what worked to ease the situation when anarchy was ruling the roost in hot summer and lakhs of thirsty women were sweating in scorching sun. Several pilgrims told Organiser that it was the RSS which came to their rescue and about 80 per cent of the water requirement was facilitated by them. Saraswathi teacher from Kottayam was one among them. She says, if RSS workers had not come to the field, things would have been different. Water was essential both for drinking and for cooking Pongala.
In fact, Sangh workers organised about 150 tanker lorries of water from the whole revenue district as well as neighbouring Kollam district. They had enough man power to distribute the water. Authorities had organised around 50 lorries, but no man power to distribute. So, they requested RSS workers to help in distribution. As about 1700 workers were in the field they could comply with the request of the authorities without batting an eye lid. They even supplied the Attukal temple with enough water for temple purposes.
Even though the residents of Thiruvananthapuram city complain that the pipes utilised there for water supply are alleged to be of sub standard quality, some people do not mince their words when they suspect sabotage, especially when such a huge Hindu festival took place in the city. Even now, almost every day one or other place in the city is witnessing breaking of pipes. The advocates of sabotage theory say that these “after shocks” are again deliberately done to create an impression that the 25th February incident was a mere “accident”. Now government of Kerala has appointed a committee headed by former Chief Secretary and present Vice Chancellor of Malayalam University, Shri K. Jayakumar (Red. IAS) to enquire into the reasons that led to the incident.
In the mean time, Police Training College Principal Shri Gopalakrishnan (Superintendent of Police) has been suspended for not opening the gate of the college ground for parking the vehicles coming to the city for Ponigala. The meeting of the police top brass had decided to keep the grounds open for parking. But Shri Gopalakrishnan locked the gate on the 25th and asked the duty officer not to let any vehicle inside and left the city. Chief minister got the information before day break and directed the ADGP (Intelligence) to do the needful. Principal did not even comply with the order of the city police commissioner who is in the rank of a DIG of police. The ADGP then ordered to break open the lock. The ADGP has now reported to the higher ups that Shri Gopalkrishnan has disobeyed the superiors and hence he is suspended. It is reported that this SP’s name was included in the list the state government had submitted before the union government for conferring IPS.
It is to be reminisced that last year an-ACP had registered cases against thousands of women for performing pongala on the road side. As a lady ADGP was also one among the lakhs of women who performed pongala on the road side, the case had raised many eye brows in the state. But, state government intervened immediately and the ACP was suspended in less than 24 hours.
Now, all eyes are on Jayakumar Commission for its report.