Attukal Bhagavathy Temple – The Sabarimala of Women
Kerala, the God’s Own Country houses some famous temples, known for their unique customs and beliefs. One such temple, rather pilgrimage, is Attukal Bhagavathy Temple. Located on Chiramukku Road, Thiruvananthapuram, this place is famous as the Sabarimala of Women. Boys above 13 years are not allowed here. Presiding deity of this ancient temple is Goddess Bhagavathy, incarnation of Goddess Parvathy, the consort of Lord Shiva. She is four armed, each hand bearing a sword, spear, skull and shield.
The Legend Behind Attukal Bhagavathy Temple
As per the folklores, some centuries ago, a young girl met the head of Mulluveettil family on the banks of Killi River. He was offering ritualistic prayers in the waters of the river. Karanavar or the head of the family, helped her cross the river, but was awe-struck by her extraordinary beauty and charm. He asked the little girl to come to his house and meet his family; but the girl disappeared before the family could take a glimpse of her. Some days passed, and the beautiful girl appeared in the dream of Karanavar as an icon. She asked him to build her a home at the place where three lines are visible to him at the specific point. Karanavar was able to see three lines near Kavu (woodland for wild animals). In no time, he began the construction of the temple and made it the abode of Attukal Amma. The high priest of Badrinath temple was called to do the consecration ceremony.
Apart from being a pilgrimage, the Attukkal temple surprises people with the perfect blend of Tamil and Kerala style of architecture. The entire structure is full of carved figurines of Goddess Kali, Parvathy, Mahishasur Mandhini and Lord Shiva. One will also find the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu – Dashavatara. Sculptures also determine the age-old stories of Dakshayaga. From top to bottom, each and every part of the temple stands as a marvel of the expert craftsmanship of that period. In the sanctum sanctorum, the original idol is embellished with ornamental gold with precious stones.
The Attukkal Pongala Festival
Attukal Pongala is the most celebrated occasion of this temple that is attended by lakhs of women from all over the world. On February 23, 1997, it created Guinness Book of World Records for the largest annual gathering of women at 1.5 million (15 Lakhs). On the ninth day of the ten day festival, women boil rice porridge called Pongala. They offer it to Goddess Bhagavathy and receive Her blessings.
Highlights of the Festival
This ritual is performed on the seventh day by boys who are below 13 years old. They represent the soldiers of Mahishasura Mardini, who were wounded during the battle. Ritual includes observing a penance for seven days beginning from the third day of the festival. Boys live in the temple, sleep on floor, bath three times and pay obeisance to the goddess 1008 times; morning and evening. The food they eat is as per the religious customs.
Similar to the boys, girls perform a ritual on the ninth day, which is the Pongala Day. Young girls dress up traditionally and hold a round tray (thaalam) with flowers, oil lamp and other offerings to be made to the goddess. All this is done to please the deity and receive Her blessings.
The Procession of the Goddess
Now is the time for grand procession. Kuthiyottam or the boy soldiers join the deity for this grand journey till the Sastha Temple, which is at Manacaud. This procession takes place early in the morning with full gaiety and fervour. Sastha temple receives the goddess and performs some poojas. The boys then take the procession back to Attukal temple and receive the blessing of the goddess. Tenth day sees the end of the festival with a Guruthi Tharpanam, a ceremony that removes all kind evils from one’s life.