The Attukal temple authorities have withdrawn from conducting the ritual while the government has issued an advisory for those participating in the pongala.

Attukal pongala progresses in Kerala even as 6 coronavirus cases reported from statePC/ Sreekesh Raveendran Nair
news Religion Monday, March 09, 2020 - 12:51

Attukal Pongala, the annual ritual of the Attukal Devi temple in Thiruvananthapuram, has been progressing from Monday morning amid fears and warnings against conducting such mass gatherings in the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak.

On Sunday, five people belonging to Pathanamthitta district were confirmed positive with the virus while on Monday the first case of a child testing positive has been reported from Kochi.

The pongala is the largest religious gathering of women in a single day with thousands of women coming together on the penultimate day of the temple festival to cook and offer various sweet dishes to the goddess Attukal Devi. Makeshift hearths are arranged on the roads in large numbers for the pongala. Though a majority of the devotees are women, men also participate in large numbers in various ways in the ritual.

According to Maya, a young woman from Thirumala in the city, she had come to offer the pongala as she believed that keeping away from the festival will not make any difference with regard to getting infected. “Whatever we are designated to suffer, we must go through it,” she said.

She was participating in the ritual with her mother-in-law Girija. Girija shares Maya’s opinion. Every year the ritual would take place in a radius of four to five kilometres in Attukal, where the temple is located. Women from the neighbouring districts as well as from other parts of the state also participate.

This year the concerns are high as the state is battling with the virus the second time in the gap of a couple of months. Two among the first three cases in the state, which were the first cases reported from the country as well, were reported in the last week of January while the third one was reported in the first week of February. Doctors as well as many others have raised safety concerns several times about conducting a mass gathering like the pongala.

Ponnamma and her daughter Preetha have come from Pandalam to offer Pongala. “We began offering pongala last year, we came this year too. We didn’t feel we had to stay away this year because of the virus, nothing will happen to us,” Preetha said. Pandalam is located in Pathanamthitta district.

It’s the same for a group of women from Kundamankadad in Thiruvananthapuram who are participating in the pongala. Sreeja, Anitha and Ambika say that everything will be taken care of by the goddess. “We are not scared, in fact we haven’t been thinking about the fears at all,” Sreeja said.

The Attukal temple authorities had refused to take a  decision on the festival, saying that it was for the government to give directions to postpone it. The government on its part has issued guidelines for women to follow while taking part in the ritual and also advised those who have symptoms or those from affected districts not to participate.

Many of the women participants were seen wearing masks but not all.  

Meanwhile, there has been a shortage of masks in the city for the past one week. “This has been the case since the Attukal temple festival began. We don’t have masks anymore,” a medical shop owner in Thycaud near the government maternity hospital in the city said.

In the medical shops near the General Hospital, only N-95 masks were available.

Also Read: First child coronavirus case in India: Kerala 3-yr-old who visited Italy tests positive

Attukal Pongala to go on in Kerala, those with COVID-19 symptoms asked to stay away

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