Thiruvananthapuram: A record number of four million women are taking part in the famed Attukal Pongala festival here in Kerala on Wednesday.
All state, central banks and private offices in the capital district were given a holiday for the day.
The event in 2009 was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest religious gathering of 2.5 million women on a single day.
The temple, located in the heart of the city, is dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathi, believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic “Silapathikaram”.
The Pongala event takes place on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal Pongala festival.
Speaking to the media here on Wednesday, the President of the Temple trust V. Chandrasekhera Pillai said: “The number of devotees this time will be four million.
“This time we are told that more women from neighbouring states have come, apart from an increased number from Kerala also.
“This time we are strictly following the ‘green protocol’. Every arrangement is in place for the event. No plastic will be used.”
The most prestigious part of the ritual is cooking in the temple compound, where devotees cook offerings for the deity on makeshift brick stoves.
According to the temple authorities, this year there has been a record gathering that is estimated to run into several lakhs, as women were found cooking in more than a 13 square kilometre radius of the temple.
The rituals began around 10.20 a.m. when the chief priest of Attukal Bhagavathi Temple lit the makeshift stove with fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum.
The fire was then passed on to the women who had lined up on either side of the road to light their stoves and cook their offering of rice, jaggery and coconut.
According to tradition, the women who take part in the Pongala festival have to be dressed in new clothes and every item used for cooking the ‘divine’ pongala has to be brand new.
According to legend, Kannaki destroyed Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the King of Madurai wrongfully imposed the death penalty on her husband.
Kannaki travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal and women are said to have cooked pongala to please her.
The festival concludes around 2.15 p.m. after the chief priest sprays the holy water on the offerings.
Once this is done, followed by a prayer, the women pack their bags and make their way back.
This year, the state transport department is operating 500 extra buses for the convenience of the devotees while the Indian Railways is operating seven special trains.
Various state government departments have made arrangements to see that the festival passes off peacefully. Close to 4,000 police officers are on duty in the capital city, including 1,500 women police officers.
The organisers were assisted by numerous clubs and other organisations who set up more than 1,500 water kiosks and distributed free breakfast and lunch.