Accepted paper:

Attukal Pongala: conflation of sacred and secular in popular imagination and public culture


Darshana Sreedhar (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Paper short abstract:

Attukal Bhagwati temple, renowned as ‘Sabarimala of women’ is home to a special temple practice prevalent in Kerala. Thiruvananthapuram, abode of Anantha (serpent God) witnesses this fascinating ritualistic practice as a part of its annual ten day celebration. Pongala typifies an instance in the broad based religious articulations, where there is simultaneous expression of the religion as place, process and symbol. My study here would an attempt to ethnographically place the practice of Attukal pongala and the related rituals within the framework of popular participation and map out how the practice which was initially an intrinsic religious practice located inside the temple premises has now transcended spatially and in popular imagination the religiosity and emerged within a community- participatory mode of discourse.

Paper long abstract:

What makes Attukal temple significant among the temples devoted to Devi worship in Kerala is the mythic status of Attukal Bhagwati as the reincarnation of Kannagi, central character of the South Indian epic by Illanko Adikal, Shilappatikaram . Legend states that Kannagi took revenge on the King of Madurai, for a mistaken death penalty imposed on her husband Kovalan, by cursing the city with disaster.

Pongala typifies an instance in the broad based religious articulations where there is simultaneous expression of the religion as place, process and symbol .The annual congregation of lakhs of women from diverse backgrounds irrespective of caste, class, religion and other differentials, pongala has been raised now to a democratic space. This has enabled the visibilization of many subterranean ritualistic practices which for a short span has been either done away with or got appropriated to the dominant political, social and ideological vagaries. Since my study has relied exclusively on the oral narratives centering on the temple, I would be dealing with the intrinsic relationship of oral narratives with memory and how in the process of preserving the memory through material manifestations, one is always at a risk of essentializing the rescued history. I would be interested to locate how the visual culture of pongala has affected the market culture and consumerism. It would also be worth enquiring how being incorporated in a 'process of sanctification' defined group solidarity and how cultural practices treat images as compressed performances, where the experience (of the image's effect) is at once its meaning and its power

panel P25
Transformations in contemporary South Asian ritual: From sacred action to public performance