At 10.20 a.m on Wednesday, temple chief priest Goshala Vishnu Narayanan Namboothiri lit the traditional hearth in front of the Attukal temple, marking the start of the day- long Pongala festival.

Hundreds of euphoric devotees witnessed the ritual, which was broadcast live by scores of television channels. Almost simultaneously, tens of thousands of women devotees spread across 22 Municipal wards in the city lit the small hearths they had set up on roadsides to cook rice and jiggery, which they would proffer later as an offering to propitiate the presiding deity of the ancient Attukal Devi temple.

The flame from the sacred hearth inside the temple precincts was passed on quickly in several directions. Devotees in the outlying areas lit their hearths, taking a cue from the loud clashing of clashing of cymbals, joyous incantations and bursting of crackers emanating from inside the temple. The sounds and announcements were transmitted across the city through a network of loudspeakers.

Many received text messages and mobile phone calls from those watching the live broadcast of the ritual on television that the auspicious time for lighting the hearth was at hand.

Earlier, the priests ritually sanctified the temple precincts. The temple “thanthri”, Chonas Dineshan Namboodiripad, then handed over the sacred flame from inside the sanctum sanctorum to the chief priest.

A police team led by Assistant Commissioner, Fort, M. Radhakrishnan Nair had a hard task controlling devotees from inadvertently extinguishing the flame as it was brought out from inside the temple to the sacred hearth outside.

City roads were clogged with vehicles transporting devotees to Attukal from 3.30 a.m. The police found it tough to regulate traffic and pedestrian movement.

At least six persons, including two women, were injured in different incidents in the festival area. An un-identified vehicle knocked down a woman devotee, Vijayakumari, 50, near Injackal early on Wednesday.

Asokan Nair, 60, an Attukal temple employee, was injured in a fall when he was inspecting an elevated water tank. The Fire and Rescue Services team headed by Divisional Officer R. Prasad transported the injured to nearby hospitals.

Sashi Tharoor, MP, and Mr. Sivankutty, MLA, were among those who attended the ceremony. Mr. Tharoor told newspersons that he was moved by the devotion and majesty of the festival. He called the festival a rare event.

Additional Director General of Police, South Zone, P. Chandrasekhar, District Collector K. N. Satheesh, City Police Commissioner T. J. Jose, Deputy Commissioner, Law and Order, V. C. Mohanan, Deputy Collector Padmakumari Amma, Additional District Magistrates P. K. Girija and Tahilsidars Hari. S. Nair and C. Asok Kumar, Thiruvananthapuram and Nedumangadu respectively, supervised the security and traffic arrangements.