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Thousands of women perform 'Pongala'

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Thousands of women perform Pongala
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Thiruvananthapuram: Thousands of women, from various parts of the country and abroad, Tuesday performed the 'pongala' ritual of the famed Attukal Bhagavathy temple here, billed as one of the world's largest all-women religious gathering.

Cutting across class and caste barriers, women congregated around the temple, beside the highways and bylanes of the city to perform the annual ceremony of cooking of rice- jaggery mix in fresh earthen pots as their offering to the presiding goddess of the shrine, seeking her blessings for year-round peace and prosperity.

The ritual had made its way into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest religious gathering of women on a single day when 2.5 million took part in it in 2009.

Today, the rituals began at 10 AM when Chief Priest Arun Kumar Nampoothiri lit the main hearth (Pandara Adappu) near the shrine.

Temple authorities said they expect 40 lakh women to be offering the pongala this year.

Attukal temple is also termed "women's Sabarimala" as only women perform the ritual while it is predominantly men who under take the pilgrimage to the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa.

Women in the age group of 10-50 are not allowed to worship at Sabarimala under the temple tradition, which has been challenge in the Supreme Court recently.

Local legend says that 'pongala' festival commemorates the hospitality accorded by women in the locality to 'Kannagi', the divine incarnation of the heroine of Tamil epic 'Silappadhikaram', while she was on her way to Kodungalur in central Kerala after avenging the wrongdoers in the ancient Tamil city of Madurai.

Though in the early years it was purely a local festival of small gathering of women, over the last few decades 'pongala' has become a major religious event.

The women, including film actors and government officials, squatted in rows in an area of about 10 km radius around the temple in the southeast periphery of the city well before the ritual began. The fire to light the hearths was handed over by the temple priest around 10 AM.

Within minutes, the fire exchanged hands and thousands of hearths were lit with the rice boiling up and spilling over the pots as the devotees prayed with folded hands.

Police have made elaborate security arrangements to ensure smooth conduct of the festival.

Over 3,500 police personnel and 70 additional surveillance cameras have been set up in various vantage points across the city, where the entry of heavy vehicles, timber lorries, container lorries and goods vehicles, has been banned from 2 PM yesterday till 8 PM today.

This year the temple authorities and Suchitwa Mission have decided to make the pongala plastic-free.

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