40 lakh women expected for Attukal Pongala festival

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Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 22 (IANS) A record 40 lakh women devotees are expected to take part in the 10-day Attukal Pongala festival that begins at the Attukal Bhagavathi temple here on Tuesday, officials said.

Women from Kerala and outside started arriving in large numbers on Monday to take part in the festival.

Tuesday’s main event would be when women cook an offering of a sweet dish sitting by the roadside around the temple.

“We are expecting a record four million (40 lakh) women devotees. By now all vantage positions in and around the temple and the roads leading to it have been taken over by women,” said an official of the Attukal Bhagavathi Temple Trust that conducts the festivities.

Last year, an estimated 3.5 million (35 lakh) women took part in the event which entered the Guinness World Records in 2009 for the maximum participation by women.

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“This is my first visit to the event and I was influenced by my cousin who has been calling me for years. There is a belief that if we take part in this festival and tell our needs to the Devi, they get fulfilled very soon. I have one such need and hence I have come and tomorrow (Tuesday) morning I will go with my cousin,” said Sreelatha Nair, a homemaker from Kottayam.

The temple is dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathi, a goddess believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of Tamil epic “Silappathikaaram”.

A top police official said a first batch of police personnel have been deployed, and they have already taken up positions and were guiding traffic movement.

By Tuesday morning, around 3,500 policemen will be deployed.

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The state government announced a half-day holiday on Monday and a full day holiday on Tuesday in Thiruvananthapuram district.

Even the Kerala assembly session has been given a two-day break.

The rituals will begin around 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday, when the temple’s chief priest will light the makeshift stove with fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum.

The fire is then passed on to the women who line up on either side of the road and cook their offering.

By 1.30 p.m. when the holy water from the temple is sprayed by specially appointed priests, the women then pack up and return.

According to legend, Kannaki destroyed Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the king of Madurai wrongfully imposed the death penalty on her husband.

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After that, Kannaki travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal where women were said to have cooked Pongala to please her.

The festival has become so famous that even Christian women take part in the festivities, as also a good number of foreign women tourists.

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