Thiruvananthapuram: Tens of thousands of women devotees have offered ‘Pongala’ to Aattukaal Bhagavathy by cooking various dishes on the streets around the temple in the city.
Cutting across class and caste barriers, women congregated around the temple, beside the highways and bylanes of the city to perform the annual ceremony of cooking of rice- jaggery mix in fresh earthen pots as their offering to the presiding goddess of the shrine, seeking her blessings for year-round peace and prosperity.
The Pongala rites began on Tuesday morning with the chief priest (thanthri) parameswaran vasudevan bhattathirippad lighting the ‘pandara aduppu’ (main hearth) in front of the temple. Women devotees then lit flame on the ‘pongala’ hearths for the preparation of the offering for the Goddess. Within minutes, the fire exchanged hands and thousands of hearths were lit with the rice boiling up and spilling over the pots as the devotees prayed with folded hands.
The women, including film actors and government officials, squatted in rows in an area of about 10 km radius around the temple in the southeast periphery of the city well before the ritual began.
The ‘pongala nivedyam’ (sweet delicacy) was served at 1.30 pm.
‘Pongala’ is the most important part of the ten-day- long festival of Attukal Bhagavathy Temple.
This festival commemorates the victory of Good over Evil, by the slaying of Pandyan King.
The ritual had made its way into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest religious gathering of women on a single day when 2.5 million took part in it in 2009.
Attukal temple is also termed women’s Sabarimala as only women perform the ritual while it is predominantly men who under take the pilgrimage to the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa. Women in the age group of 10-50 are not allowed to worship at Sabarimala under the temple tradition, which has been challenge in the Supreme Court recently. Local legend says that ‘pongala’ festival commemorates the hospitality accorded by women in the locality to ‘Kannagi’, the divine incarnation of the heroine of Tamil epic ‘Silappadhikaram’, while she was on her way to Kodungalur in central Kerala after avenging the wrongdoers in the ancient Tamil city of Madurai.
Though in the early years it was purely a local festival of small gathering of women, over the last few decades ‘pongala’ has become a major religious event.
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