Society

‘Flavours of devotion’ during Attukal Pongala

Rice cooked with banana and coconut; rice cooked in jaggery, generous amounts of ghee and handful of coconut, garnished with raisins and cashew nuts; rice powder and green dal powder blended with coconut and jaggery served as steamed mounds of Manda puttu; mixture of rice powder and jaggery steamed in aromatic leaves of vayana....the menu for the Attukal Pongala is a rich palette of flavours and fragrances.

The Pongala, which has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day, marks the culmination of the 10-day-long annual festival at the Attukal Bhagavathy temple in the city. Devotees cook the offering to the deity on makeshift brick stoves that are arranged around a huge circumference of the shrine.

Devotees participating in the annual Attukal Pongala

Devotees participating in the annual Attukal Pongala  

As hundreds of thousands of earthen pots boil over, women devotees gathered for the annual Attukal Pongala seem to forget the heat, the glare of the sun and the smoke. With ululations and prayers, chanted loudly and silently, with folded hands and bowed hands, they keep their annual tryst with the Attukal Pongala, which arrives sometime during the months of February-March.

While many of the women take a break after the white rice is cooked, some of the devotees roll up their sleeves to prepare more delicacies.

In an atmosphere charged with devotion tens of thousands of women offer Pongala to the presiding deity of the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple

In an atmosphere charged with devotion tens of thousands of women offer Pongala to the presiding deity of the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple   | Photo Credit: S.GOPAKUMAR

“Manda puttu, therali appam and aravana are also prepared along with the rice. Though all the devotees do not cook all those [delicacies], some do that with such ease. It is not easy,” says celebrity cookery host Lakshmi Nair.

All the preparations are made of rice in different forms. “Manda puttu has coarsely-ground green gram as well. It is made with powdered rice, coconut, jaggery and cardamom powder, shaped into balls and steamed, while therali appam is a delight that is steamed in aromatic vayana leaves,” she adds.

It is an agrarian festival, a kind of thanksgiving to the goddess for a good harvest, says T.P.R. Namboothiri, Principal, Madras Sanskrit College, and well-known food blogger. “It is a common practice among communities that worship the sun and the ‘pongala’ refers to the ‘pongal’ (rising) when the ingredients in the pot boils over, as a mark of prosperity. Pongal, celebrated by Tamilians, is one such festival. In olden days, rice was harvested first, followed by green gram and sugar cane. That is why these ingredients are used predominantly for cooking the offering to the goddess,” he explains.

Therali appam, made in leaves of the vayana, is one of the offerings made during the Attukal Pongala

Therali appam, made in leaves of the vayana, is one of the offerings made during the Attukal Pongala   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Dianne Jennet from the U.S. has been studying and participating in the festival for two decades now. Dianne’s doctorate from the California Institute of Integral Studies was on the Attukal Pongala. She says the offering of rice to the Gods is an ancient ritual that dates back to pre-Sanskrit days, especially in South India. “It is eco-friendly and all the ingredients used in the pongala are easily available and affordable to all. Rice, banana and jaggery were there in most households,” she explains.

Moreover, custom and tradition dictate what each devotee prepares for the Pongala. Film actor Chippy, a resident of the city, is a familiar face at the festival. She says she has lost count of the number of years she has been offering Pongala to Attukal Devi. “Initially, I used to make only the payasam, with rice and jaggery. Therali appam and manda puttu were prepared as special offering by my mother. Later on, when I saw others making therali appam and manda puttu, I too started preparing it at each Pongala. As for the payasam, every year, I plan to prepare it in one pot, but always end up making it in three pots!” says Chippy.


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Printable version | Jan 21, 2022 12:53:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/flavours-of-devotion-during-attukal-pongala/article22893316.ece

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