The city of Trivandrum is getting ready for the annual Pongala at the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple, which is this Sunday. I’m really hoping to go into town to see it and take some photographs. A Pongala is a Hindu religious festival for woman devotees. Pongala means “to boil over” and refers to the ritualistic offering of kheer or payasam made of rice, sweet molasses, coconut, nuts and raisins. Women from all over the country travel to participate in this festival. Women squat on roads, footpaths and shop fronts in a radius of several miles around the temple to cook their mixtures in earthen pots that is offered to the goddess seeking divine blessings. The Chief Priest of the temple lights the main hearth from the fire inside the temple. This fire is exchanged from one oven to another. Eventually all of the ovens will be lit from this one single flame. Beautiful. This particular festival has been entered into the Guiness Book of World Records as the largest gathering of women in a single place at the same time. It is expected that over 35 million women will participate this year. This seriously blows my mind and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.
I found out about the details of this festival from a wonderful tailor here in Kovalam. He, in his very broken English, told me the story of the deity of this particular temple. His version was extremely difficult to follow along, so here is the excerpt directly from wikipedia:
The Goddess Kannagi is the main deity in this temple. The mythology behind the temple, relates to the story of Kannagi who was married to Kovalan, son of a wealthy merchant. After marriage, Kovalan met a dancer and spent all his riches on her forgetting his wife. But when he was penniless, he went back to Kannagi. The only precious thing left to be sold was Kannagi’s pair of anklets. They went with it to the king of Madurai to sell it. But an anklet was stolen from the Queen which looked similar to Kannagi’s. When he tried to sell it, he was mistaken for the thief and beheaded by the king’s soldiers.
Kannagi got infuriated when she heard the news and rushed to the King with the second pair of anklet. She broke one of the anklets and it contained rubies while the Queen’s contained pearls. She cursed the city of Madurai, and it is said that due to her chastity, the curse came true. Kannagi is said to have attained salvation after the Goddess of the city appeared before her.
It is said that on her way to Kodungalloor, Kannagi passed Attukal. She took the form of a little girl. An old man was sitting on the banks of a stream, when the girl went to him and asked him whether he could help her cross it. Surprised to find the young girl alone, he took her home. But she disappeared. She came back in his sleep and asked him to build a temple where he found 3 golden lines in his grove. He went ahead and did the same, and it is said that this is at the location of the present Attukal temple.
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