Thursday, 21 February 2008

Attukal Pongala- A festival for women

I can imagine how Trivandrum (Capital city of Kerala, India) will be like today. There will be an overwhelming number of women, everyone equipped with earthen pots and waiting patiently on footpaths, railway stations, open grounds and wherever they could find a bit of space. They will also be ready with all the stuff needed to start a small fire for cooking!

So what am I talking about? It is today that the festival of Attukal Pongala will be celebrated at one of the most famous temples in Kerala, Attukal. You might have heard of Sabarimala - a temple where only men are allowed to enter (and small girls and elderly women). Attukal temple is ‘Women’s Sabarimala’ (though men are allowed to enter the temple). Attukal Pongala is a unique festival since only women take part in it.

Attukal Pongala is celebrated to please Attukal Bhagavathi (Goddess). The main ritual involves the preparation of payasam (rice pudding) in earthen pots using ingredients like rice, jaggery, spices, coconut etc. and offering it to the Goddess.

The legend behind this festival is like this:

Once there lived in the city of Kaveripattanam a couple, Kovalan and Kannaki. They were rich and happy but everything went wrong when Kovalan fell in love with a dancer named Madhavi. He forgot all about his wife and it was not until he had spent all his money on Madhavi and became bankrupt that he realised his mistake. He went back to his wife who forgave him.

They went to the city of Madurai where they hoped to sell one of Kannaki’s anklets, which was the only valuable thing left with them, and start life afresh. But when Kovalan tried to sell the anklet he was arrested by the king’s soldiers who accused him of stealing it (someone had stolen one of the anklets of the queen which unfortunately looked very similar to Kannaki’s). Kovalan was killed without a fair trial.

Kannaki on hearing the news was devastated and angry. She went to see the King and the Queen and proved her husband's innocence by showing the other anklet of the pair. THe King and Queen were so ashamed of themselves that they fell dead. But Kannaki was still so angry that she cursed the whole city. Due to her immense chastity the whole city went up in flames.

Still not pacified she left the city and walked on to Kanyakumari and then to Trivandrum. There she was welcomed by the local women with offerings of Pongala Payasam. That is how Attukal Pongala started to be celebrated.
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Take a look at this video.



During the festival you can’t get anywhere near the temple (you can if you don’t mind getting squashed!). Women of all ages start arriving from all parts of the country even days before the festival- at least 5 km radius around the temple will be filled with devotees! Can you believe that 2.5 million women are expected to take part in the festival this year?? No wonder it is in the Guinness book of records for being the largest festival for women.
I have visited this temple many times and it is certainly divine. I have never seen it empty- always there are devotees queuing up to let this powerful Goddess know about their troubles and problems.

If you ever visit Kerala be sure to visit this temple!!
Liked this write-up? Then do leave a comment!

11 comments:

Arv said...

Will surely visit this temple on my next trip down to Kerala...

Thanks for the detailed and informative post.

Paul said...

Great post. I found it very interesting. Particularly like the story of Kannaki. I've never been to India, so am delighted to read your insights.

Novice Writer said...

arv, thats great!:-)

paul, yes Kannanki's story is very interesting.. I like these sort of stories very much..:-) thanks for dropping by!!

SheR. said...

Wah.. always wanted to visit India but would not do it without a guide. Care to be our guide?

Stella said...

Interesting post! (I have to read up on Indian mythology. I'm shamefully ignorant...)

Umsy said...

i never knew this story till I read yr post....

Novice Writer said...

Thanks Stella & Umsy for your comments..Hoping to share more such stories here..

Anonymous said...

what you have written is absolutely right.I am a devotee of Attukalamma.I offered pongala 14 times so far.It is a wonderful experience.
KBR

Arv said...

like the new look of your blog... :)

asha said...

Interesting topic...ofcourse it is a divine moment when we offer pongala inspite of all the smoke and difficulties...its my 3rd pongala...

Novice Writer said...

Thanks Arv! It was all cluttered in the other template..I think now it looks much better.

Asha, thanks for the comment:-)