The All Beguiling Attukal Pongala

Soumya Manikkath

Women’s Day celebrated across the world on March 8th is a festivity of acclaiming womanhood. Come Women’s Day and women across the world, undeniably feel a sense of belonging and importance. The famous “Attukal Devi Pongala” in Trivandrum Kerala, celebrated sometime near to the world famous day, is again a marvelous celebration by women with so much of divine festive feel. 

The renowned “Attukal Pongala” is one of the most important temple festivals of Kerala, where lakhs of women from across the state throng to the capital city to prepare sweet rice pudding for Goddess ‘Kannagi’- a reincarnation of Goddess Kali. The famed “Attukal Devi” temple located at Trivandrum, Kerala is all decked up for the annual 10 day festival during the Malayalam month of ‘Makaram-Kumbham’, falling between Feb-March, every year. The famous ‘Pongala’ is on the last day of the festival usually a full moon day. 

As per the popular legend, the Goddess of the temple was newly married to a wealthy merchant called Kovalan, who lived in Kaveripatnam in Tamilnadu. Kannagi was the epitome of womanhood with all the innate qualities of a perfect loving wife. However, Kovalan, soon fell in love with Madhavi- a beautiful dancer. He left his wife and moved in with Madhavi. And like how it happens in all the negative twists of time-tested romantic tales, Kovalan spend all his hard earned wealth on the courtesan.With not a pie left on him, Madhavi threw the worthless merchant out of her house. Kovalan went back to his wife fully repentant of the debauchery he committed. Kannagi, for the noble lady she was, pardoned her husband of his iniquities. They once again started to live together. However, their happiness was short-lived. The couple was finding hard to make ends meet after having lost all their wealth. They decided to sell one of the pair of golden anklets, which Kovalan had gifted Kannagi on their wedding day.Kovalan went to Madurai city with the anklet in order to sell it there. Madurai was ruled by Pandya King Nedunj Cheliyan. The queen of Madurai owned a very similar clone of the anklets, which unfortunately was stolen a few days back before Kovalan reached Madurai to sell his. The jeweler, on seeing the anklet that Kovalan gave him to sell unmistakably decided it to be the queen’s stolen one. Kovalan was held a prisoner and taken before the king. The king without waiting to listen to what Kovalan had to say sentenced him to death for stealing the queen’s royal anklets. When Kannagi learned about her husband’s death, she was furious about the injustice committed. She went to the king with her other anklet and told him that her husband was falsely implicated for a crime he did not commit. The king asked her for proof. The violent Kannagi, broke her other anklet which was filled with rubies. The king and queen were shocked as they knew they had sentenced an innocent person to death for the queen’s anklet was filled with pearls. Kannagi, burned with rage. In her rage, Kannagi cursed the whole city of Madurai to burn down to embers in no time. She left the burning city and reached Attukal in Trivandrum, where people on seeing a glowing divinity in her despite her rage built a temple for her.Women prepare Pongala- sweet rice pudding, to celebrate Kannagi’s victory of righteousness and ultimate justice.

The Attukal Devi Pongala is a fervent divine celebration by women. Every priority, facility and convenience, from government services to private facilities are chiefly tailor-made to provide the best for every woman on the D day. It’s a holy pilgrimage fete of women, when even the traffic inside the state capital is at a complete standstill during the hours of the Pongala preparations. The Govt. provides facilities and services from transportation to essentials like medical aid and free supply of food and drinking water round the clock to the ladies. 

This year, the much acclaimed festival celebration by women was on 20th February 2019. The city was flooded with women from across the state and from the rest of the country. The city was festooned with dazzling decorates more than a week before the Pongala day. Every niche and corner of the state capital was decked with glittering fairy lights, colorful drapes, fresh garlands and beautiful streamers made of coconut leaves. Gorgeous tall figurines of the goddess in decorated tents across all corners of the city added to the divine feel of the festival. Women reached the city days earlier to earmark their place for preparing the sweetmeat. Every road, bylines and lanes of the city were waylaid with bricks and firewood required to create makeshift stoves for the Pongala. Women perched outside bus stands and the central railway station, with their rough and ready brick stoves and earthen pots, getting ready for the big event, almost making it their temporary homes, days before. 

The chief priest of the’ Attukal Devi’ temple lit the huge cauldron in front of the temple at 10.15am to flag-start the Pongala preparations. And nearly more than 40 lakhs of women beat the biting, scorching heat of the sun to prepare their offerings for their beloved Goddess. The city was blanketed in clouds of wood smoke mixed with the wafting flavors of the sweet porridge that drifted out from the uncountable earthen pots, leaving behind a trail of complete and indescribable divine aura.