Court remarks upset Kerala temple officials

July 25th, 2010 - 6:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Thiruvananthapuram, July 25 (IANS) Officials of the famed Attukal Bhagavathy temple here have expressed concern over a reference made by the Kerala High Court last week during a hearing on the government’s plea against curbs on roadside public meetings.
During the course of the hearing, a division bench of the court made a passing reference to the Attukal Pongala festival of the temple which is held on the roads in the capital city.

The court opined that it would be best if the roads are left free and the assembly of women, as part of the festival, takes place in various stadiums in the capital city.

Attukal Temple Trust president R. Gopinathan Nair said here that it is unfortunate that such a reference was made on the famed temple.

“Given the nature of the response to the festival, even if all the stadiums in the state are taken it won’t be enough to hold all the women who take part in the festival ritual,” said Nair.

The famed Pongala festival of the temple held February-March every year witnesses thousands of women line up along roads in the capital city and prepare an offering of cooked rice for the presiding deity, believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic “Silappathikaaram”.

This temple is dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathy.

This year the event took place Feb 28 and an estimated three million women took part in it.

The ritual of cooking the offering starts when the chief priest lights a pot of fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The fire is then passed on to the devotees, who sit on the roadside and their kiln is lit.

This offering is made on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal Pongala festival.

The offering is prepared using rice, jaggery and coconut and is cooked in three to four hours’ time. It is only when the priest, around 3 p.m., starts spraying sacred water from the temple on the cooked rice that the women devotees pack up their offerings and begin their return journey.

“So far we have had no complaints from any quarters regarding the holding of this festival on the streets of the city. Now we will wait what the high court is going to say in its final judgment and we will certainly go in for an appeal if there is going to be anything about our temple festival,” added Nair.

The Guinness World Records listed the festival as the worlds largest annual gathering of women in 1997, when 1.5 million devotees converged here Feb 23.

According to the legend, Kannaki destroyed the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the king of Madurai wrongfully imposed death penalty on her husband. Kannaki then travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal and women are said to have cooked pongala to appease her.

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