ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Pot of Gold?

Behind the devotional spectacle of the annual pongala festival at Kerala’s “all-woman” Bhagawathy temple lies the reality of commerce and inequity.

For the inhabitants of Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, the Malayalam months of Makara-Kumbam (roughly around February-March), during which the astrological star sign of Karthika manifests, is particularly special. Apart from the religious significance associated with the annual ritual of pongala (the collective cooking in earthen pots of offerings of rice, jaggery and coconut as oblation to the goddess Bhagawathy) at the Attukal Bhagawathy temple, the occasion also doubles up as a space when many families adjoining the locality of Attukal host the women devotees who flock from various parts of Kerala and elsewhere, to have a relatively free run of the city’s roads and urban space to conduct the pongala with the minimum of hassles.

The “all-woman” pongala ritual has earned the Attukal temple two entries in the Guinness Book of World Records for the “largest mass participation of women devotees on any single day”. Indeed, the pongala is an event stamped with the shades of the spectacular. This can be seen in the way otherwise narrow roads and by-lanes transform into sites of religiosity. Having grown up in a Hindu family in Thiruvananthapuram, I have been associated with the festival since my childhood. Over the years, I w­itnessed changes in the pongala ritual, like the live coverage of the event by several TV satellite channels, and the expanding geopolitical range of the p­ongala as it “migrated” to London where the ritual was c­onducted at the Murugan temple there on the same day as in Thiruvananthapuram.

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