Thursday, 15 January 2009

Pongal

Today is Pongal which is a harvest festival equivalent to a thanksgiving event. Pongal means “boiling over or spill over”. The act of boiling over of milk in the clay pot is considered to denote future prosperity for the family. Pongal is a celebration of prosperity and thanks to the rain, sun and the farm animals that have helped in the harvest. Villagers wear new clothes and people owning cows see this festival as important. The festival is at least 1000 years old though some believe that it is more than 2000 years old.

The festival is celebrated for four days, the first day Bhogi is marked by throwing away and destroying old clothes, the end of the old Thai and the emergence of the new Thai. The second day is the main day and is celebrated by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery early in the morning in new pots. Later they are topped with brown sugar, cashew nuts and raisins and allowing it to boil over the pot. This is were Pongal gets its name and when the rice boils over it is traditional to shout”Ponggalo Ponggal!” and to blow a conch shell (sangu) announcing the year to be filled with blessings and good tidings. Watching it boil over is a good sign, it means good luck and prosperity is soon to come. New boiled rice is offered to Nature at sunrise to thank the sun and nature for providing prosperity. The dish is later served to all people present for the ceremony. Savouries and sweets are also prepared and people visit each other.

Maattu Pongal, the third day is when they offer thanks to the cattle because they help farmers in many different ways. They decorate the cattle with bells, paint and flowers and are allowed to roam free. They are also fed sweet rice and sugar cane, some people decorate the horns with gold. The taming of the wild bull contest is one of the main events in some villages.

The final day, Kaanum Pongal (kaanum means “to view”), people visit their relatives and friends to enjoy the festive season. In the cities, however, people flock to beaches and theme parks with their families. Sugar cane is chewed and also houses are decorated with kolam (see picture). Today relatives and friends are thanked for the harvest. Although this festival was originally for farmers it has become a national holiday .

I like this festival. Thanks is given to everyone and everything involved in the harvest. Nothing seems to be left out. I can imagine this to be a fun festival enjoyed by all.

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