The milling multitudes and the burning brick hearths that annually line city streets on Attukal Pongala day were missing on Saturday.
For all intents and purposes, the day was like any other in the State capital as women devotees made the annual Pongala offering to Attukal Bhagavathy, the presiding deity of one of the capital city’s landmark temples, from the safety of their homes, given the worrisome COVID-19 scenario.
Every year, tens of thousands of women converge on the city to make the offering; a sweet pudding of rice, jaggery, grated coconut, ghee, and banana prepared in earthen pots. This time, in view of the pandemic, the temple trust had requested them to confine the festivities to their homes. The pongala offering at the temple itself was limited to the Pandara Aduppu—the main hearth—that was lit at 10.50 a.m.
Temple tantri Thekkedath Kuzhikkattillathu Parameswaran Vasudevan Bhattathiripad handed over the flame from the sanctum sanctorum to melsanthi or chief priest P. Easwaran Namboothiri. After lighting the Pongala hearths at the thidapally and the Valiya thidapally of the temple, the Pandara Aduppu was lit.
Never before in recent memory had the city appeared so deserted on the day of Attukal Pongala, often dubbed the biggest assemblage of women, some city residents said. Only family members set the hearths this time at many residences that were accustomed to hosting small crowds every year. Regulars were dismayed that they could not make the offering at their usual spots in the city.
“I offer the Pongala with a small group of friends on the SMV School campus every year. This time, I was planning to do it at home, but a friend invited me over and we made the offering at her residence at Parottukonam instead,” said Priya Kolassery, a home chef based in Thiruvananthapuram.
Actor Chippy, a familiar face at the annual event, offered the Pongala at her Kowdiar residence with her mother on Saturday morning, but she expressed the hope things would be back to normal next year. “’I’ve been offering the Pongala for more than 20 years near the temple. This time, the ambience and the special vibe were sorely missing. In fact, the city looked so different for a Pongala day,” she said.
This year, the Attukal Pongala was offered in homes outside Thiruvananthapuram district also, as devotees could not make the annual pilgrimage. Latha Thulasidharan Nair, a regular at the festival for over a decade, set the makeshift hearth at her home at Ithithanam, Kottayam district. “Although I am disappointed I could not go, I feel that I was also able to perform the ritual and prayers in a more serene atmosphere. Making the offering to the goddess at my home also made it special,” she said.
The main hearth was sanctified at 3.40 p.m. This year, the temple had not deputed priests to sanctify the hearths in the city.
The Kuthiyottam ritual, normally attended by hundreds of boys, was limited to the Pandara Ottam by a single boy this year. The Purathezhunellippu was scheduled to begin by 8 p.m. on Saturday. This year’s festivities will conclude with the Kappazhippu ritual at 9.15 p.m. on Sunday and the Kuruthitharpanam by 1 a.m. on Monday.
The festivities and community kitchens at city junctions also were absent this year. The city Corporation’s health wing and sanitation workers, who are usually on their toes during the Pongala, could breathe easy this time around, as there were no hearths on the streets. Drinking water supply in tankers, which used to be done across the city, was limited to the temple this year.