8 January 2007

Pongal Festival

India is bestowed with the bliss of festivity. A major segment of the population here depends on agriculture, so as a result, most of the festivals are also related to the agricultural activities of the people. Pongal is a highly anticipated festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu which marks the harvesting of crops by farmers and is the first festival beginning off each New Year in this State.

Pongal, will be held next week between January 13th to 16th (the dates are calculated by the solar calendar so don't change from year to year like festivals calculated by the moon calendar). The Festival is the time when people thank God, Earth and their Cattle for a wonderful harvest and celebrate the occasion with joyous festivities and rituals.

The first day of the festival, known as Bhogi, begins on the last day of the month of Margazi. On Bhogi people clean out their homes collect unwanted goods and in the evening, light bonfires and burn old, used and unwanted items signifying the destruction of memories and associations. The slate is thereby made clean and one is now ready to start the New Year.

The second day of the festival, Surya Pongal, which is the day on which the celebrations actually begin, is the first day of the Tamil month Thai. On this day, Surya, the Sun God is worshipped and women wake early to create elaborate kolam on the grounds in front of their doorway or home.

The lady starts of by sweeping in front of the house, then sprinkles water all over the ground and lays a covering paste of cow dung. Once the dung is dry, she will proceed to make wonderful, intricate, geometric patterns in white power. Previously ladies would use powdered rice; thereby providing a nice tasty treat for the ants. Unfortunately nowadays few people opt for rice and instead use powders in different colours that have all sorts of chemical additives; which instead of feeding the ant would probably finish them off quickly! If you want to enjoy an early mind-boggling experience at Pongal, watch a lady prepare her intricate kolam that morning!

It is also on this day that Chakkara Pongal, a delicacy of harvest rice cooked with jaggery, ghee and cashew nuts is offered to the Sun God.

This is a picture of a previous Pongal, in which ladies are doing a 'communal cook' of their pongal dish. Once the dish is prepared the ladies take it home to eat with their family. But by coming together in this 'communal cook' the ladies maintain a link with the ethos of village cooperation during harvest times.

The third day Maatu Pongal (maatu=cattle) is devoted to paying homage to cattle. Cows and Bulls are decorated with paint and bells and people pray to them. The fourth day, termed Kaanum Pongal, is the one on which people travel to see other family members and friends.

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