Pongala, which means “prosperity,” is a 10-day festival celebrated at the Attukal Amma Temple in Tiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) in Kerala. It begins in the month of Kumbham (February–March). The main festival ritual, the boiling of rice in a pot, is connected to the Sunday ritual to the Sun in ancient Dravidian culture, and to the Tamil New Year celebration of Pongal, which has a similar name because the basic ritual is the same. The Pongala ritual has become the largest gather-ing of women for festival purposes in the world.
   A high point of the festival is the recitation of the song of Kannaki, found in classical form in the ancient Tamil text Cilappatikaram. In this version, a boy is sacrificed and Kannaki tears off a breast to destroy the city of Madurai. On the ninth day, when the boy is sacrificed and Kannaki tears off her breast, the Pongala ritual fire is lit in the temple. All the women who are gathered simultaneously light their fires to cook rice. The overflow of the rice pot (or, in the case of BRAHMINS, the near overflow) indicates that the woman has received the grace of the goddess. No men are directly involved.
   As part of the festival young boys ritually (and painlessly) pierce their skin with silver needles, to honor the goddess Attukal Amma. Unmar-ried girls under the age of 12 offer plates of rice, coconut, areca nut, and flowers to the goddess, to ensure that they remain healthy and protected.
   Further reading: Dianne Jenett, “Red Rice for Bhaga-vati: Pongala Ritual at the Attukal Temple in Kerala,” ReVision 20, no. 3 (1998): 37–43. Vikraman Kok-kanathala, The Glory of Attukal. Translated by Kamala Bai (Thiruvananthapuram: Sunce Publishing Division, 1997); K. R. Vaidyanathan, Temples and Legends of Kerala (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1994).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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