Thiruvanathapuram: Attukal Pongala, one of the world's largest all women religious congregations, happened here on Thursday.
Devotees performed the rituals at their respective homes as Covid-19 restrictions prevented them from performing the 'pongala' at the temple premises or roads nearby.
Households purified their compounds with cow dung and prepped the hearth for the ritual ahead of the festival.
Tantri Parameswaran Vasudevan Bhattathiripadu lighted the lamp from the sanctum sanctorum and handed it over to the priest Brahmasree P Eswaran Namboothiri. The festivities began at 10.50 am after the chief priest lit the 'pandara aduppu,' the main hearth at the Attukal temple.
Barring some 'pandals', displaying huge garlanded images of the Goddess, where devotional songs were played aloud, there was no major sign of the conduct of the famed pongala ritual in the state capital this time. Last year also the Pongala festival was held without the mass gathering of women devotees in public places and long lines of wayside make-shift hearths.
The district collector had declared a holiday for all educational institutions in the district in view of the festival.
Strict adherence to Covid protocol
The District Collector has made an RT-PCR negative certificate for COVID-19 obtained within 72 hours for visiting the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in the city during the famed festival.
In place of the negative certificate, devotees can also pray at the temple with a certificate stating that they had suffered from the infection during the last three months. These rules apply to volunteers at the temple also.
Though the government allowed a maximum of 1,500 people to perform the ritual on the temple grounds this year, the Attukal Temple Trust made it clear that they could not implement it and urged devotees to conduct the ritual at their homes.
The official order clearly stated that roads and public places should not be occupied for the purpose.
Unlike the usual practice, the temple authorities said no priest would visit houses to sanctify the pongala and the devotees could do it themselves in the scheduled time in the afternoon.
What is Attukal pongala?
Preparing 'pongala' is considered an auspicious all-women ritual as part of the annual festival of the Attukal temple here, popularly known as the "Women's Sabarimala."
The ten-day-long celebration commences on the day of Karthika star in the Malayalam month of Makaram-Kumbham. The pongala ceremony is conducted on the auspicious day of Pooram star which coincides with full moon.
The pongala ritual involves the preparation of rice or varieties of sweet rice considered to be the favourite of the goddess of the Attukal Devi temple.
A mix of rice, jaggery and scrapped coconut, the 'pongala' is usually prepared in fresh earthen or metal pots. Devotees also prepare 'payasam', 'therali' and 'mandaputtu' (sweet delicacies) and plain white rice as offerings.
The pongala festival marks the finale of the 10-day ritual at the shrine. The ritual had made it to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day when 2.5 million took part in it.
As per local legend, the annual festival commemorates the hospitality accorded by women in the locality to Kannagi, the divine incarnation of the heroine of the Tamil epic 'Silappadhikaram' while she was on her way to avenge the injustice meted out to her husband Kovalan, after destroying Madurai city.
Attukal Temple is called the "Women's Sabarimala" as only women perform rituals, while it is predominantly men who undertake the pilgrimage to the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala.