Devotees in thousands converge for all-woman ''pongala'' fest

Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 18 (PTI) Thousands of women havestarted flowing here to perform one of the world''s largestall-woman religious events -- the ''Pongala'' ritual of AttukalaBhagavathy temple.

The ''Pongala'' ritual comprises cooking of rice-jaggerymix in fresh earthen pots as the devotees'' offering to GoddessBhagavathy, seek her blessings for year-round peace, plentyand prosperity.

For the last several years, the festival has beenattracting over 2.5 million women, an event which had beenrecorded by Guinness Book of World Records a few years back,as the biggest gathering of women on a single day for areligious ritual.

Devotees from different parts of the state andneighbouring Tamil Nadu and Kanyakumari have been tricklinginto the city since this morning, carrying pots, logs andbricks to make the hearth for preparing the offering.

They will squat in rows beside main highways and by-lanesaround the city by wee hours tomorrow. The ritual would beginwith the fire being handed over to them by temple priests tolight each one''s hearth to cook ''pongala'' after 10.45 AM.

Later in the afternoon, the cooked offering will besprinkled with holy water by priests, marking conclusion ofthe ceremony.

Temple secretary R Ramachandran Nair told PTI that allsecurity and crowd management arrangements had been made forsafe and smooth conduct of the event. Home Minister KodiyeriBalakrishnan visited the temple last night to review thearrangements.

Police and Fire Force, Health Department, CityCorporation and other government agencies and voluntaryagencies have offered help for the conduct of the festival.

Local legend says that ''pongala'' festival commemoratesthe hospitality accorded by women in the locality to ''Kannagi''-- heroine of Tamil epic ''Silappadikaram'', while she was onher way to Kodungalur in central Kerala after avenging thekillers of her husband Kovilan.

Though in the early years it was a purely local festivalof a small gathering of women, over the last few decades''pongala'' has been attracting a huge number of devotees. PTINM APRAHM02181706

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