Kerala getting ready to celebrate all-woman 'Pongala' festival

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Thiruvananthapuram: As Kerala gets ready for the famous annual all-women 'Attukal Pongala,' one of the largest religious congregations, here on March 9, officials are keeping their fingers crossed in view of the coronavirus scare and Centre's advisory to avoid large gatherings.

The Kerala government, which heaved a sigh of relief after the recovery of the country's first three positive cases of the virus in the state recently, cautioned that those under house quarantine and having any symptom of the infection should keep away from the event.

The ritual sees thousands of women from all over the state congregating in the state capital to prepare 'pongala' (sweet offering) as part of the annual festival of the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple here, which is popularly known as 'Women's Sabarimala.'

The state had reported the first three coronavirus cases in the country. All the three medical students from Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly virus, have recovered and completed 14-day home quarantine following discharge from hospitals.

Kerala Health minister K K Shailaja on Friday said those in home quarantine or have had direct contact with affected persons or places or showing any symptoms of the virus should keep away from participating in the pongala ritual.

"If we say that people should avoid mass gatherings, that will create a panic situation. There is no cause for any concern now," the minister told reporters here.

The union health ministry had recently advised that mass gatherings should either be avoided or postponed to prevent spread of COVID-19.

In case such gatherings are organised, respective states should take necessary action to guide the organisers on precautions to be taken, a communication from the health ministry had said.

Since the beginning of the virus scare in mid January, Kerala had placed under observation over 4,000 people who returned from affected nations, including China.

On the Pongala day, women converge in grounds and both sides of the highways, roads and bylines across the city unmindful of the scorching midsummer heat.

They prepare 'pongala', a mix of rice, jaggery and scraped coconut in fresh earthen or metal pots in makeshift brick stoves to please the goddess.

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