The largest religious gathering of women in the world

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Published: 05th November 2009
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As per the Guinness Book of World Records, the world famous Attukal Pongala held at the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Trivandrum, Kerala, Southern India is the largest religious gathering of women in a single place on a single day in the world. Many local people and global visitors have expressed their great wonder about this festival and that it is a most unforgettable experience to take part in it. In 2008, the Attukal Pongala day was on February 22 and nearly three million ladies participated in the function with about 200 women coming from USA and other Western countries.

Historical background.

This festival has been held for several years in the past. When exactly it began is shrouded in myth and history. Many historians say it is more than 600-700 years since it has begun.

The Pongala festival in 2008 commenced from February 14.That is the day on which the idol of the Devi will be decorated with 'kappu.'(which means the idol is adorned with special dresses and jewelry). The 'Kuthiyottam Vratham' (a special penance and ritual which ends with running) for small boys below 12, a part of this festival, commenced on February 16.

The festival was finished on February 23, 2008.In 2009, it was celebrated starting on February 9.

Every year, sometime between February and March(the exact dates and timing depends on the Malayalam calendar and the equivalent days in the English calendar varies),the Attukal Bhgavathy Temple in Trivandrum, Kerala, celebrates the Attukal Pongala.It is estimated that approximately two to three million women has been participating in the last few years in this Hindu ritual called 'pongala.'

The how of Attukal Pongala.

The 'Pongala' actually means the preparation of a 'Prasad' (Prasad means a divine offering and in this case it looks like a pudding made out of rice, jaggery, clarified butter and some other ingredients) for the deity. Women, lining for a long time upon, incessantly growing queues, sit down on the ground, wherever they can find a place, cook rice and jaggery in earthen pots and they offer it to the goddess. The exact time to start the cooking process is indicated by the main priest of the temple when he comes out at about 11 am and kindles the first fire to start the process of cooking pongala.The women also often cook different type of sweet dishes - called 'mandaputtu,' 'appam,' 'therali' - made out of rice powder,jaggery.There are no strict demands as to what one should prepare, other than that the main pongala is a must; coconut tree fronds, firewood etc are used as fuel to cook the 'Prasad.' No electric or gas operated stoves etc are permitted.

Women, thousands and thousands of them, prepare the 'Prasad' in the temple premises and in 2008; they took up all available space within an eight kilometer radius around the temple. All roads leading to the temple and the most major parts of the Trivandrum city including bus station, railway station, are filled with women on this day. All commercial institutions, premises of Government offices and every open space emerge as a single, unified and sacred ground for observing Pongala rituals, for the thousands of women devotees assembling here and coming from different parts of Kerala and outside. The ceremony is exclusively confined to women folk. No men are allowed to perform this ritual.

In the years 2004 to 2008, due to immense crowds, a helicopter service was engaged to give all of the devotees, holy water consecrated inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.

As per local legend, the form of goddess worshipped at Attukal temple is named Kannagi.She is supposed to be an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. This temple can be considered to be a place of Shakti worship (worship of God as indestructible Energy/Power).

Historically, Kannagi is the heroine of famous Tamil epic "Silappathikaram" or- the Epic of the Anklet. The story says that Kannagi's husband Kovalan was unjustly put to death by the ruler of Madurai, for being of wrongly accused of stealing the anklet of the queen.Kannagi, with valiant effort, proved the innocence of her husband at the court. In extreme retaliation and anger, SHE set the entire Madurai city on fire. She then left the city and on her way to Kodungalloor shrine, stopped at Attukal in the form of a small girl.

Local legend says that children and women of the area welcomed her and cooked for her porridge. The anger of Kannagi subsided and she appeared in her ever-loving motherly form. It is in memory of this event, that women cook porridge for her every year. That is a short history of how Attukal pongala came about.

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