Saturday, August 23, 2008


By Prashanth Krishnaswami

Tired of the dull detached life in the city? Take a trip down to a village during a festival, especially Pongal! Pongal is arguably the most important Thamizh festival of the year.

The Thamizh calendar is a bit different from the Western calendar that we use.
This website shows both calendars for the current year, one month at a time.

The Pongal festival starts off on the last day of the Margazhi month (according to the Thamizh Calendar). The day is called Bhogi. It is a day when people thoroughly clean their homes and collect unwanted and unusable articles. Later in the evening, those articles that can be burnt are thrown into a bonfire and burnt publicly. In villages, where people live in thatched huts, the entire thatched roof is taken apart and reconstructed.

The walls of the hut are made from sand. They are loosened with water and a new mixture is formed. The walls are also reconstructed. The entire family sleeps in a fresh house on Bhogi night. The air is filled with happiness and a feeling of togetherness.

The next big day is Pongal. It is the first day of the Thai month (according to the Thamizh calendar). Hence, Pongal is also called Thai Pongal. The day begins with the women in each house designing a Kolam outside the house in front of the entrance. Each woman would try to make her Kolam the most elaborate amongst others in the street. There will be a small implicit contest among women in the street. The old unwanted and unusable articles that were burnt during Bhogi will be replaced by new ones respectively. Everyone would wear new clothes and use the new articles with great enthusiasm on this day. Fresh stock of rice would be taken in the house and a Pongal(dish) would be made from the first portion of rice in this stock.People go out and meet friends and share the festive happiness and prosperity.

The third day is called Maattu Pongal (Cattle Pongal). Cattle are generally regarded with respect in Thamizh tradition. This fact is illustrated by the fact that an entire day of festivity is dedicated to cattle. Their horns are painted with bright colours and their necks sport new bells. Special prayers are said and rituals are performed for their good health. People cook special food items and offer them to the cattle to eat first. Some women sing folk songs in praise of cattle mainly about the feminine charm of the cow and the fierce bravery of the bull. In a village called Alanganallur, a large scale bull fight takes place every year on this day. A man who can tame is a bull is considered to be a fierce and courageous hero. Thus, the bull is placed at the pinnacle of bravery and used as a benchmark to even assess a human’s bravery. Such is the respect that Thamizh tradition bestows upon cattle!

The last and fourth day of the Pongal festival is called Kaanum Pongal. This is the day when families go out of their homes on long trips for the entire day. Usually, a trip to the temple is on the agenda. In some cases, families would go to a distant temple to appease a particular God. This is followed by a trip to meet elderly folks in the family to secure their blessings and to greet them on the festive occasion. Lunch is packed and carried during the trip. All the members of the family make it a point to sit together and eat lunch without fail. During the evening, families go to the beach or to a place of amusement (zoos, museums, cinema etc) and have fun till it gets dark.

How we celebrate festivals in the city isn’t half as grand as how people celebrate in the villages.

Thamizh - The Tamil way of saying Tamil.

Pongal(festival) - A 4 day festival that falls around January 14th every year.
Bhogi - The first day of the 4 day festival
Thai Pongal - The second day of the 4 day festival
Maattu Pongal - The third day of the 4 day festival
Kaanum Pongal - The fourth and final dayPongal(dish) - Rice is collected in pots and cooked with milk till it overflows. There are many variants of this dish.
Margazhi, Thai - Months on the Thamizh calendar.
Kolam - A design made by sprinkling rice powder on the floor. Colour powders are mixed with rice powder to get multi-coloured designs.
Alanganallur - A panchayat town in the district of Madurai in Tamil Nadu.

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