The Attukal Bhagavathy Temple is a Hindu religious shrine at Attukal in Kerala, India. The temple is renowned for the annual Attukal Pongala festival, in which over three million women participate. A festival that has figured in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the single largest gathering of women for a religious activity, the Attukal Pongala continues to draw millions of women with each passing year. According to the Attukal Temple Trust, around 4.5 million devotees are expected to attend the pongala in 2016.Attukal Temple is situated within 2 kilometres of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.
The Goddess Kannaki (Parvathi) is the main deity in this temple. The mythology behind the temple, relates to the story of Kannagi who was married to Kovalan, son of a wealthy merchant. After marriage, Kovalan met a dancer and spent all his riches on her forgetting his wife. But when he was penniless, he went back to Kannagi. The only precious thing left to be sold was Kannagi's pair of anklets. They went with it to the king of Madurai to sell it. But an anklet was stolen from the Queen which looked similar to Kannagi's. When Kovalan tried to sell it, he was mistaken for the theft and beheaded by the king's soldiers.
Kannagi got infuriated when she heard the news and rushed to the King with the second pair of anklet. She broke one of the anklets and it contained rubies while the Queen's contained pearls. She cursed the city of Madurai, and it is said that due to her chastity, the curse came true. Kannagi is said to have attained salvation after the Goddess of the city appeared before her.
It is said that on her way to Kodungallur, Kannagi passed Attukal. She took the form of a little girl. An old man was sitting on the banks of a stream, when the girl went to him and asked him whether he could help her cross it. Surprised to find the young girl alone, he took her home. But she disappeared. She came back in his sleep and asked him to build a temple where he found 3 golden lines in his grove. He went ahead and did the same, and it is said that this is at the location of the present Attukal temple.
Attukal Pongala is the main festival of this temple. Attukal Pongala Mahotsavam is a 10 days festival which falls on February - March every year (Malayalam month of Makaram - Kumbham). The festival begins on the Karthika star with the traditional Kappukettu and Kudiyiruthu ceremony, the idol of Devi, is embellished with Kappu (Bangles). The 9th day of the festival is the major attraction, The Attukal Pongala day and the festival will conclude with the Kuruthitharpanam at 10th day night.
Millions of women gather every year in the month of Kumbham around this temple and prepare Pongala (rice cooked with jaggery, ghee, coconut as
well as other ingredients) in the open in small pots to please the Goddess Kannaki. Pongala (literally means to boil over) is a ritualistic offering of a sweet dish, consisting of rice porridge, sweet brown molasses, coconut gratings, nuts and raisins. It is done as an offering to the presiding deity of the temple - the Goddess - popularly known as Attukal Amma. Only women are allowed to participate in the Pongala ritual.
The most famous and important among Pongala festival happens at the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala where around 3.5 million people participate. The festival in Attukal is considered by the population of the city, across their relegious beliefs, as the biggest festival in the city.
Rice, coconut and jaggery are brought by women devotees along with round earthen pots for cooking. Women participating in the Pongala squat on roads, bylanes, footpaths and shop fronts in a radius of several kilometres around the temple to cook the mixture of rice, jaggery and coconut in earthen pots that is offered to the goddess seeking divine blessings. The Chief Priest of the temple lights the main hearth from the divine fire inside the sanctum sanctorum. This fire is exchanged from one oven to another.
Devi is essentially the mother goddess of ancient people of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In this part of India this concept is evolved from the deity
'Kottave' worshiped on the peak of 'Aiyramala'. During ancient times, the entire population from the nearby villages converge on this hill and they stay there during the entire festivities lasting for several days. During this time social cooking used to take place by the women which was considered to be holy and liked by the goddess. Such social cooking naturally strengthened the bonds between these villages. This custom is still continued in the form of Pongala offering. This is one side of the character of the goddess. She is also the deity who brings victory in wars and therefore the goddess is offered blood sacrifice as stated in Sangam Literature. The word used for this is 'Kuruthi'. It means killing. The Tookaam ceremonies in some temples is a reminder of the ancient practice of blood sacrifice. This custom was modified later on to give 'Kuruthi' to the deity by killing cocks, which however is not practiced now.
Pongala festival is mainly celebrated at Attukal Temple, Puthiyakavu Bhagavathi Temple, Mulluthara Devi Temple, (Sree Bhadra kali & kriam Kali Moorthi Devi), Malamekkara, Adoor), Kovilvila Bhagavati Temple, Chakkulathukavu Temple, Karikkakom Temple, Kanjirottu Valiaveedu Temple, Panekavu Bhagavati Shastha Temple and Thazhoor Bhagavathy Kshetram in Kerala.
The annual Pongala festival of Attukal Bhagavathi temple, has been entered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest congregation of women in the world. The festival draws over 2.5 million women on a single day in March to perform the Pongala ritual, and has been a center of attraction for devotees as well as tourists who visit Trivandrum during this season.
Pongala festival at Vellayani Devi temple is also very famous,The pongala,Alpindi vilakku,Kalamerzuthum pattum, Kali pooja, Devi pooja,Ethirealppu festival,Sarppam thullal Sarppam pattum,Navarthri pooja, traditional pooja of Uthiradam pooja(Kurthi pooja) festival at Mulluthara Devi Temple,(Sree Bhadra Kali & Kariam Kali Moorthi Devi)Temple is also very famous.
The History and Mythology
A few centuries ago, the head of Mulluveettil family was met with a young girl who asked him to help her cross the Killi river in which he was performing his ritualistic prayers. The Karanavar (family head) knew it was no ordinary girl, because of her charm and charisma. He bowed before her and willingly took her to the other side of the river. He invited her to his home nearby and the whole family was preparing to receive this girl. However, they couldn't find her as she had disappeared by the time Mulluveettil family was ready to receive her.
The Karanavar and his family were a little puzzled. The Karanavar saw the girl once again in his dream, in the same day as he saw the little girl. The girl appeared as an icon and told him to give her an abode in the nearby Kavu (a grove where shrubs and wild animals including snakes are left undisturbed). She told him that he would see three lines at a specific point in the kavu and she wanted her abode erected there.
With joy, the old man reached the Kavu and to his surprise, he found three lines marked on the ground. He knew it was a sacred spot and he wasted no time erecting a temple. The temple became the abode of the goddess, who later came to be known as Attukal Devi (Attukal Amma). Local devotees offered their prayers in this temple and soon the fame of this temple spread far and wide.
The people also offered to renovate the temple and a bigger temple with a new icon was installed. The goddess was represented as a woman with four arms, each bearing a spear, sword, skull and shield. The then high priest of Badarinath Temple led the consecration ceremony.
The girl that appeared before the Karanavar of Mulluveettil family is known to be Kannagi (Kannaki). Kannagi is the famous heroine of Chipathikaram, a Tamil epic written by Elenkovadikal. She is the incarnation of Sree Parvathy, the consort of Lord Siva. She took this incarnation of destroyer goddess, to destroy the evil and to preserve good. Kannagi was returning from Madurai, a city which she has destroyed, when she took a sojourn at Attukal and let the Karanavar see her as a little girl. She was on her way to Kodungalloor.