Thursday March 5th was an auspicious day for people in Thiruvanthapuram, capital city of Kerala, South India, my hometown. We celebrated Attukal pongala. Pongala (Ponkala) is a special offering made by the women to Attukal Devi. My mom and I used to do Attukal pongala, and she started doing it for me; to get a good husband. Now I am here in Houston, still everything coming in my mind like a film flashback. So this time I decide to make pongala in home.
There are a couple of legends behind Attukal Pongala, one is that in order to pacify Kannagi (Kannaki) who killed Pandya king in revenge of killing her innocent husband. Women made pongala in hearth as result she got pacified and gave them blessings. Other one is to pacify the Devi who killed Mahishasura. Mahisura was a demon who worshiped Lord Brahma (who take care of birth according to Hindu mythology) and got boon that no man can kill him. As result of this he become so notorious and starts creating troubles all over the world. Then all the gods came together and created the most powerful women Devi to kill Mahisaura. Finally Devi defeated him in the battle and killed him. In order reduce the anger of the Devi, women made this pongala.
Pongala is a sweet pudding usually made with rice, jaggery (unrefined sugar), ghee and coconut. It is made in new earthen pot. The earth pot and rice symbolize the earth along with water, fire, wind and sky (panchabuta, five elements of life and the various species originated by the combination of planetary globes and the five manifestations of nature namely air, water, fire, land and sky) are combined together in pongala.
One of the importance of this festival is that you can prepare the offering to Devi. Normally it is done by the priest of the temple. Also only women can prepare the offering. The significance of Attukal Devi Temple Pongala is entered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest annual gathering of women in the world in a single place on a single day irrespective of caste, creed or religion. The entire area of about 5 Kilometers 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 Pongala ritual for the several women devotees assembling from different parts of Kerala and outside. It is a delightful sight to see waves after waves of women of all age groups without caste, color and creed surging into this area well in advance mostly carrying on their head materials such as firewood, earthen pots rice, jaggery, coconut etc. to mark out specific spots for the preparation of their offerings to the Goddess. Attukal pongala starts at the signal for lighting -the hearth given by the chief priest of the temple at a prefixed auspicious time ( this time around 10.15 AM) followed by the humming of the temple drums. Then the entire hearth is lilted and pongala starts by cooking the payasam (sweet pudding), Mandaputtu, vella pongala etc. The ceremony concludes with the sprinkling of holy water by temple priests at the appointed time in the evening accompanied by an aerial showering of flowers to the honor and glory of the Goddess Almighty. By afternoon most of the pongala preparation will be over, and people near the temple will go and pray at the temple. In the evening, everybody goes back to home carrying pongala payasam and other offerings, with satisfaction that they did offer to Goddess and also with promise that next year also they are going to come.
Usually hearth is made with two-three bricks kept in triangle position, and also dried coconut leaves top are used to burn. No wood is used. Also first keep water for boiling and once it boils put rice. Put initially hands full of rice 3 times into the pot and then empty rest of rice. Once it boils and pours out, mix it with a spoon, till that time do not stir, the pongala has to boil and spill if possible to east direction. Also there is no melting of jaggery or adding any nuts or raisins in pongala payasam. You can add ghee and banana if you want. It is also considered wrong to cross over the hearth after setting up the hearth.
Local governments and temple authorities are taking enormous preparation to conducts this year’s Attukal pongala as usual.
I am missing the heat, thrill and excitement of being in crowd. I think God is everywhere, so Devi will be satisfied even I am making my offering in my home kitchen on a gas stove. Here is my version of pongala payasam.