A veteran journalist who enjoys looking at the quirky side of life

R K Nair

Attukal Pongala

| Updated on February 16, 2014

Spots on the streets are booked days in advance with bricks for the hearth placed strategically on the pavements.

Kerala's capital is in a thrall. The city is bedecked for the world's largest annual gathering of women, to pay obeisance to the deity of Attukal Bhagavathy temple, branded as the Sabarimala of women devotees.

The Guinness Book of Records recognised it as the largest congregation of women as 25 lakh devotees were said to have gathered to offer pongala in 2009.

It is a logistical nightmare. The temple premises can barely accommodate a few hundred devotees with their earthen pots and other paraphernalia for the preparation of the sweet rice gruel. So they occupy the streets, playgrounds and vacant lands in a 7-km radius from the temple and perform the chores in tandem with the temple rituals with the blessings of local representatives.

Spots on the streets are booked days in advance with bricks for the hearth placed strategically on the pavements. To avoid confusion and disputes, the bricks are initialled and the spots marked with chalk by representatives of devotees from far-flung areas. The devotees start arriving the previous day and residents of the area and local committees make arrangements for their stay.

Preparations for the pongala ritual begin a week in advance. Loudspeakers at every street corner blare devotional songs and the streets are swept clean and decorated with palm leaves and festoons. On the pongala day, women of all ages, dressed in off-white traditional attire, line the streets in full Kerala splendour!

The Attukal temple is devoted to Kannaki, the heroine of the Tamil epic Silappadikaram by Ilangovadikal. Legend has it that after the destruction of Madurai town, Kannaki travelled to Kodungallur in Kerala. It is believed that she stayed at Attukal on the way and local women offered her pongala for sustenance.

It has long been tradition to offer pongala to the deity for peace and prosperity. Most women prepare three different kinds of the gruel with rice, jaggery and coconut. Some do it in seven pots. Demand for earthen pots and bricks shoots up during the season, which is a boon to pot makers and brick kilns.

Anyone visiting Thiruvananthapuram during the festive week would find it hard to believe that it is the capital city of a Communist bastion. Despite eight decades of Communism, nastikam (atheism) has not really struck deep roots in Kerala's social milieu. Religious orthodoxy, whether it be Hindu, Muslim or Christian, is very pronounced in the State.

Someone once said that the last Englishman would be found on the shores of India. Perhaps the last theist will be found on the shores of Kerala!

Published on February 16, 2014

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