Thiruvananthapuram: Lakhs of women in Kerala on Saturday are taking part in the famed Attukal Pongala festival by cooking pongala while sitting on the roads in the capital city.
Listed in the Guinness World Records for being an event where the largest number of women gather to take part to offer prayers on a single day, the festival now seeing women participating from other religions as well.
The pongala event (cooking rice porridge) takes place on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal Pongala festival.
Attukal Bhagavathi temple is located in the heart of the city, and is believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic “Silapathikaram”.
The most prestigious seat for cooking is in the temple compound and women reserve their place to cook prior to the festival day.
According to temple authorities, it has been a record gathering and is estimated to run into several lakhs as women were found cooking in more than a 10-sq km radius from the temple.
The rituals on Saturday began around 10.45 a.m when the chief priest of the temple lit the makeshift stove with fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
The temple fire is then passed on to the stoves of women who line up on either side of the roads and cook their offering using rice, jaggery and coconut.
The women who take part in this festival dress up in new clothes.
“My two cousins, one from London and the other from the US come here every year to take part in the ritual. I have dropped both of them at a friend’s place near the temple on Friday. Including me, all my family members are strong believers of Devi and despite the heat, it is amazing to see that the number of devotees every year is on the increase,” said C.P. Shaji, a businessman.
According to legend, Kannaki destroyed Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the king of Madurai wrongfully imposed the death penalty on her husband.
After that, Kannaki travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal and women are said to have cooked pongala to please her.
“This is my first time and I am here after hearing that wishes have turned true to those who have come and offered pongala. This is something one has to experience and I am feeling so excited after seeing the enthusiasm and the divinity with which each woman is doing this ritual,” said a lady who did not wish to be identified.
The festival comes to a close when around 2.15 p.m., the women wait for the chief priest to sprinkle holy water on the offering, for which the temple have authorised 500 priests to go around the places.
Once this is done, after a small prayer, the women pack their bags and make their way home.
The state-owned transport department and the Indian Railways have made special arrangements for the travellers.
Various state government departments have made arrangements for the festival. Around 1,700 women police officials have been deployed to ensure the festival goes peacefully, besides hundreds of volunteers and senior police officials.
There are more than 1,500 water kiosks that have been set up at various places, in and around the city, where the women have lined up to cook the holy meal.
Various clubs and social organisation are offering assistance required in terms of free refreshment and transport to the women who have come from far.