Thiruvananthapuram: Over 3.5 million women, dressed in brand new clothes and carrying cooking implements, on Saturday assembled at this Kerala capital to prepare the offering as part of the famed Attukal Bhagavathi temple`s Pongala festival.
The event takes place on the penultimate day of the 10-day Attukal Pongala festival, which is often referred to as the equivalent of the Sabarimala pilgrimage for women.
The offering is prepared using rice, jaggery and coconut, and it takes around three to four hours of time. Then, the priests sprinkle sacred water on the cooked rice, and the women begin their return journey.
Saturday`s festivities began around 11 am when the chief priest of the temple lit an earthenware pot from the fire of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
It was then passed on to the women devotees, who were lined up across the main roads of the capital city, occupying a staggering 13 sq km of area.
President of the temple trust, KP Ramachandran Nair, said the crowds this time were even bigger than last year.
In 1997, about 1.5 million women had assembled at the site. It even got into the Guinness Book of World Records as the single largest gathering of women.
Like every year, film and TV personalities like Chippy and Kalpana were seen preparing the offering.
Women devotees came from as far as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
The temple is dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathi who is believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic "Silappadhikaram".
According to a legend, Kannaki destroyed Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the king of Madurai wrongfully imposed the death penalty on her husband. After that, Kannaki travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal and women are said to have cooked Pongala to appease her.
"I`m here for the first time. I am really excited to see such huge crowds of women," said 43-year-old Retnamma Kumar, who arrived here Friday night from Kottayam.
And making a killing as always were the fly-by-night operators selling bricks and earthenware pots.
"Last time, I paid Rs 50 for a pot and Rs 15 for three bricks needed to make the kiln. This time, it has doubled. This is fleecing," said Janaki Amma, who is a regular at this festival for the past one decade.
The railways are running a special train service and have attached additional coaches on several trains for devotees coming from Tamil Nadu and northern Kerala.