Attukaal Bhagavathy Temple:
The unique abode of divine mother.
Origin & History
The story goes that the Goddess Bhagavathy revealed herself to a fervent devotee of a notable family viz. Mulluveettil family. It is said that one evening a young girl appeared before the head of the family while he was performing his oblations in the Killi river and requested him to help her cross the river. Impressed by her charismatic demeanor, the- old man bent before her with awe and reverence and not only helped her cross the river but took her to his house nearby. Strangely enough, while the household members were amidst preparations for intending a warm welcome to the young girl, she vanished. That very night the Goddess Bhagavathy appeared as an icon before the old man in his dream and demanded that he should establish an abode for her in the nearby sacred ground of shrubs and herbs (kavu), at a consecrated spot marked by three lines. The next morning the old man went to the spot revealed to him in the dream and to his great surprise he did find three marks indented on the ground. He lost no time in erecting a temple on this consecrated spot to house the Goddess. Many years later, the building was renovated by the local devotees. They also installed a beautiful and majestic icon of the Deity with four arms, bearing weapons of destruction in each, like spear, sword, skull, shield etc. The consecration ceremony of this Exalted Being was performed by no less a person than the high priest of the Badarinath Temple.
The Attukal Bhagavathy Temple, one of the ancient temples of South India, is popularly described as Sabarimala of the Women, as women form the major portion of devotees. The Goddess in the temple of Attukal is worshipped as the Supreme Mother, creator of all living beings and the mighty preserver as well as destroyer of them all. The pilgrims from all over the country, who visit Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple and worship the Lord, do not consider their visits complete without the visit to the shrine of the supreme Mother Attukalamma. Vishnumaya took the incarnation of Bhagavathy to annihilate the evil and protect the good in the world in the present Era namely Kaliyuga.
According to mythology, Attukal Bhagavathy is supposed to be the divinised form of Kannaki, the famous heroine of Chilapathikaram, written by Elenkovadikal, the Tamil Poet. The story goes that after the destruction of ancient city of Madurai, Kannaki left the city and reached Kerala via Kanyakumari and on the way to Kodungalloor took a sojourn at Attukal. Kannaki is supposed to be the incarnation of Parvathy, the consort of Paramasiva. The all powerful and benign Attukal Bhagavathy reigns eternally supreme at Attukal and nurses devotees as a mother does her children. Thousands of devotees from far and near flock to the Temple to bend before the Goddess with awe and reverence to prostrate and redress their affliction and agony.
The Pongala Mahotsavam is the most important festival of Attukal Bhagavathy Temple. The offering of Pongala is a special temple practice prevalent in the southern part of Kerala and some parts of Tamilnadu. It is a ten-day programme commencing on the Karthika star of the Malayalam month of Makaram-Kumbham (February-March) and closing with the sacrificial offering known as Kuruthitharpanam at night. On the ninth day of the festival the world famous Attukal Pongala Mahotsavam takes place. The entire area of about 5 kilometre radius around temple with premises of houses of people of all caste, creed and religion, open fields, roads, commercial institutions, premises of Government offices etc. emerges as a consecrated ground for observing Pongala rituals for lakhs of women devotees assembling from different parts of Kerala and outside. The ceremony is exclusively confined to women folk and the enormous crowd, which gathers in Thiruvananthapuram on this auspicious day is reminiscent of the Kumbhamela Festival of North India.
Incarnation of Goddess
India has ever been the holy land of gods and goddesses. Since ages past, men and women kings and emperors, saints and sages here were worshipping the Lord not only as the omnipotent and absolute ‘one’ but also as the ‘one’ whose manifestations are varied and manifold and who possesses different names, forms and divine attributes. Thus Almighty the Eternal God was worshipped in different forms such as Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, and their consorts; representing specific divine attributes of the Lord. Ancient puranas have described that Siva and Sakthi were simultaneously worshipped from the period of Aryans and Dravidians. Vishnumaya took the incarnation of Bhagavathy to annihilate evil and protect the good in this world. She grants every wish of Her devotees and resides in their hearts in multifarious forms.
Story of Kannaki
According to mythology, Attukal Bhagavathy is supposed to be the divinised form of “Kannaki”, the famous heroine of Chilappatikaram, the sangham work of Tamil Literature written by ilamkovadikal. After the destruction of the ancient city of Madurai, Kannaki left that city and reached Kerala via Kanyakumari and on her way to Kodungalloor took a sojourn at Attukal. The hymns of the “Thottampattu ) sung during the annual temple festival, are based on the story of Kannaki. Moreover, architectural depictions of Goddess Kannaki seen on the Gopuram temple substantiate this mythology.Another wonder
then. that, Sri. Vidyadhiraja Chattambi Swamy, the well known saint& Yogi of Kerala, found this temple premises ideal for his meditations. And there are so many stories which prove the greatness of the Goddess and which attract thousands of devotees to the temple.
