By: Shubham Ghosh
Sudha Murty, mother-in-law of British prime minister Rishi Sunak, was in the southern Indian state of Kerala last week to offer Pongala to the diety of Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.
Murty, a recipient of India’s pretigious Padma Shri award, said she will write about the Attukal Pongala festival.
“Or I will talk about it in my speech,” Murty was quoted as saying in India’s Hindu newspaper.
Her husband Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy is away from the country.
Murty, whose daughter Akshata is married to Sunak, said she was not praying for anything particular, but was there to just participate in the huge gathering of women, on the eve of the International Women’s Day on Wednesday (8).
Sunak topped the 2023 GG2 Power List for the second consecutive year and was also recognised with a coveted GG2 Hammer Award in London on Tuesday (7), the day Murty made her offering to the temple.
The Pongala festival, according to Murty, was a different experience as there were no slogans. “It is ‘nari shakti’ (women power). So many women, on their own coming from so many places. There is so much equality as women…no caste, no religion, no rich or poor…all together and helping each other, even if they may never see the other again.”
She asked a fellow participant if the rice was cooked and was told to let it cook some more; she shared coconut with someone, and helped someone else out with cardamom, The Hindu report said.
“It is helping each other without making slogans, or anyone giving instructions that this or that has to be done. I like that equality,” 72-year-old said.
Murty made Pongala using red rice, jaggery, ghee, dry fruits, and coconut — all cooked in Kerala style. Even the heat and the smoke from the hearths did not dampen her enthusiasm for she is no stranger to them. “I was brought up in Shiggaon in northern Karnataka. There was no electricity or gas there in my childhood days. So, I know how to increase or reduce the heat in the hearth.”
Attukal Pongala is considered as one of the largest women’s gatherings in the world – around 15 lakh (1.5 million) women took part in the festival this year. In 2009, the festival made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest religious gathering of women on a single day when around 2.5 million of them participated in its rituals.