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Pongal

Pongal usually takes place in January every year

 

 

Aurovilians know by now that India is a land of many festivals and religious celebrations, a fact regularly brought home to us by the often overly loud music and sounds from the villages celebrating. The first festival of every new year is 'Pongal', a celebration which is wholeheartedly enjoyed by young and old in Auroville's bioregion and beyond.
Pongal is not a festival celebrated only in the south. It is also celebrated in the north of India, by the name of 'Makkar Sankrati'. The word 'Pongal' basically means 'boiling over' and it marks the beginning of the harvest festival.

Legend

Traditionally there are four days of Pongal. In the villages around Auroville, basically each family has its own god and goddesses and therefore the celebrations vary in each household. However, everyone happily partakes in the celebrations of all the four days.


Here are two legends attached to the festivals:

  • The most popular legend is the one connected to the first day when the rain god 'Indra' is worshipped. According to this legend it was on this day that lord Krishna lifted the Govardhan Mountain to shelter his people to save them from being washed away by the rains and the floods.

  • Another well known legend is associated with the third day of Pongal (Mattu Pongal, or Cow Pongal) says that lord Shiva once asked his faithful bull 'Nandi' to go to earth and tell the people that they should have an oil bath every day and eat food only once in a month. But I guess Nandi turned out to be a confused fellow as he told the people that they should eat food daily and take oil bath once a month! This definitely displeased Shiva and he decreed that, since the people would now need to grow more grains, Nandi would have to remain on earth and help them plough the fields. And so the poor bull has roamed the earth forever. Gee.., all that for getting a message wrong?

 

Rituals

Day 1

Like any other Indian festival, the rituals of the Pongal festival are quite elaborate. The day begins with the purification process of the soul and the mind by people taking an oil bath in sesame ('til') seed oil. This is followed by huge bonfires where all the unwanted rubbish of the house, like old mats, clothes etc., is thrown into the fire. (The day before, the women have already cleaned their houses, and preparations were made for the big puja, the religious offering ceremony, which is performed on first day of Pongal itself.) Very early in the morning kolams (patterns in rice flour) are drawn to decorate the front of the houses, doors are sprayed with vermilion and sandalwood paste, and garlands of leaves and flowers adorn each and every home.
On this first day, Bhogi Pongal, the rain god is worshipped. Apart from a collective ceremony in the temple of the village, there is lots of merrymaking and feasting on freshly harvested crops; old earthenware pots and other utensils are broken and potters are asked to supply new stock. It's the time of the year when the new replaces the old..

Day 2

The second day, Surya Pongal, is dedicated to the sun god. On this day, sweet rice known as 'Pongal', is cooked in a new earthenware pot which is placed where the puja is to be performed. Fresh turmeric and ginger are tied around this pot. Then a delicious concoction of rice, moong dal, jaggery and milk is boiled in the pot on an open fire. According to the ritual, this Pongal rice is allowed to boil and spill over. Once the rice is cooked, it is tempered with cashew nuts and raisins fried in ghee. When the Pongal dish is ready, it is offered to the sun god on a new banana leaf along with other traditional delicacies, like vadas, payasam, etc. Some people go to their plots of land to spray some of the Pongal water on their fields.

Day 3

The third day of Pongal is known as 'Mattu Pongal' or the 'Pongal of the cattle'. On this day the bullocks from all the houses are gaily caparisoned with beads, bells and flowers. Their horns are painted and capped with gleaming metals and colourful plastic balloons. Throughout the day the cattle is paraded on the streets and in some areas the famous southern bull fights take place: a vicious bull is chosen and a handsome amount is tied around their horns and anyone who can tame the bull gets to keep the prize.
In the villages around Auroville bullock cart races are held, with families or groups of youth stacked onto the carts that go racing throughout the area, shouting: Pongal, Pongaloo..! There is happiness and excitement in the air..

Day 4

On the fourth day of Pongal sisters visit their brothers. On this day the youngsters of Chennai, for instance, take a holy dip in the sea. Those who don't want to get into the rituals of a festival also hang around the beach, just for fun with their family or friends. In the villages around Auroville, shopkeepers give gifts or a bonus to their employees to show their gratitude for the hard work they have done through out the year.
Throughout the four days of Pongal there is exchange of sweets and presents between family, friends, neighbours, employers and employees, as a symbol of unity and tradition that is passed down to new generations.

These festivals not only bind us together but also bring us together in the joy of reaping the fruits of our hard work and labour, together as a family the way India has always been. And the future township of Auroville, some of whose residents have pretty much "gone native", plays along..

Pongal recipe

If you feel like getting traditional and making your own Pongal, here is how to:

Ingredients

  • 2 liters milk

  • 10 almonds

  • 1 1/2 cups newly harvested rice

  • 1/4-cup moong dal

  • 15 cashew nuts

  • 1 1/2 cup jaggery (raw palm sugar) grated

  • 30 kishmis

  • 1/4 level teaspoon nutmeg powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron crushed

  • 1 teaspoon cardamom powder

  • 2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)

Method

  1. Chop almonds and cashew nuts

  2. Clean kishmis

  3. Pour milk in the earthen pot (called `Pongapani') and place it on fire.

  4. When the milk starts boiling add rice and dal, after washing

  5. As soon as the rice and dal are cooked to softness, add jaggery and ghee

  6. Let it cook on medium fire for some time and then put in almond and cashew nut bits, saffron, nutmeg and cardamom powder

  7. Lastly put in the kishmis

  8. Bring to one or two good boils

Enjoy it!

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