Thousands of women today prepared the ‘Pongala’ offering to the presiding deity of Attukal Bhagavathy temple here, in one of the world’s largest all-women religious gatherings.
The women prepared ‘pongala’ (a mix of rice, jaggery and scrapped coconut) for about two hours in fresh earthen or metal pots in makeshift brick stoves by lining up on either side of the roads, around 25-30 km circumference of the shrine. This year, pongala was offered even in suburban areas of the capital city.
The ritual had made it to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day when 2.5 million took part in it.
The city was converted into a ‘yaga shala’ with roads lined up with makeshift brick stoves.
The devotees usually start converging to the capital city a day ahead of the festival and book their places to prepare the offering to the presiding goddess of the shrine and seek her blessings for peace and prosperity. The rituals began at 10.45 AM when the chief priest lit the main hearth (Pandara Adappu) near the shrine, signalling the start of the annual ritual.
Attukal temple is also called “women’s Sabarimala” as only women perform the ritual, while it is predominantly men who undertake the pilgrimage to the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimla. Women in the age group of 10-50 years are not allowed to worship at Sabarimala under the temple tradition, which has been challenged in the Supreme Court recently.
Local legend says that the 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 destroying Madurai city to avenge the injustice to her husband Kovilan.
The pongala festival marks the finale of the 10-day ritual at the shrine. About 3,200 police personnel have been deployed across the city to ensure that no untoward incident occur.
Besides, a contingent of 30 women commandos and 200 Pink volunteers will be among those providing security cover. Drone cameras are used for surveillance in three areas of the city.
Special KSRTC buses and six special trains, additional coaches and stoppages have been arranged by the Southern Railways to help women devotees offer pongala and return to their respective destinations.
The government had also made steps to store about 25 million litres of water in four major tanks in various parts of the city for the devotees.
Devaswom minister Kadakamappaly Surendran, MP Shashi Tharoor, BJP leader O Rajagopal and Congress leader K Muraleedharan were present near the temple precints as the holy fire was lit at the main hearth and passed on to other hearths.