Holy smoke of pongala festival covers Kerala capital

February 22nd, 2008 - 2:01 pm ICT by admin  

Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 22 (IANS) The capital of Kerala was Friday covered by an umbrella of smoke belching out of hundreds of thousands firewood ovens lit to cook an offering of rice in a temple festival. According to reports, nearly three million women lined up on the streets leading to the famous Attukal Bhagavathi temple to cook rice. The event takes place on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long festival and Friday is a holiday in the district.

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

The Attukal pongala is often referred to as the equivalent of the Sabarimala pilgrimage for women. The unprecedented rush for the festival began a few years ago after the Guinness Book of World Records listed it as the only event where over a million women get together.

“This year has witnessed the biggest rush at the festival. We estimate that about three million women have come here. Last year close to 2.5 million women took part in the festival,” said G. Madhavan Nair, chairman of the temple festival committee.

Only women who arrived two days ago managed to get a place to cook near the temple, while the latecomers lined up for miles to offer pongala. About 20 sq km around the temple was chock-a-block with devotees.

Women arrived with bricks, firewood, rice, jaggery and coconut to cook the rice offering. They lit their ovens from the fire provided by the chief priest of the temple after he lit the main oven in the compound at 10 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.

Gomathy Amma, a 63-year-old housewife from Kollam, said she had been coming for the festival for the past 23 years.

“My good fortune began after I came here for the first time 23 years ago. Since then I have had no problems. I got my two daughters married off and also built a house. I will continue to come here every year as long as I can,” said Gomathy.

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

Malayalam superstar Suresh Gopi said the discipline shown by the women was commendable.

“Despite the massive crowd, everything takes place with absolute calmness and with a lot of prayers,” said Gopi.

A large number of foreigners are also here to witness the event.

“We read a lot about this event and we planned our first ever visit to India to coincide with the temple festival. This is really unique,” said an Austrian tourist standing near the temple.

Television channels vied with one another to provide live coverage and one even hired a helicopter to provide an aerial view of Friday’s event.

The railways has been running special trains and attaching additional coaches for devotees.

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