Thiruvananthapuram

A Pongala sans crowds

This year, the annual Attukal Pongala will be held sans thousands of women, from near and far, stoking the fire under makeshift hearths that line city thoroughfares for kilometres to prepare their varied offerings to Bhagavathy. In the wake of the COVID-19 situation, Pongala is to be offered at homes itself, and even the traditional ‘nivedyam’ by the temple priests at the end has been dispensed with.

City residents seem to have a mixed response to the new development. Prasannakumari Vijayakumar, a homemaker who regularly offers Pongala at a house near the Attukal temple, says as the Pongala will be offered at home with the goddess in people’s hearts, the spiritual spirit of the festival remains intact. “Though offering Pongala in proximity to the temple is a different experience, this year it will be as if the deity has visited their homes. There will be no ‘pottis’ to sanctify the offerings, but it will be like any other puja done at home,” she says.

V. Shobha, vice president of the temple trust, says following the COVID-19 protocol is everyone’s responsibility, a good deed that is akin to praying to the goddess. Offering Pongala at home is an opportunity provided by the goddess. Moreover, the temple has continued to attract people every day for offering prayers. This shows their belief in the deity remains strong.

Ms. Shobha says the crowds will return to the temple surroundings next year as it is what people desire.

For Roshni Pillai, State Programme Manager in the Kudumbashree mission, the ritual has been about family and friends coming together to offer Pongala, being welcomed by an unfamiliar household, and meeting up with Pongala regulars.

‘Across the State’

Ms. Pillai regrets there will be none of that joy and celebration this year. She is glad though that a festival that had been Thiruvananthapuram’s own will now be celebrated in homes across the State.

Though she believes heartfelt prayers can be offered anywhere, she laments that she would not see hearths being lit by a fire from the main hearth at the temple, and the nivedyam being offered by the temple priests.

A different take

Writer Sreedevi Kartha believes the sanctity of the temple is independent of the noise and crowds thronging there. The idea of the goddess is entwined with nature, but the Pongala that sees thousands of people crowd together in a limited area, light hearths, and release noxious fumes into the air does not gel with it, she says. Ms. Kartha says she believes in protecting nature, and not harming it is the biggest Pongala one can offer, especially birds and animals that are harmed or dislocated from their natural environment owing to the Pongala each year. How does the Pongala become spiritual if it adversely affects other living forms, she asks, expressing hope that this year marks the start of people offering Pongala at their homes instead of crowding the city.

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 9:54:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/a-pongala-sans-crowds/article33945700.ece

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