Monday, January 14, 2008

Pongal O Pongal!

Still in Delhi
PaharGanj/Ram Nagar

It's PONGAL, and I am not in Tamil Nadu! Not even close, not even in South India! However, I can still eat sweet pongal (and ghee pongal) at the Saravana Bhavan here on Connaught Place. (sigh)

'Thai Pongal', as it is popularly called in Tamil Nadu, is a thanksgiving ceremony celebrated by Tamil farmers to thank the spirits of nature, the sun and farm animals for their assistance in providing a successful harvest all through the year.

The festival is spread over four days, from the last day of 'Margazhi' to the third day of following month 'Thai' as 'Bhogi', 'Thai Pongal', 'Mattu Pongal' and 'Kannum Pongal'.

"We may have settled here, but we haven't forgotten our traditions. Almost all Tamils in Delhi celebrate Pongal the same way it is celebrated in Tamil Nadu," Natesan, secretary of Tamil Youth Cultural Association, told.

It's also Makar Sankranti, which has something to do with the movement of the sun throu
gh the Vedic zodiac, and the approach of spring. I believe the sun is entering the sign of Capricorn (in the Indian zodiac, which calculates differently from the Western one).

The best Makar Sankranti ever was at the Kalachakra 2 years ago. The whole town of Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh was alive with Tibetan and Buddhist festivity anyway, and then added to
that was the Makar Sankranti observance (dressed-up cows and bullocks, street musicians, and special, extra- elaborate kollam designs in front of doorways). Here's the best picture I got that's one of my best "India" photos ever, IMHO.

Pongal is not just one day, but several, including my favourite, Mattu Pongal or the day to honour
cows and bullocks. In the Madurai area of Tamil Nadu, this has traditionally included a kind of bullfight or bull-run called Jallikettu. This year the whole area is up in arms (declaring a "black Pongal") because the Supreme Court has banned the practice, declaring it inhumane and cruel.

I have a suggestion - they should do what Nepalis do at Gai Jatra, and instead of using real cows, dress up humans as cows. Then they could see how much fun it is to be chased, poked , stabbed and have their tails pulled. It's quite amusing to see all the Madurai Hindus defend their "400 year old tradition" - what about the much older Hindu tradition (about 4000 years old) of honouring the cows?

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