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Lakhs of women take part in Attukal Pongala festival

Thiruvananthapuram, March 2 (IANS) Lakhs of women took part in the famed Attukal Pongala festival in Kerala on Friday.

The event was listed in the Guinness World Records in 2009 for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day. It marks the culmination of the 10-day-long annual festival at the Attukal Bhagavathy temple in the city.

A record of 2.5 million women took part in the festival on a single day in 2009.

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 Pongala event takes place on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal Pongala festival.

The most prestigious seat for cooking is in the temple compound where devotees cook the offering for the deity on makeshift brick stoves.

According to the temple authorities, this year has been a record gathering and is estimated to run into several lakhs as women were found cooking in more than a 13 square kilometre radius of the temple.

The rituals began around 10.15 a.m on Friday 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 was 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.

This year, women from neighbouring states also took part in the festival. Even Saraswathy Sathasivam, wife of Kerala Governor P. Sathasivam, participated in the festival. Numerous film personalites and civil society members were also present.

“This is the fourth time I am taking part in this event and next year also I will come,” said Sarawathy who was busy preparing the ‘divine’ offering.

A group of 10 transgenders also took an active part in the festivities.

According to the traditions of this event, 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.

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.

The festival concluded around 2 p.m. after the chief priest sprayed holy water on the offering.

Once this is done, followed by a prayer, the women pack their bags and make their way back.

This year, state-owned transport department operated 400 extra services for the convenience of the devotees while Indian Railways made special arrangements for the travelers by operating seven special trains.

Various state government departments have made arrangements to see that festival goes off peacefully. Close to 4,300 police officers were on duty in the capital city, including 1,500 women police officers.

The organisers were assisted by the numerous clubs and other bodies, who set up more than 1,000 water kiosks and supplied free breakfast and lunch.

However, a dampener to the otherwise non-controversial festival came from Director General of Police (Prisons) R. Sreelekha, who on Tuesday termed the ‘Kuthiyottam’ ritual at the famed Attukal Devi Temple as torture to the young boys who take part in a ritual. He demanded an end to the practice.

The Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has initiated a suo motu move to study the rituals followed in Kerala temples to see if the rights of children are violated.

Even though, State Minister Kadakampally Surendran played down Sreelekha’s statement, saying no importance should be given to that, she has been served a show cause notice by the Chief Secretary to explain her statement.

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