The Pongal Magic


The birth of the Tamil month of ‘Thai’ occupies a special significance in my heart. For a farmer, ‘Thai’ is the tenth month in the Tamil calendar.  The arrival of ‘Thai’ is celebrated with colour, splendour, nature, gratitude and of course, good food : Pongal, we call it.  For a long while now, Pongal festivities in urban areas have been relegated to a fun bonfire, a fancy ghee dripping Pongal (the dish) and a lazy time in front of the TV.

The festival, though, has a lineage of several thousand years and the least every succeeding generation did was to mark it on the calendar. Which is fantastic. Needless to say, they celebrated in accordance of the times they lived in and added a layer of flavour.

As a kid, I recall running with a carefree energy, in farmlands of a distant dusty village cluster near Madurai in Tamil Nadu on the day of Pongal. Careful not to trample on the colourful ‘Kolams’ that dotted every doorway. Running to see garlanded cows and goats with a fresh coat of paint donning their horns.  Jostling to get a better glimpse of events at the village centre, atop the shoulders of uncles and cousins.  A uniquely rural Indian moment, if you will. Replete with painted horns matched in their colour by glaring ribbons, and blaring megaphones.  Shy women stood at the doorway of quaint houses and watched drunken men, cows, and kids like us traipse by.  The world seemed to have a spring in its step.

That is my memory of Pongal. There was magic in the air. The Pongal magic.

For long, I believed that it was ‘Thai’ that did it. For it heralded new beginnings. It meant that there was a shift in the seasons. The seeds that were sown months ago and nurtured over several months had morphed into something else. Grain. Food. It was time for a harvest. It was time for abundance.

To date, on Pongal day, a traditional Tamil rural household converges outside of their homes under the benign grandeur of the Sun God and cook. Boiling the milk and adding freshly harvested rice, even as it overflows, to signify gratitude and abundance. Or at least, that’s the story I have experienced.

‘Thai Piranthaal Vazhi Pirakkum’ they say. ‘When the month of Thai arrives, opportunities arrive’ is a loose translation.

The urbanisation of our lifestyles has drifted away from the rhythms of its rural origins. Retaining the ritual and missing the flavour. Yet, the spirit of the festival permeates the mid-January air.

Sometimes, that’s all that matter.

Here’s to a super Pongal. May there be new vistas for health, happiness and fulfilment in all our lives.  And even as they knock on our doors, may we have the prescience to hear the knock and open the doors of our soul.

May we live!




Happy Pongal !

Happy Pongal !

Tomorrow is Pongal. Wikipedia informs me that Pongal is akin to Thanksgiving. I only know that it is a festival of harvest. It is a festival of a new beginning, of sugar, of jaggery, of decorated cows and of course of pristine joy! Perhaps a flowing over the brim of all of these !!

Wikipedia also informs that the Tamil Nadu government has decided to announce that from this year on, Pongal will be Tamil New Year ! I guess they wanted to become Julius Caesar or somebody by changing the calendar. (Ah. I have given a word to my missus : No politics on the blog. Ok. So, i stop there. Right there). Thats a different issue.

Back home, Pongal meant four days of holidays. And those wonderful dishes that amma made. The prayer and the offering to the Sun, in the spacious courtyard of home ! And of course, sugarcane ! Endless sugarcane !

Pongal. Madurai ’06

This is a picture from the album. Pongal celebrations at home. 2006 ! My taste buds are already active, when i look at the offerings on the leaf. And of course, you cant miss the sugarcane. Those long, thick purple hued delights.

Pongal brings to mind a different time. And makes me miss home. And when you miss home, you miss home and the glorious times that were part of home ! Parents. Friends and the times !

Tomorrow however, the missus will wake up early in the morning, and make Pongal (the dish). And we’ll have a prayer standing in our apartment kitchen, from where we hope to catch a glimpse of the sun, and say a quiet thank you. And then, i run away to work and and she goes her way !

In that space would escape a thousand memories and a few techni colour memories peppered with longing for recreation and renewal to a far away land that’s close to a migrant heart.

Sugarcane. Pongal ’08

The one material thing that i would miss, is the purple hued sugar cane. We went around shopping for sugar cane, and ended up with what you see. That size would make a home grown drumstick from Madurai beam with pride !!

On another note, i guess Pongal is about a new beginning. About acknowledging the forces of nature that sustain us. About peace. About happiness. About community. About sincerity of a wish for a better tomorrow.

And that sincerity is not dependent on where you are or for that matter, by the length of sugarcane in your region !

So here is a sincere wish for you ! A sincere acknowledgement for being there and a prayer + hope for a better tomorrow for all of us !

Happy Pongal !