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Thiruvananthapuram: Every inch of space of the famed Attukal Bhagavathi temple was on Tuesday taken over by women devotees who have come to take part in the Attukal Pongala festival and have begun cooking sitting on either side of the road.
The most important function in the 10-day festival is reserved for the penultimate day which falls on Tuesday and at 10 a.m. the fire from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple was brought out to light up the main kiln in the complex.
The priests passed the fire across the 12 km radius of the temple to the women who then light up their kiln to prepare the dish, which is either a payasam or a dish made of rice.
Earlier a festival of Hindus, it has now become a secular event and for many years one regular participant is former Defence Minister A.K. Antony's wife, Elizabeth Antony.
"This is a festival beyond the realms of religion, and all you need to participate in the event is to be a woman," said Antony.
Another high profile participant on Tuesday was the wife of Kerala Governor P. Sathasivam besides those from the glamour world of the film and TV industry.
State ministers K. Babu and K. Mohanan's wives were also present in the temple.
"This is the 14th time that I am taking part and believe me, I really get more than adequate divine intervention after participating in this festival," said popular TV and film actress Chippi.
Popular singer Rajalekshmi sang a few lines in praise of Attukal Devi even as she was busy preparing the dish.
"I came from Dubai yesterday (Monday), just for taking part in this festival and I am returning on Thursday. The devi is so powerful and benevolent to the wishes that we put forward," said Reshmi Nair, a resident of Dubai.
More than 3,500 policemen were on duty, 100 CCTVs were being monitored and over two dozen fire engines were parked at various places in the city.
Various social and cultural organisations provided free food, drinking water and transport facilities to the participants.
The state government has ensured additional bus services and directed the railway authorities to operate Tuesday's trains with additional stops.
On the flip side a section of the state transport employees also took part in the Pongala. They wished for the present Oommen Chandy government to retain power in the upcoming assembly polls and for the health of the 72-year-old chief minister.
Last year, an estimated 3.5 million (35 lakh) women took part in the event which entered the Guinness World Records in 2009 for the maximum participation of women.
This year the participation was expected to cross four million.
The temple is dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathi, a goddess believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of Tamil epic "Silappathikaaram".
The state government announced a half-day on Monday and a holiday on Tuesday in Thiruvananthapuram district.
Even the Kerala assembly session has been given a two-day break.
By 1.30 p.m. when the holy water from the temple is sprayed by the priests, the women return home.
According to the Tamil epic, Kannaki destroyed Madurai in Tamil Nadu after its king wrongfully imposed the death penalty on her husband.
After that, Kannaki travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal where women were said to have cooked Pongala to please her. (IANS)