Aesthetics of Architecture
Anyone visiting the Attukal temple is first struck by the beauty and charm of the temple architecture. The temple structure is a harmonious conglomeration of both Kerala and Tamil styles of architecture. The beautifully carved figures of Mahishasuramarddini, Goddess Kali, Rajarajeswari, Sree Parvathy with Lord Paramasiva and various other depictions of the Goddess in and around the temple are undoubtedly the work of a gifted artist. Equally well presented around the corridors surrounding the temple, are the depiction of various other Gods and the epic stories of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu viz., the “Desavathara”. On either side of the elegant front gopura – are the icons based on the story of Goddess Kannaki. On the southern Gopura, the puranic story of “Dakshayaga” is depicted in sculptures. The decorated gate at the entrance of the temple is by itself an excellent example of architectural beauty.
There are two idols of the Goddess in the sanctum sanctorum. The original idol is preserved in all its pristine beauty covered in ornamental gold embedded with installed stones.
The second idol of the Goddess is installed besides the original one. Within the temple corridors are also installed carvings and sculptures of Lord Ganesan, the serpent God and Lord Shiva. At the centre of the Sanctum within the Sreekovil, at a consecrated spot is installed the idol of the Goddess Attukal Bhagavathy emanating light and lustre to all.
An atmosphere of festivity prevails everyday a the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple. Poojas arranged by devotees as also Bhajan, Kodi Archana, Leksharchana, Akhandanamajapam (continuous chanting of the names of Goddess) are conducted almost everyday. All important days of religious observances are celebrated here. Very important among them are:
1. Mandala Vratham – Festival in connection with the annual Utsavam of Sabarimala
2. Vinayaka Chathurthi – Pooja to the Lord Ganapathy
3. Pooja Vaypu – Identical to Dussera festival (Saraswathy Pooja and Vidyarambham)
4. Sivarathri – Siva Pooja
5. Karthika – (Devi’s star) in November – December – Karthika Deepam
6. Ayilya Pooja – Milk, flowers etc. offered to serpent God and special rites.
7. Aiswarya Pooia – On all fullmoon (Pournarni) days
8. Nirayum Puthariyum (Ramayana Parayanam) – During the month of Karkidaka
9. Akhandanama Japam – 4th Sunday of every month
Pongala Festival or Ponkala Mahotsavam
‘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 9′ 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 mai Tantri or 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 the appointed 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.
Tha Attukal Pongala had been entered in the Guiness world record for the largest women gathering festival years ago .The exact number is now crossed many records as millions and millions of women devotees are still increasing day by day.
Guiness record certificate
The following ritualistic formalities and schedules are observed at Attukal temple.
Palliyunarthu (waking of the Goddess.)
Abhishekam (ablutions of the idol in oil, milk etc.)
Ganapathy homam (specific offering to God Vinayaka)
Deeparadhana (burning incense and lighting lamps to the Honour and Glory of the Almighty)
Usha Pooja (Morning rite)
6.50 Usha Sreebali (morning Sreebali)
Kalabhabhiskekam (consecration by pouring liquid sandal)
Pantheeradi Pooja (special rite)
Ucha Pooja (noon rite)
Noon 12.00 Deeparadhana
Ucha Sreebali (Noon Sreebali)
Nata adappu (Closure of Sreekovil)
Evening 5.00 Nata Thurappu (Opening of Sreekovil)
Athazha Pooja (Night rite)
Deeparadhana (Night rite)
Nata Atappu (Closure of temple Sreekovil)
Pooja timings may be altered on special occasions
Kuthiyottam and Thalappoli
Kuthiyottam performed by kids 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. kids below the age of 13 years make the offering of Kuthiyottam. These young kids represent the wounded soldiers of the Goddess Mahishasura Marddini. On the third day of the festival these young kids receive the prasadam (offering) from the temple priest and start a seven day penance to purify their body and mind.
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.
Venue: Attukal Bhagavathy Temple, Thiruvananthapuram
Attukal Pongala Festival on February 28 2010, the Pongala Day,
On the full moon day in Malayalam month of Kumbham (February – March)the largest annual gathering of women for a religious purpose, which has found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. It is the Pongala festival celebrated at Attukal Bhagavathy Temple, at Attukal in Thiruvananthapuram District.
Only women are allowed to participate in this ritual. Right from the previous night, thousands of women, regardless of caste, creed and colour assemble at the temple premises and on either side of the roads leading to the shrine to make the Pongala offering. Devotees from across the country and even from abroad participate in the ritual.
The word Pongala means to boil over and refers to the ritual offering, which consists of rice porridge, sweet brown molasses, coconut gratings, nuts and raisins. This offering is considered as most pleasing to the mother goddess who is the presiding deity.
Kerala Government has decided to seek national pilgrim centre status for the famous Attukal Bhagavathi temple here, known for its annual ‘Pongala’ festival that attracts thousands of women on a single day.
State Home and Tourism Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan had agreed to take up the demand with Union Tourism and Cultural Ministry, temple administration sources said.
The temple was also known as ‘Women’s Sabarimala’ .The ‘pongala’ ritual comprises preparation of sweetened rice on bricken hearths to be offered to the Goddess seeking her divine blessings.
Nearest railway station: Thiruvananthapuram Central, about 2 kms
Nearest Airport: The nearest airport is Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, located at Valiyathura, 6kms from the city and about 7 km from the shrine. Many international air carriers operate daily international flights to Middle East, Male and Sri Lanka from Thiruvananthapuram. Indian Airlines has direct communications to Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi. Jet Air (Gulf Air) has daily flights to Mumbai and Chennai.