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Pongala festival to see more than 3 mn women devotees
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, FEB 27 (IANS):
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Published on 28 Feb. 2010 1:07 AM IST
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Hundreds of thousands of women carrying bricks, firewood, rice, jaggery and coconut have converged around the Attukal Bhagavathi temple here for a mega festival known as pongala Sunday. Authorities expect the crowd to exceed last year’s three million. The women devotees from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu will make a cooked rice offering to the presiding deity on pongala. Only those who came three days ago have managed to bag a place near the temple, dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathi, believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic “Silappathikaaram”. According to temple officials, all arrangements are in place for the festival and this time the crowd is expected to be bigger than last year. “We have made all arrangements for the smooth conduct of the festival. Security arrangements are also in place with closed circuit TV and extra police force. The sanitation facilities are also ready,” said temple trust chairman R. Ravindran Nair. The offering is made on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal Pongala festival, which is often referred to as the equivalent of the Sabarimala pilgrimage for women. The women devotees cook the rice offering by sitting on either side of the roads that lead to the temple. They light their stoves after the chief priest lights the main stove in the temple compound at about 10.30 a.m. About 20 sq km area around the temple is occupied by the women devotees to cook their offering. The Guinness Book of Records listed the festival as the world’s largest annual gathering of women in 1997, when 1.5 million devotees converged here Feb 23. According to legend, Kannaki destroyed Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the king of Madurai wrongfully imposed the death penalty on her husband. After that, Kannaki travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal and women are said to have cooked pongala to appease her. “Next time we will make arrangements to count the actual number of devotees, and it could be through an aerial survey and other methods,” said Nair. The railways are running a special train and will include additional coaches on several trains for the devotees coming from both Tamil Nadu and northern Kerala.

 
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