Attukal festival is one of the most popular festivals that observes a day when all the womenfolk gather together for worshipping Goddess Bhagavati, the temple deity at Attukal Bhagavati Temple in Kerala. It is believed to be the largest gathering and has even been recorded in the Guinness World Records.
This festival is the world's largest congregation, the Attukal festival of Kerala. Attukal Bhagavaty Temple is a small temple located at a distance of two kilometres from Padmanabhaswamy temple in the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
Why the festival is known as Pongala is because of the sweet dish, called sweet Pongala that is offered to the deity on this day. The sweet dish prepared is made of rice with jaggery, sweet brown molasses, coconut, raisins, etc. There goes a religious story behind how the day came to be known as a festival and how the temple gained that significance.
The festival begins as the Kartika Nakshatra rises in the sky during the month called Malayalam. It corresponds to the months of February to March of the Gregorian Calendar. This festival begins nine days prior to the Attukal Mahitsavam, the main celebration day. On the ninth day, Attukal Pongala Mahotsavam takes place.
One day when the head of the Mulluveetil family, Karanavar was performing some religious rituals on the bank of the river Killi, just then a woman, named Kannaki or Kannagi came and asked him to help her cross the river. Karanavar was a respected, kind and a helpful person. As he helped her cross the river on the other side of which his family used to stay, the entire family was pleased and thought a guest had come to grace their home.
They requested her to stay for some time while they wanted to be her host for the day. Full of excitement, as everybody began to make the preparations, they were surprised when they noticed that the girl had disappeared and was nowhere to be found.
However, the same night, when Karanavar was sleeping, he saw a woman in his dream. It was the same woman he had helped cross the river. In his dream, she told Karanavar to make for her an abode in the nearby place where herbs grew. She also told him that he would find three lines drawn on the land where she wants her abode to be constructed.
As the man woke up and went to see the three lines, he was surprised that what the lady said in his dreams was indeed correct. Realising that she was a divine incarnation, he got a temple constructed for the Goddess. This temple was later known as Attukal Bhagavaty Temple. Kannaki was the incarnation of Goddess Parvati and is today worshipped at this Attukal Bhagavati Temple.