Navratri Delight – Fifteen Sterling Destinations. Abounding Divinity.
Many of us are familiar with the remarkable story of Kannaki – the legendary woman who cursed the old town of Madurai in a fit of rage, after her husband was unfairly punished by its Pandiyan King, Nedunchezhiyan.
So powerful was Kannaki’s chastity that the curse came true. The city was set ablaze and there was destruction all around. The Goddess of the city then appeared before Kannaki and requested her to take back the curse. Kannaki finally agreed and later attained salvation.
Down the ages, Kannaki has been revered for many things – her chastity, sanctity, her devotion and love towards her spouse and so on. However, one fact that many of us aren’t aware of is that Kannaki, after destroying Madurai, is believed to have reached Kerala via Kanniyakumari and on the way to Kodungallur, passed the town of Attukal.
At Attukal, she took the form of a little girl and approached an old man, who was sitting on the banks of a stream. She requested the man to help her cross the stream. Surprised to find the young girl alone, he took her home. However, to his surprise, she vanished without a trace. She came back later in his sleep and asked him to build a temple at that spot in his grove where he would find three golden lines. He went ahead and did the same, and it is said that this is how the Attukal Bhagavathy temple came to be.
Goddess Kannaki, who is believed to be an incarnation of Parvati, is the presiding deity in this temple. The temple is situated about 2 km to the south-east of Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. One might remember that the latter was at the center of media attention after the discovery of priceless treasure inside its vaults a few months back.
Any mention of Attukal Bhagavathy temple is incomplete without talking about its extremely famous festival, Ponkala. During Ponkala, a special preparation of the same name is made of rice cooked with jaggery, ghee, coconut and other ingredients and offered to the Goddess. The entire festival lasts for ten days.
It commences in the month of Makaram-Kumbham (Feb – March) on the Karthika star. Pongala Mahotsavam takes place on the ninth day of the festival. An atmosphere of festivity and joy prevails for all the ten days, complemented by musical rendering of songs, the sound of temple drums, performance of folk dances, procession of colourful floats and lighting of hearths.
On the ninth day, millions of women gather and cook ponkala in small pots. Open fields, roads, commercial institutions, and even premises of Government offices are used for this purpose. The festival is restricted only for women. The temple is therefore aptly known as ‘Sabarimala for Women’. On 23 February 1997, the festival entered the Guinness Book of World Records when a record number of 1.5 million women gathered to offer ponkala to the Goddess.
Nearby Sterling Holidays resort: Munnar – Terrace Greens
Distance from Terrace Greens: 280km, 5 hours 41 mins
Closest city: Kochi – 204 kms