Saturday, March 03, 2007

Pongala oven burning chokes Kerala’s capital

This capital city of Kerala came under an umbrella of smoke belching out from hundreds of thousands firewood burning ovens that were lit to cook the pongal feast.

Over two-and-a-half million women lined up yesterday on the streets leading to the famous Attukal Bhagavathi temple in the capital city of Kerala, cooking an offering of rice around the temple premises.

The event takes place on the penultimate day of the 10-day long pongala festival and is a local holiday in the district.

Attukal Bhagavathi is believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki and is referred to in the Tamil epic “Silappathikaram”.

Also referred to as the Sabarimala for women, the Attukal pongala attracts not just Hindu women but foreign women as well.

The unprecedented rush for the pongala festival began a few years back after the “Guinness Book of World Records” listed it as the only event where over a million women get together to take part in the festivities.

“Since then, the numbers have been increasing every year. This year we were expecting two million devotees, but more than 2.5 million women arrived here,” said Attukal temple secretary K.P.Ramachandran Nair.

Women who arrive at least two days before pongala day manage to get their cooking place near the temple, while latecomers line up for miles to offer pongala. This year the queue stretched to almost 15 square kilometers in and around the temple.

Women arrive with bricks, firewood and raw materials including rice, jaggery and coconut. They light their ovens from the fire provided by the chief priest of the temple after he lights the oven in the temple compound at 10.45 a.m.

According to the legend, after destroying Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Kannaki travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal. Women are said to have cooked pongala to appease Kannaki.

Shyamala Kumari, a housewife from Kollam, said, “This is the first time I am visiting the temple for the festival and I am having a great time. My relatives have told me that the goddess is very powerful and fulfills all your wishes.”


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