Women pray to the mother goddess Attukalamma at the Attukala Hindu temple in Kerala state
Smoke from brick kilns filled the air as more than 3 million women descended on the Attukal Hindu temple in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala earlier this week to honor the mother goddess Attukalamma. During the festival – billed as the largest religious gathering of women in the world – devotees come from across India to make ritual offerings of pongala, (sweet rice porridge) to the goddess. “The city turned into a chimney within minutes as about 3.5 million kilns started burning,” said Jisha Vasudevan, who was taking part in the festival for the first time. Devotees believe that offering the pongala, cooked in earthen pots and consisting of rice, sweet molasses, grated coconut, nuts and raisins, will appease the deity and bring good fortune. Festivities kicked off with the lighting of the holy kiln by temple priest Chennas Dinesan Namboothiri and a blessing of it by chief priest Gosala Namboothiri. Flame from the holy kiln was then passed on to the women to light their kilns and cook the pongala. M Radhakrishnan Nair, president of Attukal Trust, the agency entrusted with the temple’s administration, said this year about 3.5 million women attended the festival. “Women have lined up in around a five kilometer radius of the temple. All roads are filled with women devotees,” he said. Nair added that only women are allowed to participate in the ritual and men, except temple authorities, volunteers and police officials, are not allowed to visit the area where women cook the pongala. Thousands of women from neighboring states including Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and even from abroad, have come to the state capital to take part in the festival. “I have come from London to offer pongala. It gives me a lot of strength and protection,” said Sheeba Nateshan, who works in the Indian embassy. Nateshan said that it was her way of giving thanks to her favorite goddess.