Kerala's famous Attukal Pongala clouded by outrage over Kuthiyottam

(Image source: Attukal Bhagavathy temple is located in the Kerala capital of Thiruvananthapuram. The goddess here is believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic "Silapathikaram".On the famous Attukal Pongala day, which falls on Friday in 2018, women clad in traditional Kerala saris, cook the special offering - pongala (a mix of rice, jaggery and scrapped coconut)-  to the deity on makeshift brick stoves that are arranged around a huge circumference of the shrine.The most prestigious seat for cooking is in the temple compound and women reserve their place to cook prior to the festival day.

Thiruvananthapuram: Devotees offer prayers at the annual festival of Pongala at Attukal Bhagavathi Temple. #Kerala

— ANI (@ANI) 2 March 2018According to 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 please her.The pongala entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest number of women gathering in 1997 with 1.5 million women and in 2009 with 2.5 million women. The number has been increasing year by year.

Another famous ritual, 'Kuthiyottam' also called as chooral muriyal in some parts of the state is carried out in the Attukal temple during the ongoing Pongala festivities.In the ritual, which is symbolic of human slaughter, small iron hooks are pierced into the skin of boys aged between 5 and 12, through which a small thread is knotted through and later removed.This, in particular, has drawn ire, terming it as torture and demanding an end to the practice.This comes after the DGP (Prisons) R Sreelekha in her blog titled - 'Time to Stop this Yearly Crime in the Name of Faith!' had said "While women of certain age groups are banned near Sabarimala, men of every age group throng around Attukal Temple during 'Pongala.' So, hardly akin to Sabarimala! But what about children? Can we call it Boy's Prison Cell?"Sreelekha condemned the ritual while dubbing it a 'gruesome practice'."I want to stop this archaic and gruesome practice (Kuthiyottam) where bodies of young boys are pierced. I stand by to what I have said and don't care what the temple authorities," says R Sreelekha.Meanwhile, secretary of Attukal Temple Trust in Trivandrum said that Sreelekha has commented on the ceremony without acknowledging any facts.Kerala Minister for Temple Affairs Kadakampally Surendran supporting the ritual has said that this is not the right time to oppose the practice and that it is too early to comment if the ritual is a violation of child rights.

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