Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Being at the Attukal Pongala

Yeah, if you were busy reading the Indian newspapers then you'd know what I was talking about.

So the Pongala itself. I HAD SO MUCH SMOKE IN MY LUNGS!!! I haven't gotten that much tox in, even after passive smoking. :P

Day 1 - Friday, February 26
Reached Trivandrum at 8pm. Shared flight with Prabha Yesudas (wife of legendary Yesudas) and Manoj K Jayan (ex-husband of Urvasi the actress). Slept a little past midnight after an evening spent getting halwa (or aluva as it is known in Kerala :P).

Day 2 - Saturday, February 27
Awake of 4am. Dressed to leave to the Attukal Temple at 4.45. After much delay on the part of my cousin, reached the temple at 7am. Was in the queue until 9am at which point of time I thought I was going to get crushed to death despite the fact that I was taller and hence a lot more capable of elbowing people with a lot more authority. Managed a fleeting darshan of devi. Got partially strangled on my way out of the temple. Never, I mean never, has sunshine been as welcome or as uplifting as the second I stepped out of the temple. We went to Arya Nivas then, ate perfectly crisp masala dosa and the best lime juice in the country (Trivandrum lime juice, or Bonju [I have no clue why it is called that!] is the best in the whole friggin' world. no arguments shall be entertained, or suggestions so there!). I then went to Karalkada. As a self-respecting, of-Trivandrum-origin, Malayali woman my mundu sets are from Karalkada. I spent around Rs9,000 there. Now, I have no money in the bank! :( I then went to Vellayani, where my uncle's wife's home is to get things sorted for the Pongala. From removing the stones and wholegrain from the rice, to tying up bundles of fuel for the stoves, to breaking the mollases, to well everything...

Day 3- Sunday, February 28
At a very distant relative's house in Manacaud, which is really close to Attukal at 4am - dressed and waiting. After an wakefulness-inducing cup of tea, my aunt and I went and "caught place" in the compound where we could make the stoves and make our Pongala. Around 10am, after 6 hours of reaching the place, we were ready, water was filled in every pot, and the little offering for Ganapati made (this was the point where my mother chipped in with - "even if the pongala is for someone else, you have to make ganapati happy firtst!"). At around 10.15, the flame from the main temple reached our street and after a chant of the "Sarva mangala mangalye..." thingum we were ready to go!!! After god knows how much smoke in my system and my eyes tearing up like no one else's business my rice was boiling and the payasam was on its way to being made. After which it was breakfast and a quick nap and lunch and waiting until 3.30pm for the priest to come and splash the payasam with teerth (that I believe the women outside the temple complex got via helicopter) and our offering was considered legit! Then we waited until 6 to go home.

I could tell you everything that happened at the Pongala itself. But the entire thing is an experience you need to go through personally.

A few observations though:

  • As women, our sense of contempt for each other and our sense of community with each other is both strong and non-existent in equal parts.
  • Attukal bhagavathy is actually Kannagi of Silapadikaram. She who burned Madurai down after being scorned for believing in the truth. So is, Erattakulangara devi (my family deity). This would make me Tamil by ethnicity/history?
  • Pilgrimage is not for me. The thought of experiencing the highs of bhakti while having my clothes practically torn off of me by my fellow women is a little off-putting.
  • I'm a total temple person, especially when the temple is quiet.
  • At the end of the day. I can go where I want to. I can be what I want to. I am malayali underneath all my English and all my bluster. Although, I could do without the excess coconut oil.
  • In Kerala, vegetarianism is considered a problem of grievous concern. My family took me to my pediatrician to check if I was alright after I started throwing up all the meat that my mother was feeding me!
  • Making a point in a bulleted, listed format is easier for me and it only means I'm too lazy to rabble-iciously rabble :)


  1. Fine, a journalistic mess!
    Seldom do women write about such things, plainly; keep it up.


  2. Manu,

    Thank you. :)
    For the record, seldom are women ever dishonest about each other!