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March 2015

Attukal Pongala – Temple Festival of the Attukal Bhagavathy (Goddess)

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India, the land that birthed Hinduism is teeming with temples, rituals and architectures that speak volumes of the spiritual and vibrant nature of this religion.

The state of Kerala houses some of the magnificent embodiments of the same. One such famous temple is the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple; home to the revered Goddess Attukal Bhagavathy, the Supreme Mother.

The Attukal Bhagavathy Temple, is one of the ancient temples of South India and is fondly known as theSabarimala of the Women folk as the women from all walks of life come here to worship the supreme goddess who is known to have taken form to annihilate the evil and protect the good in the world in the present Era namely Kaliyuga.

Origin and History

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The story has it that the Goddess Bhagavathy revealed herself to a fervent devotee of a notable family namely the Mulluveettil family.

One day as thehead of the family was carrying out oblations in the Killi river, she is said to have appeared in front of him and asked him to assist her in crossing the river. The old man awed by her aura of divinity assister her in crossing the river as well as offering her the hospitality of his household. The young girl disappeared as she had appeared before whilst the members of the family were preparing to serve their guest.

That very night the Goddess Bhagavathy appeared in the dreams of the old man and demanded that he establish an abode for her in the nearby sacred ground at a consecrated spot marked by three lines. The next morning came across the very three marks that the goddess had spoken of in his dream. It was on this spot that the initial idol of the goddess was established. Several years later, the structure was renovated by the local devotees. A beautiful and majestic idol of the Deity with four arms, bearing weapons of destruction in each, like spear, sword, skull, shield etc was also installed.The consecration ceremony was carried out by the revered high priest of the Badarinath Temple.

In keeping with the mythology, Attukal Bhagavathy is the divine form of Kannaki, the famous heroine of Chilapathikaram, written by Elenkovadikal, the Tamil Poet. The story narrates the destruction of ancient city of Madurai, following with, 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 Goddess Parvathy, the consort of Parama siva. The all powerful and benign Attukal Bhagavathy reigns eternally supreme at Attukal. Thousands of devotees from far and near flock to the Temple to bow before the Goddess with awe and reverence to prostrate and redress their affliction and agony.

The Attukal Pongala Festival

The Pongala Mahotsavam (festival) 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.

Architectural Magnificence

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The Attukkal temple edifice is a harmonious conglomeration of both the Kerala and Tamil styles. 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 nothing less that the glorification of artistic genius .

The corridors surrounding the temple are flaunted by 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 idolss 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 Ganesa, 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.

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Guruvayur Anaottam (Elephant Race)

Guruvayur is a famous town in the Thrissur district, home to one of the most  famous temples of India: the Guruvayur Sree Krishna Temple. It is noted as the fourth biggest temple in regard to devotees visiting in a day.

Dating back more than 5000 years, the Guruvayur temple was an accompanying shrine in the Trikkunavay Shiva temple till the shiva temple was torn down  by the Dutch in 1755

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Origin and Legend

Amongst several temple festival and events is the most exciting one of all, the ‘Anaottam’ or the elephant race. Myth has it that before the destruction of the Trikkunavay temple, elephants for the temple festival were usually sent from the Trikkunavay temple to the Guruvayur temple whose festival commenced two days after the Trikkunavay temple festival. Once, on delayed payment, the elephants were not sent to Guruvayur; following which the elephants are said to have broken chains and run off to Guruvayur without their mahouts.

This incident made way through time to form what is today known as the famous ‘Anaottam’ of the Guruvayur temple which marks the beginning of the Guruvayur temple festival. The

The Festival

The race begins from Manjulal, a banyan tree at half a kilometre away from the eastern entrance to the temple where after the elephants enter the temple, take 7 rounds and touch the flagstaff in the end. The first elephant to touch the flagstaff is given regal treatment during the festival in addition to the privilege of bearing the Lord’s representation for the procession.

A large throng of people gather to witness and add on to the intense and exciting atmosphere of the race. Tightened security  by the Temple board is remarkable during this event as all measures are taken to prevent and prepare for accidents the accompany such events.

During this occasion, a ritual called the ‘Seeveli’ is also performed serving as a reminiscence of the years when the temple did not have an elephant.

The main event is accompanied by the rhythmic percussions and flying energy and exhilaration.

How To Reach

By Road

Guruvayoor is well connected with the other parts of the country by road and rail. The National highway is passing through Kunnamkulam which is just 8 kms away from Guruvayoor. The private bus stand is towards the east of the temple, near Manjulal (the banyan tree). It is half an hour drive by car from Thrissur and busses ply every 5 minutes from Thrissur to Guruvayoor.

Kerala Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) runs bus services from all major locations of the state and  few inter-state services. The bus stand is 500 meters to the west of the temple. Both KSRTC and private busses offer interstate services to all major South Indian cities like Madras, Madurai, Palani, Salem, Coimbatore, Thiruchandoor, Mysore, Mangalore, Uduppi, Mookambika etc.

By rail

Guruvayoor has got a railway station towards the east of the temple which is connected to the Madras-Mangalore main line at Thrissur. It has got computerised ticket booking facility and tickets can be booked to any locations from here. One from the Mangalore side can get down at the Kuttippram station. Regular bus services are available from there to Guruvayoor. Those from the Madras/Trivandrum side can get down at Thrissur.

By Air

Kochi international airport (Nedumbassery) is 80 kms from Guruvayoor and the Calicut airport is 100 kms away. All major international flight services are operated from these airports.

 

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