If you are planning to visit Thiruvananthapuram this Wednesday, better think twice. More than 3 million women from India and abroad will be laying siege to the capital city of Kerala from 4:00 am to 5:00 pm on that day .
No, it is not for any agitation against economic liberalisation or harassment against women. Wednesday marks the Attukal Pongala, where women, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, descend on the city to perform the annual ritual of Pongala to the presiding deity of Attukal Temple, the Supreme Mother.
“The Guinness Book of World Records has rated this as is the world’s largest annual gathering of women. Last year we saw more than 3 million women descending at Thiruvananthapuram on the Pongala Day,” M Radhakrishnan Nair, president, Attukal Trust, the agency entrusted with the temple administration, told DNA.
He said the intelligence agencies had told the temple authorities to be prepared to host 3.5 million women for this year’s Pongala. The city will remain out of bound for all males other than the priests, the temple volunteers and local police force.
What makes the temple festival of Pongala unique is the presence of women from India and abroad. “Though this was considered as an exclusive Hindu festival, it has become a thing of the past. Attukal Pongala is a festival featuring Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and all other religions,” said Laila Venukumar, an ardent devotee of Attukal Amma. She said many of her friends from Christian and Muslim faiths join her in offering Pongala (a mixture of rice, jaggery, ghee and coconut cooked as an offering to the deity).
Mohammed Ghouse, a former bank official, settled in the temple neighbourhood, said thousands of Muslim women join their Hindu counterparts in the offering. “But what makes the temple festival really interesting is that the entire Muslim community in Thiruvananthapuram throw open their doors for the devotees to prepare the Pongala,” said Ghouse.
Since the temple premises can not accommodate all the devotees, the entire city itself is thrown open to them.
“One may not be able to step out of Thiruvananthapuram Railway Station or bus terminus on Wednesday since the entire city roads will be occupied by the devotees,” said MR Hari, entrepreneur who has made the city his home for the last two decades.
The general belief is that the offering of Pongala to Goddess Attukal Devi would put to an end all woes and troubles faced by the women. “We get all sorts of feedback from devotees. But we would like to keep it to ourselves and do not want to advertise it,” said MS Jyothish Kumar, secretary of the trust. He said Thiruvananthapuram is all set to create another world record on Wednesday for the largest women congregation.
The legend is that the deity is none other than Parvathy, consort of Lord Shiva, who in her reincarnation as Kannaki, the heroine of Tamil epic Chilappathikaram visited the spot where the temple stands today.