Thiruvananthapuram: Cutting across age barriers, thousands of women took part in the famous "Attukal Pongala," one of the largest religious congregations of women, here Wednesday.
Preparing 'pongala' (sweet offering) is considered an auspicious all-women ritual as part of the annual festival of the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple here, which is popularly known as the "Women's Sabarimala".
Braving scorching heat and humid climate, women from various parts of Kerala and outside the state converged in grounds and both sides of the highways, roads and bylines across the city and prepared 'pongala', a mix of rice, jaggery and scraped coconut in fresh earthen or metal pots to please the Goddess.
With makeshift brick stoves, placed on both sides of the roads, and hymns of the goddess chanted by devotees, the state capital appeared to have turned into a 'yaga sala'.
The festivities began at 10.20 am after chief priest, N Vishnu Namboothiri lit the 'pandara aduppu', the main hearth at the shrine.
Following this, women devotees lit their brick stoves and prepared the offering with prayers.
Besides 'pongala', many devotees also prepare several other offerings like 'therali', 'mandaputtu' and 'palpayasam.' The sanctification of the offerings would be held later.
"Kuthiyottam", a ritual which sees the participation of boys aged below 13 years, would be held tonight, temple authorities said.
In 2009, the Pongala ritual had made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day when over 2.5 million people took part.
As per local legend, the Pongala festival commemorates the hospitality accorded by women in the locality to Kannagi, the divine incarnation of the heroine of the Tamil epic 'Silappadhikaram' while she was on her way after destroying Madurai city to avenge the injustice to her husband Kovalan.
Attukal Temple is called the "Women's Sabarimala" as only women perform rituals, while it is predominantly men who undertake the pilgrimage to the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala.
Authorities have made elaborate arrangements for the conduct of a safe and hassle-free pongala, which marks the finale of the 10-day ritual at the shrine.