Thiruvananthapuram, March 9 : As expected the state capital on Monday was taken over by lakhs of women who took part in the famed Attukal Pongala temple festival.
The Pongala cooking takes place on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal festival and is done by women by sitting on the road that starts from the temple and extends to all other parts of the city.
On account of the festival, its a public holiday for all in the capital district.
The temple, located in the heart of the city, is dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathi, believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic “Silappathikaaram”.
The roads leading to the temple were occupied by women for the past two days. They put in place a makeshift kiln, made out of freshly baked bricks.
By around 10 a.m, a radius of 10 kilometre of the city roads was occupied by the women.
The rituals began around 10.20 a.m when the chief priest of the Attukal Bhagavathi Temple lit the makeshift stove with fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
The fire is then passed on to the stoves of the women who had lined up on either side of the roads to cook their offering using rice, jaggery and coconut.
According to the traditions, the women who take part in the Pongala festival have to be dressed in new clothes and every item used for cooking the ‘divine’ pongala has to be brand new.
Like in the past, this time also women from show business – TV and film industry, which included Chippy, Sangeetha Mohan and singer Rajalekshmi, to name a few, were present.
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and his wife, came out of their official residence and went around the main road greeting the women who were busy cooking.
In front of the State Secretariat was a group of transgenders cooking their own food.
With the Coronavirus raging in around 100 countries, this time the foreign nationals who otherwise take part in the festival were asked to remain in their hotels and were not allowed to cook alongside the women in the streets.
The event in 2009 was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day.
According to the legend, Kannaki destroyed Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the king of Madurai wrongfully imposed the death penalty on her husband.
After that, Kannaki travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal and women are said to have cooked pongala to please her.
By around 2.25 p.m. after the chief priest sprays the holy water on the offering, then other priests about 300 of them go around all the places spraying the holy water and once that’s done, after a final prayer, the women pack their bags and make their way back.
Various state government departments made arrangements to see that festival goes off peacefully. Close to 5,000 police officers were on duty in the capital city, including 1,500 women police officers.
The organisers are assisted by the numerous clubs and other bodies, who set up numerous drinking water kiosks and supply free breakfast and lunch.
Incidentally, the biggest feature of the festival is when an army of cleaning staff employed by the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation take over the streets, after the women leave and in a matter of two hours all the bricks and firewood ashes are cleaned up.