Kerala: Pongala Festival of Attukal Devi temple, Thiruvananthapuram, came to an end this afternoon, March 7. Attukal Pongala has been in the Guinness Book of Records since 1997.
It is the largest attended religious programme, for women, in a single day at a single place. This time the estimated attendance is five million. It is called “Women’s Sabarimala”.
Sabarimala is basically male dominant pilgrimage because only women below ten and above 50 are permitted to reach the shrine. But, here, women of all ages are welcome to participate in Pongala. It makes Ananthapuri (the ancient name of Thiruvananthapuram) a modern Yagashala.
Pongala is a sort of delicacy, like payasam, which people cook as part of the ritual. This year women congregated within around 10 kms radius of the temple area. They make country stoves, on the waysides, with three bricks to place the earthen pot. Leaves and other flammable parts of coconut trees are used as fuel. Women cook under the scorching sun of every hot March. The priest sprinkles the theertha (holy water from the Attukal Devi’s shrine) in every pot. Then it becomes the holy Prasada.
Women from not only entire Kerala but also from all other Bharatiya States and even abroad reach Thiruvananthapuram for this holy annual fete.
Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) and Indian Railways make abundant transport arrangements. This time more than 40 KSRTC buses are deployed. Railways have organised special trains and special bogies.
Temple Trust and Advisory Committee have made all sorts of humanly possible arrangements for the pilgrims. 3,300 police personnel, 250 Fire Brigade personnel, 150 volunteers of district administration, 1250 public water taps and 3,000 cleaners deployed by the Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation are some of the highlights of mammoth arrangements.
On top of the above, Sevabharathi workers run a parallel Seva Vyavastha for Pongala. They distribute water, kits for cooking Pongala, fuel, bricks, etc. Sevabharati ambulances are ever-ready to meet exigencies. Sevaharati volunteers are seen in every nook and corner as helping hands.
The legend of Pongala dates back to a thousands of years old story of Kannaki Devi and her husband, Kovilan. Due to the harsh and cruel hardships, Kovilan had to face in Madhura (in present Tamil Nadu), she burnt the whole (Madhura) city with the fire of her eyes. And when she came to Ananthapuri, the women folks welcomed her with Pongala to pacify her. Kannaki is also considered as Annapoorneshwari Devi.
Another legend is connected with Parvathi Devi’s years-long single-legged meditation to obtain Parameshwara as her husband. Therefore, the women who go for Pongala observe strict vratas for one week as part of preparation.
Kuttiyotam (race by little boys) is another ritual. Boys undergo vrata and participate in the race wearing a golden ornament.
Every year, women return home with the hope of returning the next year. Since due to Corona, the festival was absent for two years; this time, the enthusiasm touched the pinnacle.