The Attukal pongala festival got off to a rapturous start on Sunday morning with the temple’s chief priest, T. M. Muralidharan Namboodiripadu, lighting the traditional hearth in the presence of hundreds of worshippers.

Almost simultaneously, lakhs of women devotees lit the small hearths they had set up on roadsides to cook rice and jiggery, which they would offer as a sacrament later in the afternoon 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.

Many devotees lit their brick hearths, taking a cue from the loud clashing of cymbals, joyous incantations and bursting of crackers emanating from inside the temple and transmitted to other parts of the city through loudspeakers. Many others received text messages and mobile phone calls signaling 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.

The city was clogged with vehicles transporting devotees to Attukal from 3.30 a.m. The police had a difficult time regulating vehicular traffic and pedestrian movement. Crowd control proved difficult inside the Attukal temple owing to the absence of barricades, a senior police official said. The police department’s last minute efforts to control pilgrim movement in the temple area proved taxing for sometime early on Sunday. Scores of women reported the loss of their gold ornaments. There were also several instances of chain snatching and pick pocketing.

Several celebrities, notably play back singer K. J. Yesudas, attended the traditional lighting of sacred hearth. Devoswom Minister Kadanapally Ramachandran, Law Minister M. Vijayakumar, V. Sivankutty, MLA, Surendran Pillai, MLA, Additional Director General of Police, South Zone, P. Chandrasekharan, Inspector General of Police, Thiruvananthapuram Range, A. Hemachandran, City Police Commissioner M. R. Ajith Kumar, District Collector Sanjay Kaul and Deputy Commissioner of Police, Law and Order, C. H. Nagaraju, were among those present.