After about almost a year of not travelling, the month of January brings a change in plans. We are from the South of India, the state of Tamil-Nadu, where the harvest festival of Pongal is celebrated with huge splendor. Pongal is celebrated to thank the ‘SUN’ god for the bountiful harvest of the season. This festival is celebrated all across India but has different names in different states.
We observe a tradition of celebrating Pongal, first in our home with family and then a second special one in our ancestral village of Nattarasankottai (specific only to this village) ever since we got married. With Baby Girl in tow now, booked our tickets so that she could witness her first Pongal it its undiluted form. Reached our village in the morning after a 12 hour long train journey.
How is Pongal celebrated? Pongal in Tamil is actually the name of the sweet/ savory rice dish that is made in honour of the SUN. The water with which the rice is washed if first boiled. When the water starts to boil, it swells and eventually overflows. the overflowing of the water is considered the auspicious moment and people exclaim “Pongalo, Pongal” in happiness. But there is something special about the festival we celebrate in our village. It is celebrated on the first Tuesday following the first main Pongal (hence named ‘Sevvai Pongal’ , ‘Sevvai’ means Tuesday in Tamil. It is celebrated by all people of the village, together, a community Pongal, near a very old and famed temple. Everyone is decked in spectacular clothes and people who belong to the village (people whose parents, grandparents belong here even if they were brought up someplace else), come from all over to celebrate this festival together. It serves as a perfect occasion to meet all our friends and relatives at the same time in this huge party without even having to host the party.
Because many of the former inhabitants of the place have moved to many other cities and even countries due to jobs and various other reasons, the usually sleepy looking village lights up for the day and night. People gather here from all corners of the world to mark this festival; even if they can’t make it personally, they ask their friends or relatives who will be here to offer a pot of ‘Pongal’ in their stead.
The scenes were extraordinary as always. The ceremonial overflowing of the rice water from the thousand pots, women decked in beautiful Kanchivaram silk sarees and sparkling jewellery and men in white veshtis greeting each other, the many hawkers selling their wares of toys and snacks made the atmosphere thick with celebration. The chaos was evident. But the beauty in the chaos is also undeniable.