Sometimes travel is not just about going to a place. It also involves taking in the culture and the festivals of the land. For people in Thiruvananthapuram, Attukal Pongala is not just a temple festival. Nor is it just an event, which goes down in the Guinness Book of World Records as one of the largest single gathering of women for a religious activity. It is much more than that – an affair with spirituality and celebrating women.
The legend dates back to Silappathikaram and Kannagi. After setting Madurai on flames, Kannagi is supposed to have reached the banks of the Killiyar. She was tired and in mourning. The women of the land made and served her food, before she vanished and became presiding goddess at Attukal. And this is why, year after year, thousands come to offer pongala, from across the globe.
The pongala is rice cooked in pots – preferably earthen – symbolises the hospitable care that their forebears took of the forlorn Kannagi. It is prepared with care and love, sentiments, which still inspire the devout. Now, the word Pongala means also the act of offering the pongala, together with the various rites.
In those good old days, the Pongala was restricted to the immediate precincts of the temple. Gradually, it extended; today, it covers almost 22kms around the temple. The pavements around the city become temporary hearths. It is not just locals who gather for the festival. People from far and wide, across the globe gather here.
This year, the festival is on 23 February.
Attukal Pongala is primarily a women oriented festival. Men are not allowed near the temple on the Pongala day.
It is a local holiday. There may be roadblocks on the day.