CHENNAI: The reeking sewage or the hot sun did not deter thousands of Ennore fishermen from carrying Pokkali Amman - the fishermen’s deity, across the Kosasthalaiyar river to a shrine near Kattukuppam village.
It was Pokkali Amman Thiruvizha - a festival which is celebrated once in a decade during September on a small island in the river. The week-long festival is marked by offering food, performing rituals, bursting crackers and playing instruments. It ends with fishermen taking the deity in a procession through the streets of Ennore and finally keeping it back in the 200-year-old Pokkali Amman temple there.
‘’Pokkali Amman protects us during rain and storm. Our ancestors have been doing this for more than three or four centuries,’’ says M Anandan (62), one of the heads of the village. Pokkali Amman was kept for six days from September 6 to 11, along with Vellai Amman in the shrine there which was built 10 years ago.
The island where nobody lives, came to life during the festival. Fishermen had raised huge banners of the deity, painted the shrine, dressed up both the deities.
They believe this deity has the power to get them a better catch in fishing. ‘’During summer, fish do not come to the backwaters. It is after September they come. This deity is powerful to increase the growth of fish and has helped us all these years,’’ said Anandan.
For the festival, about 3000 fishermen, including women and children, sail in boats to the island.
TNIE had reported in June about how goddess Vellai Amman, for whom this shrine was built, was found by fishermen floating in the river four decades ago.
Meanwhile, for the festival week, everyday in the morning they cook pongal and also offer non-vegetarian food to the deity. M Raja (43), a fisherman, said from Biriyani, Kari Kuzhambu, and mutton, everything is offered to the deity, followed by a feast for the whole village.
"Apart from that, we use drums, dholaks and thappattam -- the island where nobody lives comes to life for one week,’’ said Raja.
‘’During this festival, puberty ceremonies for girls are also held in this island.’’
While many do not know the clear history of how Ennore fishermen started worshipping this deity, stories narrated by elders still drive their belief.
Sampath, priest of Pokkali Amman temple, whose family has been maintaining the temple for 80 years, said stories narrated from elders of how this god killed sea demons and how the Velaiamman island alone was not affected during Tsunami are some beliefs fishermen stick to. “Politicians of AIADMK and DMK participate in this festival and pool in donations. The fishermen also collect from each other,’’ he said.