Women devotees flood Kerala capital for festival

March 10th, 2009 - 3:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Thiruvananthapuram, March 10 (IANS) Spirals of smoke rose from hundreds of firewood stoves here Tuesday as an estimated three million women devotees from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu converged on the path to the Attukal Bhagavathi temple and cooked rice offerings for the goddess.
The offering is made on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal Pongala festival, which is often referred to as the equivalent of the Sabarimala pilgrimage for women.

Attukal Bhagavathi is believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic “Silappathikaaram”.

“This time the number of devotees has crossed three million. The women are seated on roads. This year several more roads have been occupied compared to last year,” Sreekumaran Nair, the temple superintendent, told IANS.

Only those women who had arrived three days ago managed to get a place to cook near the temple. About 20 sq km around the temple was choc-a-bloc with devotees.

The Guinness Book of World Records listed it as the world’s largest annual gathering of women in 1997, when 1.5 million devotees converged here on Feb 23.

“We have posted 2,000 policemen and 500 women constables besides 15 deputy superintendents of police and three superintendents. We have put up close circuit cameras at all important points,” Commissioner of Police Ravada Chandrasekhar told reporters.

Miss World Parvathy Omanakuttan said this was the second she was offering pongala.

“Last time I won the Miss India crown and became the Miss World runner up after I cam here. Amma is really powerful and one really experiences a feeling of satisfaction after doing this pongala. I am really happy I am here,” said Omanakuttan.

Women devotees arrived here with bricks, firewood, rice, jaggery and coconut to cook the rice offering. They lit their stoves after the chief priest lit the main stove in the compound at about 10.30 a.m.

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 appease her.

Like every year, film actresses also turned up at the temple to prepare the pongala offering.

“This is the 10th time I am offering pongala. I believe Amma is really powerful. One has to be here to experience the goodness,” said film and TV actress Chippy.

Malayalam superstar Suresh Gopi, who is present alongside the priests when the main stove is lit every year, said that he feels fortunate to be able to participate in the event.

“I keep aside all other work to be inside the temple for the lighting of the main stove. Despite the massive crowd, everything takes place with absolute calmness,” he said.

The day of the Attukala Pongala is a holiday in the district except for IT firms.

“The whole city seems like a holy place due to the festival. I will do my best to see that this is turned into a national pilgrimage centre,” said Lok Sabha secretary general P.D.T. Achary.

The railways ran special trains and added additional coaches for the devotees.

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