Trivandrum , Kerala
Attukal Ponkala Mahotsavam 2019
February 20, 2019 Wednesday
10.15 Am – Lighting of the Pongala Hearths
02.15 Pm – Sanctification of Pongala
Ponkala is the most important festival of Attukal Bhagavathy Temple. The offering of Ponkala is a very special temple practice in the southern part of Kerala. The ten-day- long celebration commences in the Malayalam month of Makaram-Kumbham (Feb – March)on the Karthika star. Ponkala ceremony is on the auspicious day of Pooram star which coincides with full moon. The festival commences with the musical rendering of the story of the Goddess (Kannaki Charitam) during the “Kappukettu ceremony”. The story invokes the presence of Kodungallur Bhagavathy and the slaying of the Pandyan King. The song will continue for all the nine days preceding Ponkala. The event of the Goddess annihilating the Pandyan King is accompanied by much sound and fury of the temple drums and “Vaykurava” by devotees, immediately followed by the lighting of the hearths for the preparation of the offering for the Goddess. This festival commemorates the victory of Good over Evil, by the slaying of Pandyan King. Throughout the festival an atmosphere of celebration and festivity prevails and there are the solemn observances such as regular conduct of Bhajans, musical concerts, ballets depicting folk and temple arts etc. in the temple premises. This is symbolic of the philosophy that human and divine affairs are inter-woven so minutely in all its disquisitions. Processions of colourful floats of the deity from all around, carried with pomp and devotion by the devotees congregating in the temple premises provides a pleasing experience.
A Rare Charm of the Festival
On the 9th day of the festival, it would appear as though all roads in and around Thiruvananthapuram city lead to the Attukal Temple. The entire area of about 5 Kilometres radius around the temple, with houses of people of all caste, creed and religion open fields, roads and commercial institutions emerge as a consecrated ground for observing Ponkala ritual for the lakhs women devotees assembling from different parts of Kerala and outside. This ceremony is exclusively confined to women folk. It is a delightful sight to see waves after waves of women of all age groups without caste, colour and creed surging into this area well in advance mostly carrying on their head materials such as firewood, earthern pots rice, jaggery, coconut etc. to mark out specific spots for the preparation of their offerings to the Goddess. The important ritual in the Ponkala is the preparation of rice or varieties of sweet rice using hearths and the earthern pots in the open. The signal for lighting -the hearth is given by the chief priest of the temple at a prefixed auspicious time followed by the humming of the temple drums.
The ceremony concludes with the sprinkling of holy water by temple priests at theappointed time in the evening accompanied by an aerial showering of flowers to the honour and glory of the Goddess Almighty. The temple authorities make all necessary arrangements for the welfare of this huge congregation with the active participation of the voluntary agencies, local people, members of the festival committee and the various government departments. They ensure law and order in the area with the support of the police and the volunteers specially detailed for the purpose. The enormous crowd which gathers here is reminiscent of the huge gatherings of the Kumbha Mela festival of North India.
Kuthiyottam and Thalappoli
Kuthiyottam performed by boys and Thalappoli by girls are two popular rituals made on the Ponkala day. A stream of young girls dressed in traditional attire holding Thalappoli starts very early in the morning with the hope that the Goddess almighty would be pleased to bestow on them beauty inward and outward, health, wealth and happiness. Boys below the age of 13 years make the offering of Kuthiyottam. These young boys represent the wounded soldiers of the Goddess Mahishasura Marddini. On the third day of the festival these young boys receive the prasadam (offering) from the temple priest and start a seven day penance to purify their body and mind. For the purpose they have to pass through rigorous physical and mental discipline such as sleeping on the floor, observing strict diet restrictions, staying in the temple etc. Besides these, the boys have to undergo such disciplines like prostrating 1008 times before the deity after their morning and evening oblations.
The Divine Procession
No sooner are the boys adorned for accompanying the Deity than the grand procession begins. The procession with illumination, floats and colourful festoons on either side of the road generate a gala atmosphere. This is made more attractive with various art forms like peacock dance, poykuthira dance, kolkali, theyyam, kumbhadance, display of other art forms which are followed by kuthiyottam, panchavadyam. Lastly a sight to behold is, the magnificent procession of Attukal Bhagavathy on the caparisoned elephant displaying with Alavattom and Venchamaram under the resounding echo of occasional gun shots. Enroute it is a splendid sight to see the devotees who assemble on either side of the road welcoming the goddess in reverence with different kinds of offerings in salvers and “vaykurava”. The procession starting from Attukal temple reaches the Sastha Temple at Manacaud in the small hours of the morning and after the necessary pooja ceremonies performed there, the entourage returns to Attukal. Thereafter, the deity is received back in the sanctum with Deeparadhana. Soon after the Deeparadhana, the boys are delivered of the penance in an orderly manner. At night, rendering of devotional songs takes place which is followed by the ceremonial removal of the “Kappu”. The ten day festival Culminates with the sacrificial offering known as Kuruthi Tharpanam at night.
Nearest railway station: Thiruvananthapuram Central about 2 km from the shrine.
Nearest airport: Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, about 7 km from the shrine.