14 Jan Tamils celebrate around the world
Today, January 14, is a very auspicious day for Tamils all over the world.
Today is Thai Pongal, which is a harvest festival equivalent to a thanksgiving event and is celebrated by Tamils across the world. Pongal in Tamil means “boiling over”.
The act of boiling over of milk in a clay pot is considered to denote future prosperity for the family during the ensuing year.
Thai Pongal is celebrated on the first day of the month of Thai of the Tamil calendar. The day normally falls between 12th and 15th of the month of January. Thai is the first month of the Tamil Almanac.
This Tamil festival of Thai Pongal is a thanksgiving ceremony in which the farmers celebrate the event to thank the Sun and the farm animals for their assistance in providing a successful harvest.
The usual custom is for every member of the family to get up early in the morning, finish their bath, put on new clothes and gather in the front of the house 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 (Rangoli) 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 will start by putting water in the pot and tops it up with milk. The fire is lit and the water with the milk begins to boil.
The water and milk are supposed to boil over to denote prosperity for the year for the family.
When the water has boiled the rice and roasted green mung dhal, which have been washed are added to the pot – after a member the family ceremoniously puts three handful of rice in first. Then the other members of the family follow suit.
The excess water is drained and only the correct amount of liquid for boiling the rice is left. When the rice and mung dhal have been cooked other ingredients such as chakkarai (brown cane sugar) or katkandu (sugar candy) dissolved in coconut milk are added and stirred well. Then chopped cashewnuts and sultanas are added and mixed well. When well-blended the pot is taken off the fire.
When the meal is ready it is served on a banana leaf and the family pray to the Sun God.
Then the family partake of the meal (Pongal) with fruits (banana and mango).
Later it will be shared with neighbours, friends and relatives.
Although each household prepare their own pongal sharing each other, Pongal is one of the important features of the event.
Some Hindu scholars believe that the rice is ceremoniously cooked on the Thai Pongal day because of its importance as a potent symbol of auspiciousness and fertility. The evenings are spent attending cultural events or visiting relatives and friends.
The day after Thai Pongal day is devoted to a thanksgiving to cattle. 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. This is called Mattu Pongal.
Thai Pongal is an occasion for family re-unions and get-togethers. Old enmities, personal animosities and rivalries are forgotten. 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.