Attukal Pongala: Thousands Gather for Massive Women-Led Festival in Kerala

Pongala Festivity in Kerala
Preeti Bali / 1:33 pm / April 5, 2024

Throngs of women devotees converged on the Attukal Bhagavathy temple in Thiruvananthapuram on March 7th for the annual Attukal Pongala festival. This vibrant celebration marks the ninth day of a ten-day women-centric event.

Festival Kicks Off with Traditional Fire-Lighting Ceremony

The festivities commenced at 10.30 am with thousands of women across the city igniting their hearths using the sacred fire from the ‘Pandara Aduppu’ at the temple. This traditional act signifies the official beginning of the Attukal Pongala ritual.

Large Gatherings Return After Pandemic Restrictions Lifted

This year, thanks to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, lakhs of women from Kerala and beyond were able to participate in the ceremony. Attukal Pongala is said to be one of the world’s largest gatherings of women, serving as a powerful display of unity while celebrating the Goddess enshrined at the Attukal Bhagavathy temple.

Across the city, women establish brick hearths along streets and around the temple. Here, they prepare ‘Pongala,’ a sweet dish resembling kheer or payasam, using rice, jaggery, coconut, and cardamom. The offerings are cooked in traditional metal or earthen pots placed on the hearths.

A Celebration of Women and Tradition

This annual festival often referred to as “Women’s Sabarimala,” holds immense significance. In 2009, it secured a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest participation of women in a single event, with an estimated 2.5 million devotees in attendance.

Honouring Kannagi, the Incarnation of Goddess Parvati

Attukal Pongala is held in reverence of the Goddess at the Attukal Bhagavathy temple. The deity worshipped here is Kannagi, believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. As per the Tamil epic “Silappathikaram,” Kannagi’s husband was wrongly accused and executed by the king. After proving his innocence, Kannagi left her city and arrived at Attukal, where she is said to have transformed into Attukalamma, the temple’s Goddess.

Attukal: A Place of Transformation and Blessings

It is believed that Kannagi’s rage subsided at Attukal, and she transitioned into a compassionate deity who bestows blessings upon her devotees. The faithful hold the belief that she listens to their prayers, fulfils vows, and alleviates suffering. Attukal Pongala’s celebration is believed to bring prosperity and happiness to families.

A Ten-Day Festival Culminating in a Grand Offering

The ten-day festival commences in the Malayalam month of Makaram-Kumbham (February-March), starting on the Bharani (Karthika) star day, and concludes on the tenth day with a special sacrificial offering known as ‘Kuruthitharpanam’ held at night. The ninth day is deemed the most significant and observed as the grand Attukal Pongala Mahotsavam.

On this auspicious day, women from all walks of life and communities come together to offer ‘Pongala,’ a sweet porridge made with rice, molasses, cardamom, nuts, and coconut, to the Goddess. The head priest of the temple blesses the offerings by sprinkling holy water and showering flowers on the ‘naivedyam’ (offering) using the Goddess’s sword. Following the blessing, the women take the sanctified ‘Pongala’ home to share with their families.

Evening Rituals and Procession

The evening witnesses a special ritual called ‘chooral kuthu’ for children who participated in the festival’s ‘kuthiyotta vritham’ (a form of penance). Following this, the Goddess’s idol embarks on a vibrant procession towards the Manacaud Sastha temple, returning to Attukal on the tenth day morning. The procession is a spectacular display featuring dancers, singers, and elephants. Devotees along the route pay their respects to the Goddess with offerings of ‘Nirapara’ (decorated pots filled with paddy). Upon the idol’s return to Attukal, the concluding ‘Kuruthitharppanam’ ritual is performed at night, marking the end of the festival.

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