Saturday, March 21, 2009

Aatukal Pongala!

Attukal Pongala is held on the ninth day of the 10-day festival at theAttukal Bhagavathy Temple. The goddess worshipped at Attukal temple is Kannagi who is an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. Kannagi is the heroine of famous Tamil poem Silappathikaram - theEpic of the Anklet. The story has it that Kannagi’s husband Kovalanwas unjustly put to death by the ruler of Madurai for stealing the anklet of the queen. Kannagi proves the innocence of her husband at the court and in anger sets the entire Madurai city on fire. It is believed thaton her way to Kodungalloor shrine she had stopped at Attukal.

There is another legend associated wit the Temple. The Goddess appeared as a child before an elderly man who was performing his evening oblations at the Killi River. The child wanted to cross the river but the old man was surprised to see a small girl at that odd time. So, he helped her in crossing the river and decided to take her home. Couple of minutes after reaching home, the young girl was not to be seen. During that night, Goddess appeared in the dream of the old man and told him that she had drawn three lines in a sacred grove nearby and she would like to reside there. Next morning, the old man went to the place and to his surprise found three marks at the suggested place. He built a small temple there and as time passed the Goddess brought prosperity to the region and the local people renovated the shrine to the present status.

Whatever the reasons, Crores of Devotees flock in Millions to Trivandrum for this annual festival. The word Pongala means to boil over and refers to the ritual offering that is most pleasing to the deity - a porridge of rice, sweet brown molasses, coconut gratings, nuts and raisins. Only women are allowed to participate in this ritual. Right from the previous night thousands of women, regardless of caste, creed and colour, assembled in the temple premises and on either sides of the roads leading to the shrine to perform Pongala.

The festival commences on Karthika day of Malayalam month Makaram-Kumbham (Feb-March). Pongala festival is a ten-day long festival and on the 9th day of the festival is the famous Pongala. On that day, tens of hundreds of women throng to the temple to offer pongala in earthen pots. Pongala is a rice porridge, which boils over. The rush of women is so intense that the Pongala ground spreads outside the temple premises and into the public roads, and the courtyards of houses, government offices, bus and train station, etc. Women offer pongala in a radius of about 5Km, essentially turning the whole of Thiruvananthapuram City into the holy grounds for the women to offer Pongala. All the transport buses plying from the city are reserved for women on Pongala day. No number of words can do justice to frenzy of the day's festivities, which wholly belongs to women devotees. Immediately after the end of the recitation, it begins the rituals for Attukal Pongala, which begins with making fire in the temple hearth known as "Pandara Aduppu". Sacred Fire from the Pandara Aduppu is used to light the pongala stove.

And so I landed in Trivandrum from Kanyakumari around Mid Day. While in the train I had noticed lot of Women carrying stuff for Pongala. We had lunch from the Railway station Canteen. I could notice an increase in the security level at the Railway station.Pongala Festival was on next day. Once we stepped out of the railway station, I relaized that the city had come to a stand still. Traffic was moving very still. Everywhere I could see ladies who had put up stones for cooking with A traditional clay pot being kept on top of it. I could see a lot of unit around ladies. Ladies who had come in groups sitting together and chatting and making arrangements for the next day function. Sitting at the shades to escape from the Scorching sun and cracking jokes. Poorest of the poor brought together by a belief in the Goddess.

With great difficulty we caught hold of a taxi to ferry us to the destination. We were to stay at one of the quarters of the Harbor Engineering Department of Kerala state at Kamaleshwaram. All the main routes were blocked but the taxi driver managed to get us to the place. We went out to visit a relative and also visited Pazhavangadi Ganapathi Temple, at East Fort. All along the roads there were shops setting items for the Pongala. We bought the Pot and other cooking items from East Fort. Roads were blocked in the area and the only option left to us was walk from Pazhavanagadi to Kamaleshwaram. On the roadside banners, fancy display and other informations are setup .Traffic Police were trying its best to manage order. We took rest for a while and made arrangements for Dinner. All around the Harbor Engineering Department quarters, women from all around had qued up, setup their small stoves with stones and leafs of Coconut Tree. Everyone sleeps right next to their stove on the ground. During the course of the night I could hear ladies chatting in the night.

I got up early in the morning went to the a temple nearby and prayed. It was a small temple devoted to Shiva. There were also idols of Ganapathi and Navagraha near by. Ladies have bath and get ready for the ceremony. All the channels in Malayalam were broadcasting the event live. Once the Priest lights the fire in the sacred stove At around 10:30am the function started. Ladies started cooking the Pongala and by around 12 noon, it was ready. Hats off to them, cooking in the scorching sun and in the heat of the Month of march. Ladies generally don't eat anything until the function is over (around 3pm). & So around 3pm the priest came to shower the sacred water in the earthen pots, signifying the blessings of the Goddess.

We had to catch the flight departing around 745pm and it was becoming increasingly difficult. Traffic was just clearning off and Autos or taxis were not plying. Finally we managed somehow to reach Trivandrum Airport. Our flight was slightly delayed (Kingfisher) because of the late arrival of the flight from Bangalore. It was Advika's maiden flight as well. Interstingly she slept most of the way. From BIAL we took a volvo and Deepak picked us up from Marathahalli. It was 12 by the time we reached home.

Aatukal Pongala is a festival of sharing.
In a place where ladies don't generally go out of their houses after 7pm, I was glad to see ladies spending time out. And to see a Big festival dedicated to ladies.
I was even told that Autos don't charge ladies returning back home from Aatukal Pongala.
Southern Railway accomodates normal passengers in reserved compartments until Quilon in the north and Neyyattinkara in the south during Pongala time

I could not meet Sajith (my class mate), who made this trip possible for me; even though we were few kilometers apart :(.
But being part of such a huge occasion gave me immense happiness.

Rajani Anna at the Pongala!
Chettiyar !
Rush at Pazhavangadi
Pongala before cooking
Pongala being cooked
Pongala Ready
Priest showering Goddess Blessings to the Pongala.
The flight after landing in Bangalore

Coming Soon : Govinda Govinda...

1 comment:

Mridhool said...

Woosh... pongala is related to Kannagi??? Dint know!! Thats another take away :)..