The Pongala festival of the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple, one of the ancient temples in South India, popularly described as the Sabarimala of women began on February 25th. The ceremonial ritual of kappukettu was done and the deity of the goddess was prepared for the festival. On March 5th, at around 10.15 am, the fire will be lit in the temple hearth called the pandara aduppu. The fire will then be passed on to the thousands of women getting ready to offer Pongala. By 3.15 pm on the same day, once the offering is blessed by the temple priest, the subsequent rituals like kuthiyottam and purathezhunallipu, the grand procession of the Goddess, will take place.
On March 6th, which is the 10th day of the festival, the holy kappu or bangles embellished on the Goddess is removed by around 8.15 pm. The festival will conclude after the final ritual of kuruthitharpanam.
In 1997, the Attukal Pongala festival entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest annual gathering of women in the world in a single place on a single day irrespective of caste, creed or religion. That year, the festival saw a turnout of 15 lakh women. Later, in the year 2009, the record was broken, as 25 lakh women came forth to offer Pongala. This year, the turnout is expected to cross the previous year’s record, says the Chairman of the Temple Trust, K. P. Ramachandran Nair, President V. L. Vinod, and the Festival Convenor V. Chandrasekhara Pillai.
Legend has it that, when Goddess Kannagi appeared before the devotees, infuriated after the Mahishasura mardanam, the women prepared an offering of Pongala to appease the Goddess. Attukal Pongala happens every year in remembrance of this. Kuthiyottam and thalapoli are the major offerings at the temple. Boys below the age of 12 are allowed to participate in kuthiyottam. On the 3rd day after kappukettu, the boys have to observe strict abstinence for kuthiyottam. The boys live inside the temple premises for 7 days before the ceremony. On the 7th day, they do a customary bow in front of the Goddess 1008 times.
So far, 830 boys have already registered for this year’s kuthiyottam. For the kuthiyottam taking place next year, applications will be received online as well from August 17 onwards. Girls below the age of 10 can take part in the thalapoli offering. The entertainment programmes for the festival was inaugurated by film actor Manju Warrier on February 25th. The former Chairman of ISRO, Dr. K. Radhakrishnan was honoured with the Attukal Amba Puraskaram during the inaugural function.