What Attukal Pongala Means To Malayalis

Attukal Pongala is a festival very close to Malayalis, quite like Onam. It’s an annual, religious gathering of women in front of the Attukal Bhagavathy temple in Thiruvananthapuram to offer their blessings to god. The Attukal Bhagavathy temple has been publicised as the ‘Sabarimala of the Women’. Did you know that in 2009, the ritual found its way to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day? Close to 2.5 million women took part in it.

Attukal Pongala I Guinness Book of World Record

This year, however, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the priests will offer Pongala in ‘pandarayaduppu’, located in the main hearth of the temple. For the first time in history, devotees will not be able to offer their blessings or celebrate the Attukal Pongala festival like the year before owing to the pandemic. The ‘thattanivedyam’ and ‘pushpabishekam’ rituals will also not be conducted this year.

According to The News Minute, the Temple Trust Joint, Secretary Ajithkumar, shared, “The temple’s Board decided to have the offering only from the Pandara Aduppu. But the temple compound is a vast open space, it’s not practical to control the number of devotees there. Also, not everyone would be able to come and offer it on the temple compound. Therefore, we decided that all devotees can offer pongala from home,”

The Attukal Pongala brings together lakhs of women from all over Kerala to prepare Pongala over a three-brick stove set-up. Pongala literally translates to boil over, which in Indian tradition is considered to be auspicious. These women prepare payasam made out of grated coconut, jaggery, milk on clay pots or metal pots. A 7km radius around the Attukal Bhagavathy temple would be covered with the presence of women performing the ritual.

Attukal Pongala
Picture Courtesy: Kerala Tourism

We asked a few Malayali women on what it means for them to celebrate Attukal Pongala, and its significance in their lives. Here’s what they had to say.

Arja seeks joy in the company of others during the festival. It’s the time where you meet a lot of people, and enjoy each other’s company and the stories they have to tell. She shared, “More than a religious significance, I like attending Pongalas for its communal harmony. I get to meet my distant cousins, see and experience the science of cooking from random people from different parts of Kerala, meet my aunties in total harmony, who are otherwise always nagging, and obviously gets to taste the amazing payasams . It doesn’t end there, the huge responsibility for us kids is to share and deliver bowls of these delicious payasams to neighbours and other people irrespective of their religion. People connecting with each other through food, ain’t it beautiful?”

Similarly, for Shivani’s mother, Manjula Sarat, Attukal Pongala is a festival of happiness. “Before I was married, I used to go to Attukal to make the Pongala. But now, there are so many options to do it virtually. When everyone does it together, it feels really good. And no matter which house you go to, you will be fed properly and auspiciously. It’s just amazing to see people make the Pongala together. That’s something I look forward to every year,” she shared.

Sasikala, on the other hand, attends the festival to find solace. It’s a rare feeling to experience peace of mind in the middle of chaos, literally, but this festival radiates positivity. That’s what makes it beautiful. She also looks forward to meeting family and friends who come from different parts of Kerala. It’s a reunion of sorts.

Sridhar’s mother, Jayasree Lakshman, shared, “I have been celebrating Attukal Pongala in an unbroken streak for the last five years. Fo me, this festival evokes feelings of well-being (Aishwaryam). I celebrate the festival for the wellbeing of the house and everyone in our close and extended family (sarvaishwaryam of everyone). Attukal Devi is a tutelary deity for everyone. I grew up in Thiruvananthapuram and saw the festival being celebrated every year. But back then, I didn’t celebrate. Although I do not stay in Thiruvananthapuram now, I make it a point to travel every year and celebrate the festival with my sister.”

This year, the festival will take place on February 27, 2021, following all the necessary COVID-19 protocols.

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