Alappuzha: The Chakkulathukavu Sree Bhagavathy Temple, known as the Sabarimala of women devotees, nestled in the heartland of Kerala, amidst lush greenery and meandering waterways of interior Kuttanad in the eastern part of Alappuzha district, is abuzz with anticipation as it prepares to host the grand Pongala festival on Monday.
The whole of Central Kerala, known for its vibrant cultural tapestry, becomes a canvas of spirituality and communal harmony during this extraordinary celebration. Thousands of women devotees from far and wide are expected to participate in this spectacular event that extends to adjoining taluks. Apart from the temple premises, hordes of devotees can be seen offering Pongala on either side of various public roads in the whole region.
As the sun ascends in the sky, the main ritual unfolds — a sea of earthen pots, or 'pongalas,' bubbling with a mix of rice, jaggery, coconut, and ghee, will be laid out in meticulous rows. The rhythmic clanging of cymbals and the soul-stirring beats of traditional drums set the stage for the ceremonial offering. Each woman, hands adorned with the sacred turmeric paste, ignites her hearth and places the pot upon it, offering her prayers to the goddess with unwavering devotion.
The Pongala festivities will commence with the ceremonial lighting of the Pandara Pongala hearth by Chief Karyadarshi Radhakrishnan Namboothiri at a function presided over by temple Karyadarshi Manikuttan Namboothiri. Guided by temple Chief Karyadarshi Unnikrishnan Namboothiri, chief priest Ashokan Namboothiri, along with Ranjith B Namboothiri and Durgadathan Namboothiri, will offer the Pongala, paving the way for a series of Pongala offering by the women devotees in queues, which extends to nearly 20 km. The chief priest lights the main hearth from the divine fire inside the sanctum sanctorum, which is exchanged from one oven to another.
Union Minister of State for Electronics & Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar will inaugurate the festival at 11 am. More than 500 Vedic scholars will lead devotees in offering Pongala to the goddess in 51 lifelike forms. After dedicating Pongala, Divya Abhisheka and Deeparadhana will be held.
At 5 pm, Thomas K Thomas MLA will preside over a cultural meet which Agriculture Minister P Prasad will inaugurate. Mavelikkara MP Kodikkunnil Suresh will grace the occasion as the chief guest. Radhakrishnan Namboothiri will offer the benedictory address. West Bengal Governor C V Ananda Bose will light the lamp at the Karthika Stambha.
Over 1000 temple volunteers will be deployed at information centers and guide the devotees during the day. In addition to standard facilities, temporary toilets have been set up for the convenience of devotees.
The festival is being meticulously organized with the cooperation of police, KSRTC, Health and Local Self-Government Institutions, Fire Force, KSEB, Kerala Water Authority, Excise, Water Transport, and Revenue Departments. Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta district collectors will coordinate the services. A special parking facility too has been arranged for vehicles carrying the devotees.
A round-the-clock KSRTC control station has started functioning from Sunday morning. The corporation has also facilitated budget tourism services to facilitate groups of devotees traveling to the temple, besides special chain services from Tiruvalla, Edatwa, Alappuzha, Ambalappuzha, Harippad, and Changanassery units.
Emphasizing eco-friendly practices, the event organizers have implemented a complete ban on plastic and are committed to following green rules.
Alappuzha District Collector John V Samuel has declared a public holiday for all government offices and educational institutions in Kuttanad, Chengannur, Ambalappuzha, and Mavelikara taluks on November 27 in view of the Pongala festival. The public examinations will be held as per schedule.
Mandala season special
Many women and children come to Chakkulathukavu during the Mandala season. A large number of Sabarimala pilgrims too offer prayers before the deity here as they start observing the 41-day ‘vratha’ as part of the holy pilgrimage to the Lord Ayyappa hill shrine. There are many unique rituals in Chakkulathukavu. Nari Puja is a ritual of washing the feet and worshipping women by seating them on a separate Peeta, considering them part of the goddess. Nari Puja is performed on the first Friday of the Malayalam month of Dhanu. On the same day, many take the oath to abhor alcohol by touching the sword of the goddess.
By performing Pongala, the devotees perform self-surrender. The devotees believe that offering Pongala at Chakkulathukavu Bhagavathy temple on Karthika day in the holy month of Vrischika will fulfill their wishes. The belief that Chakkulathamma will fulfill the wishes of the devotees if they offer Pongala is what attracts a huge number of women to Pongala. Ahead of Pongala, devotees observe a fast and visit the Chakkulathukavu temple.
It is also customary for devotees to offer free food on the Pongala day. Chakkulathukavu ‘annadanam’ is considered to be a great act as an offering to Chakkulathamma. In Pongala, jaggery payasam is usually offered.
Along with the prathishta of Vishnu, Shiva, Yakshi, Sastha, Naga deities and Radhakrishna, a gigantic Hanuman idol installed in the Chakkulathu temple attracts devotees.