Monday, January 14, 2013

Joy of Pongal (2013)

Wish you all a prosperous and happy Pongal. My mom made it back to Chennai in time to celebrate this wonderful festival. 

The previous day is known as Bhogi, which marks the end of Dakshninayana,where old items are burnt. This act also symbolizes the end of all that is past including our negative qualities such as hatred, jealousy and sets the tone for the new year on a positive and happy note.

Like the Thanksgiving season in the West, Pongal is a Thanksgiving celebration by farmers in south India to mark the end of the harvest season. 

Pongal is celebrated by boiling milk and rice together along with jaggery, ghee and fried raisins. As the mixture boils over from the beautifully decorated mud-pot, people welcome the moment by loudly calling out, "pongalo pongal". The beginning of this phase is also known as Uttarayana, which marks the path of the sun from the southernmost limit northward. 

The most important day is the first day of the Tamizh month thai, where houses are decorated with mango leaves, colorful rangoli (kolam), flowers including an array of fruits and food items. It marks the movement of the sun into the 10th house of the zodiac (Capricorn). The Sun god, the giver of life is worshiped with great fervour. The festival is also known as Makara (Capricorn) Sankaranti, celebrating the winter harvest. 

The previous day, I had been to Mylapore to visit my friend after two long years and on the way, we also shopped for the house by buying sugarcane, fresh flowers, ginger and turmeric. These are some of the few things you miss when you are away from home. The horrendous traffic and commotion can however change your mind. What surprised me was the Chennai Fest which was underway with a huge kolam (rangoli) competition right in the middle of all a heavy traffic and incessant honking. 

My mom was quite surprised by my enthusiasm, but nevertheless pleased. She ensured that I performed the pooja today in the prescribed manner (pooja vidhi) before I could get my hands on the vadais (lentil fritters) and chakra pongal (sweetened rice). Surprisingly, my Arts teacher had also requested for a bite of the pongal. That inspired me further to compose a quick sketch for his review. I also fed Mickey, the beautiful food loving Labrador who resides in the house next to my teacher's residence.

The day after Pongal is followed by a celebration of cattle, which provide us abundant milk and plough the land for the harvest. They are given a lovely bath, their horns are painted and their legs decorated with anklets. This day is known as Maatu (Cow) Pongal. The cattle is taken through the village with people cheering from the sides. I remember some of my good old days at my dad's village in Kumbakonam, where we celebrated Pongal with my cousins.

Maatu Pongal is followed by Kaanum Pongal, which is a day of relaxation for the farmers and their family. The entire family enjoy the time together. Ofcourse, in today's context, it is a day-off for laborers as well and the entire family head over to the beach, temples or theatres.

On festive occasions, we must share the goodies with people around us and make them a part of the celebration.

There is no greater joy than sharing.  

I know the harvest season has not been great and the suicide rates among farmers is very high. I pray for their souls and fervently appeal to the government to rescue them by providing incentives, farming know-how and adequate technological support.

1 comment:

Garuda yali said...

its more than 8 years me being their in the land of rice. I hail from the land of rice bowl but its years I could be there on pongal day. thank you for your post on this subject.