Attukal Bhagavathy Temple

Attukal, Thiruvananthapuram -695009
Phone number of Office:  0471-2463130, 2455600, 2455700
Phone number of Temple: 0471-2456456
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Attukal Bhagavathy Temple, one of the ancient temples of south India, is dedicated to the Goddess Bhagavathi, one of the forms of Parvati. It is situated on the banks of the Killi river, in Thiruvananthapuram. The temple is beautified with carvings of the various manifestations of the goddess, as Mahishasuramardini, Goddess Kali, Rajarajeswari, Sree Parvati with Lord Paramashiva and various others.
Legend is that Devi Bhagavathi gave darshan to a devotee, the head of the Mulluveettil family, as a 12-year-old girl near the Killi river. In a dream she demanded him to establish an abode for her in the nearby sacred ground of shrubs and herbs (kavu), at a consecrated spot marked by three lines. The devotee later built a temple at this sacred spot. According to mythology, Attukal Bhagavathy is supposed to be the divinised form of Kannaki, an incarnation of Parvati and the famous heroine of Shilappadikaram. The story goes that after the destruction of the ancient city of Madurai, Kannaki left the city and reached Kerala via Kanyakumari and on the way to Kodungallur sojourned at Attukal.
The Attukal Bhagavathy Temple festival falls in February / March and lasts for ten days. This is an occasion when the entire city becomes focused on the temple. The streets are made colourful on the festival days with colorful processions. Offerings called 'Vilakku kettu,' huge structures made of pith, decorated with shining paper and garlands, and usually with the image of the goddess, are carried to the temple in a procession. Some of these look like miniature temples. Tender coconut frond and plantain leaf-stalks are also used in making these.
Ponkala, an exclusive festival for women, is on the ninth day of the festival. On the day of Ponkala, lakhs of women devotees assemble from different parts of Kerala as well as other states and prepare ponkala, a sweet offering of rice, jaggery and coconut, in earthen pots. After Ponkala, the chief priest of the temple goes around and blesses the devotees by sprinkling holy water and flower petals on them. On the concluding day of the festival, the goddess is taken out in a procession to the Sastha or Ayyappa temple at suburban Manacaud, a few km away. Caparisoned elephants, young girls with Thalappoli, young boys undertaking Kuthiyottam, and Nadaswaram parties form an important part of this procession. On the way, people receive the goddess in front of their houses with Nirapara and Nilavilakku, a Kerala custom in which the traditional measuring container called 'Para' is decorated and filled with paddy as offering to the goddess.
Other festivals and observances of the temple are Vinayaka Chaturthi, Dussehra, Shivaratri, and Karthika Deepam.
The temple is governed by a registered body, Attukal Bhagavathy Temple Trust. The Trust undertakes and monitors the work related to the renovation of the temple, improvement of the roads leading to the temple, expansion of areas for Ponkala, and provision of facilities for the devotees to worship in the temple.
Trivandrum International Airport, Thiruvananthapuram Central Railway Station, Thiruvananthapuram Central Bus Station are the nearest access points.

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Location of Attukal Bhagavathy Temple (Satellite view)

Attukal Ponkala

Attukal Ponkala is the most important aspect of Attukal Bhagavathy Temple festival. The Ponkala festival falls on the pre-final day of the annual temple festival, in the month of February / March. It is an exclusive festival for women. Attukal Ponkala is essentially different from the Tamil Pongal in that this is a festival dedicated exclusively to the mother goddess.
Ponkala means golden pot; by extension it means the golden offering made to the goddess. It is believed that Attukal Bhagavathi likes the payasam to be prepared in clay pots or 'Mankalam'. The word 'golden' has now come to symbolise the precious nature of the offering. Ponkala is offered to the goddess for the well being of one's husband and children. On the day of the Ponkala, lakhs of women devotees from different parts of Kerala and outside the state assemble in the temple premises. Usually a wide area, stretching over quite a few kilometers from the temple, is declared as the Ponkala area, in order to accommodate the thousands of women. They prepare the ponkala payasam, a sweet offering of rice, jaggery, plantains and coconut, in earthen pots. This is believed to be the most favourite offering of the goddess. Devotees offer other items as well, such as thirali appam, mandaputtu, panchamrutam and white rice pongal. The women usually fast on the day before the Ponkala, and the fast is broken only after the ponkala is prepared. An interesting feature of the ponkala day is that the Flying Club of Thiruvananthapuram sends a helicopter around the area, showering flowers and miniature pictures of the goddess down on the devotees. After Ponkala, the chief priest of the temple and his assistants go around and bless the devotees by sprinkling holy water and flower petals on them and the offerings. This is as a token that the goddess has accepted their offering. Then the women return home, with the prasadam.
The most significant thing about Attukal Ponkala is the spirit of unity with which the community of women partake in the entire festival. This is an occasion when the barriers of caste, creed and social status fade into insignificance.

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