They are singing a song eulogising Kodungallur Devi sitting inside a makeshift hut. It is said that mesmerised by his devotion, Devi in all her finery decides to walk towards Attukal. Every year in the Karthika star of the month of Kumbham, the festival begins by securely installing the Goddess according to the rituals.
What was earlier known as a music festival is known by the name of Pongala worldwide. Although Pongala is the favourite offering of the devotees, along with narrating the story of the Goddess through the Thottam pattu, they are various offerings and story narrations held in the temple for ten days.
On the night of the 10th day, the Goddess comes out on an elephant in all its finery. The Goddess after visiting the Manakkad Shasta temple to meet her brother, accompanied by the Kuthiyotta boys who dance to Mayilattam, kolkali,poykuthira dance along with thalapoli (procession holding oil lamps) will only return the next morning. After entering the temple and lighting lamps (Deeparadhana), and after removing the Kappu, the festival comes to a close.
You cannot differentiate between the Thottam pattu or Victory song and the festival. The festival is that song where the goddess is invited and settled at Attukal. Thotham stands for thanksgiving, appearance, and emergence.
In front of a specially made green pandal at the Attukal temple, the Ashan and his people will welcome the Goddess with a special song and settle them at the Northern side of the temple. The story of Thottam Pattu’s Devi and Palakan is intertwined with the tale of Chilapathikaram’s Kannaki and Kovalam. On the second day, they recite Devi’s wedding preparations.
They beautifully describe the Devi dressed in ornamental attire. It is said that the Thottam singers are able to experience the arrival of Devi at Attukal, who returns after seeking blessings from Lord Siva. On the 7th day when they sing the death of Palakan, as a mark of respect the Temple will be open only after 7 am. The Thootam singers are the ones who first offer Pongala to Devi. On the 10th day, they bid farewell to Kodungallur Amma.
The light bundles at Attukal temple is the most beautiful sight of the festival. This is also the main offering of the devotees at the festival.It is believed that in order to appease the angry Goddess, the locals lit a spathe torch in the banana grove, stuck it on the ground, and performed the dance of joy.
The Goddess who was mighty pleased by this performance gave her blessings to everyone. These later became light bundles. They tie specially done banana stems on a portable stage. Later they decorate it with the Goddess' favourite flowers like alari (Red chembakam), Lotus, and screw pine (Thazhampoo). Those who carry the portable stage, as well as the vowers, should observe the fast. They carry the decorated lamp on their heads and come in front of the temple accompanied by musical ensembles.
Before the sunset Pooja, after worshipping the light bundles, lighting the spate torch, and circumambulating the temple three times with the accompaniment of musical instruments, the lantern procession ends. The lighting vows will continue till Pongal day.
The Attukal festival begins with the installation of the Goddess in the Kartika Nakshatra in the month of Kumbam. Devotees thronging the temple premises chant the deity mantras during the occasion of the Kappu Kettu ceremony. You can also hear the sound of fireworks. The selected members of the family will bring the kaap (bangle) prepared with piety to the temple. They tie two kappu made of Panchaloga (five metals).
One will be tied at the end of the Goddess's sword and the other at the hand of the priest. The Thanthri will wear the Kappu after cleansing the area with holy water. Till the festival ends the head priest will remain as the ‘resident priest’ (Purappeda Shanthi) in the festival. On the 7th day of Pongala, the head priest will accompany them outside. On the 10th and final day of the Pongala, after the Goddess visits her brother Manakkadu Shashthavu on the way they remove the kappa from the sword and the head priest’s hands. This marks the end of the ten-day festival.
Fasting and Pandara Ottam
It is believed that the Kuthiyotta boys are the bruised soldiers who accompanied the Mahishaswara Devi on the battlefield. You have to stay at the temple for 7 days and finish 1008 thanksgiving (Namaskaram) before the Goddess. After the beginning of the song, on the third morning, after the Pantheeradi Pooja, the preparations for the Kuthiyotta Vratham will begin.
The fast starts by taking a dip in the temple pool, bowing to Attukal amma in damp clothes and placing seven silver coins on the pallipalaka, and offering donations to the temple chief. On the ninth day of the festival in the evening, the Goddess wearing Crown and ornaments will be installed. The Kuthiyotta boys will accompany the Goddess to her brother Manakkad Shashta’s temple. The ‘Pandara Ottam’ belongs to the boy who leads from the front. Once they return to the temple after the waving of the cane, the fast ends.
One of the legends about the origin of the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple is that Goddess Kannaki entered Kerala after burning the city of Madura and stayed at Attukal on her way to Kodungallur.
It is said that the women pacified the angry Goddess who came there after killing the Pandya king and burning the city of Madura, by receiving her with Pongala. The women continue to offer Pongala in memory of the Devi who transformed into a maternal form. It is when they recite the Devi slaying the Pandya King during the Thottam pattu that they start the fire in the temple’s main hearth (Pandara Aduppu).
The sacrificial offering or Kurtuthi Tharppanam is at midnight. They walk in front of Madanthampuran, the guard near the shrine. The temple is closed with the sacrificial offering, which is done under the guidance of the head priest, with the floor cleansed and decorated with bunches of banana trees on all four sides, under the torch lamps.