POSTING 5: Pongala – An annual event involving four million women, one goddess and incredible quantities of rice pudding.
On most days, women in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala, India, are not safe alone on the street after dark. But on the ninth day of Attukal Pongala, a festival dedicated to the Hindu goddess Bhadrakali, four million women from all over the country walk 15 miles of city streets for almost 24 hours. This spiritual gathering of females centers around an offering of rice pudding to the goddess.
Made with clarified butter (ghee), coconut, rice and unrefined sugar cane (jiggery), the dish is inexpensive and possible for women of all castes to prepare. Actually, it was Dalit (an “untouchable “ caste) women who first practiced the ritual. Every year a new cooking vessel is used. The women gather to grate coconut, wash rice, chant, pray and prepare.
Cooking begins with instructions from a loudspeaker. The women know that the goddess has accepted the offering when their pot overflows. After the ceremony is completed, the rice pudding is eaten, priests emerge to sprinkle holy water in the cooking pots, and men arrive to collect their women. It is all a part of a 10 day festival.