Monday, 9 January 2012

Thai Pongal in Jaffna


People worship & offer their food to the Sun God at sunrise
Thai Pongal is celebrated on the first day of the month Thai of the Tamil calendar. This year Pongal is on 15th of January (Sunday), however it normally falls between 12th and 15th of the month of January in the Christian calendar. Thus, Thai is the first month of the Tamil Almanac, and Pongal is a dish of sweet concoction of rice, moong dal, jaggery and milk. This festival is celebrated by one and all as it is non-relevance to any particular religious faith. The whole Tamil population of the world celebrate it without any differences. Therefore it is widely known as "Tamil Thai Pongal" or the "Festival of the Tamils". In Jaffna it is one of the biggest events in the calendar when all come together and celebrate. There will be fireworks and celebrations all through the day and night. All temples hold special Pongal poojas where people make pongal in front of the temple.

Devotees and priests cook a ritual 'Pongal' at a Temple.
The Tamil festival of Thai Pongal is a thanks giving ceremony in which the farmers celebrate the event to thank the spirits of nature spirit, the Sun and the farm animals for their assistance in providing a successful harvest. The rest of the people celebrate the festival to pay their thanks to the farmers for the production of food. Overall, it is a festival to encourage social cohesiveness and unite people by bringing them together in a common function. There is a famous saying in Tamil-“Thai Piranthaal Vazhi Pirakkum” (தை பிறந்தால் வழி பிறக்கும்) meaning "the commencement of Thai paves the way for new opportunities" is often quoted regarding the Pongal festival.

Pongal offering in front of a supermarket at Jaffna Town.
Customs & Celebrations
Thai Pongal generally includes customs & celebrations that are the expression of jubilation over life's renewal. On Thai Pongal, the family begins the day early. Every member of the family gets up early in the morning, bathes, puts on new clothes and gathers in the front of the garden (muttram) to cook the traditional Pongal (rice pudding). The front garden is pre-prepared for this ceremonious cooking. A flat square pitch is made and decorated with kolam drawings, and it is exposed to the direct sun light. A fire wood hearth will be set up using three bricks. The cooking begins by putting a clay pot with water on the hearth.

A senior member of the family conducts the cooking and the rest of the family dutifully assists him or her or watches the event. When the water has boiled the rice is put into the pot - after a member the family ceremoniously puts three handful of rice in first. The other ingredients of this special dish are chakkarai (brown cane sugar) or katkandu (sugar candy), milk (cow's milk or coconut milk), roasted green gram (payaru), raisins, cashew nuts and few pods of cardamom.

When the meal is ready it is first put on a banana leaf and the family pray for few minutes to thank the nature sprit, the sun and farmers. Then the meal (Pongal) is served with fruits (banana and mango) among the family. Later it will be shared with neighbours, friends and relatives. Although every household makes the food, sharing each other’s 'Pongal' is the one of the important features of the event. The evenings are spent attending cultural events or visiting relatives and friends.

Mattu Pongal day demonstrate our recognition and affection. 
Thanksgiving Day
The next day of the Thai Pongal is devoted to thanksgiving to cattle called “Mattu Pongal” in Tamil. The farmers pay great attention to the animals which have ploughed the fields and drawn the carts throughout the year. To show his gratitude for this invaluable service the animals are bathed, their horns are painted in red, blue, yellow and green. Their foreheads are smeared with turmeric and kumkum. Their necks are adorned with colourful garlands. Pooja is offered to them and Pongal is given in plenty. On the Mattu Pongal day there are Cattle races in several parts of Jaffna.

Bull cart Race in Jaffna to celebrate the Pongal Festival.
Meaning & Significance
Thai Pongal is an occasion for family re-unions and get-together. Old enmities, personal animosities and rivalries are forgotten.The moment of climax is the spill over of the pongal during cooking. The spillover of milk is a propitious symbol of abundance. Sometimes, firecrackers are lit to signify the moment.Estrangements are healed and reconciliation effected. Indeed, Thai Pongal is a festival of freedom, peace, unity and compassion crystallized in the last hymn on unity in the Indian spiritual text the Rig Veda. Thus, love and peace are the central theme of Thai Pongal.

"Wish you all a Very Happy Thai Pongal and Enjoy your Holidays"

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