The annual Pongala festival at Attukal Bhagavathy Temple, which is billed as the largest congregation of women in the world and that comes at the fag-end of the peak tourist season in the State, has always been a source of fascination for foreigners.
“It is fascinating and I had never seen anything of this type so far’, an astonished Cary, Professor of Economics in Cornell University, Ithaca, said. “We have heard about the festival from the friends and we wanted to witness it in person’, Prof. Cary who hails from New York and is in the City for the last five months.
Along with his wife, Vivian, a retired researcher, Prof. Cary was in and around the temple taking photographs and interacting with the devotees who came to offer Pongala. ‘It is an atmosphere of goodwill.
It is heartening to see women coming together and offering the rituals and men extending all support to them’, she said.
Ms. Vivian described the Pongala as a lively festival and said it was heartening to note that it had found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. She said she had learnt about the myth and about the temple from several books including ‘Holy Kerala’.
For the dynamic freelance photographer from Germany, Angelika Zinzow the visit to the country and to Thiruvananthapuram will be memorable event. “It’s very rare to see a festival just for women. I read it in the newspaper after landing here and I decided not to miss it,’’ said Ms. Zinzow from Frankfurt, told The Hindu.
“I had the opportunity to visit the temple also. I have never seen such a festival and there is comparison to it’, Ms. Zinzow said amidst taking photographs of women offering Pongala. She said she will be putting the photographs of the Pongala in the website. Many women tourists attired in saree along with local friends were spotted in the queue, once the temple was opened for devotees after the rituals in connection with ‘aduppuvettu’.
The presence of film personalities lent a glamour touch to the festival. The cynosure of all eyes was Prabha, wife of K. J. Yesudas, who offered Pongala along with the former Miss World Parvathi Omanakuttan and her mother at an engineering workshop behind the temple.
Malayalam actors Ambika, Chippy, Kalpana, Priyanka and the mini-screen actor Beena Antony and Sajitha Beti were among those who offered Pongala to the deity in the premises of the nearby hotel. Inspector-General of Police, Crime Branch, R. Sreelekha offered Pongala as the way she had been offering it, since the age of 17.
As per the rituals, only women offer Pongala to the diety. But, this time Mohan Kumar from Kazhakuttom offered Pongala at East Fort taking everyone by surprise. Accompanied by his wife and sister, the labourer had vowed to offer Pongala for the next two years. “I had found money to buy the things for Pongala with much difficulty. I thought I could not make it. But, finally the money was obtained’, Mohankumar, clad in a saffron dhothi, said.
Another highlight of this year’s festival was the Trivandrum Flying Club’s trainee aircraft showering flowers over the devotees.