All-women Pongala festival turning a boon to potters, vendors

Posted By: PTI
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Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 13: One of world's largest all-women religious events, the annual Pongala festival of the famous Attukal Bhagavathi shrine here, to be celebrated on Sunday, is turning to be a boon to earthen pot-makers in South India who struggle to make both ends meet.

Thousands of earthen pots are in demand during the event as women who congregate here for the ritual will be preparing 'Pongala' (a mix of rice and jaggery) in those pots, as offering to the Goddess for the prosperity of their families.

As Pongala day approaches, Kerala's capital, Thiruvanathapuram, is dotted with wayside shops displaying row of pots of different sizes and shapes. Pongala has been entered as "the largest gathering of women" in the Guinness Book of World records based on the 2.5 million turnout in 2009. Not only native vendors but those from neighbouring Tamil Nadu have also come to sell the 'Pongala kalam' (traditional pots used for the ritual), 'chiratta thavi' (spoons made of coconut shell and stick) and bricks to make 'aduppu' (hearth).

According to market sources, the vendors selling pots on the streets and wayside shops in and around the shrine during the festival days, garner handsome profits. Vast quantity of pots are brought from potters' hamlets in Marthandam, Nagercoil, Shencottah and Kanyakumari, all in Tamil Nadu. As per a rough estimate, the total pottery business during the period will run into lakhs of rupees. After reducing the invested amount and travel cost, each vendor receives a good profit, sources said.

Thousands of earthen pots are in demand during the event.

Though steel and aluminium utensils also find place in the Pongala market these days, vast majority of women stick to the tradition of using earthen pots. "It was not a profitable business till some time ago. But, things have changed now. Steady increase in devotees has made it a profitable business," Sasi, a vendor, said.

He has brought pots worth Rs 1.5 lakh from Nagercoil and expects to mop up Rs 50,000 to Rs 1, 00,000 as profit.

As the traditional pottery industry is sinking in Kerala, the vendors mostly source pots from Tamil Nadu.

"We charge from Rs 15 to Rs 110 for each pot according to its size and shape. I had to remit Rs 5,000 as transportation cost to bring the articles here from Shencottah. To cover all these, I used to take at least Rs 5 as profit from each pot," said 51-year-old Vijayamma, a pot-seller.

The vendors place orders with pot-makers by paying the advance months ahead of the festival. "Some textile shops now sell steel utensils as bonus for buying Pongala sarees. It poses some challenge to us. But, more devotees prefer earthen pots even now," Velu, a young vendor, said.

Cutting across cultural and religious barriers, devotees from and outside India throng the temple premises, highways and bylanes to perform the ritual during the Pongala day.

The festival has been attracting an average of 3-5 lakh devotees every year, which prompted Guinness Book of World Records to record it as the biggest gathering of women on a single day for a religious ritual.


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